Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Shadow Throne

The Shadow Throne
by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  One war.  Too many deadly battles.  Can a king save his kingdom, when his own survival seems unlikely?

War has come to Carthya.  It knocks at every door and window in the land.  And when Jaron learns that King Vargas of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighboring lands.  In a last-ditch effort to starve off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves.  But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country.  Along the way, will he lose what matters most?  And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?
From the book jacket

Review:  As the third book in this series, it seemed very similar to the first two.  King Jaron of course is going to get himself into a pickle and use his sharp wit and clever strategies to save himself and his country.  He did very similar things in the second book with the pirates.  But in this story some things seemed very convenient to save King Jaron.  It just got too unrealistic for me and too similar to the first two books.  This book did have suspense that the other two did not.  I had no idea what was going to happen at the end.  I had hoped for the best but I wasn't sure that things would turn out well with the direction that the author took the war.  Overall this series was enjoyable, probably intended for late middle school and early high school due to the violence, and a good series for boys.

Rating:  3 1/2 stars

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Family for the War

My Family for the War
Anne C. Voorhoeve

My Family for the War

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads):  Escaping Nazi Germany on the kindertransport changes one girl's life forever

At the start of World War II, ten-year-old Franziska Mangold is torn from her family when she boards the kindertransport in Berlin, the train that secretly took nearly 10,000 children out of Nazi territory to safety in England. Taken in by strangers who soon become more like family than her real parents, Frances (as she is now known) courageously pieces together a new life for herself because she doesn't know when or if she'll see her true family again. Against the backdrop of war-torn London, Frances struggles with questions of identity, family, and love, and these experiences shape her into a dauntless, charming young woman.

Originally published in Germany, Anne Voorhoeve's award-winning novel is filled with humor, danger, and romance.


Marcie's Review:  I really enjoyed the story of Franziska, a young German Protestant with Jewish ancestors, who escapes to England on one of the last kindertransports.  I hadn't realized that even people with Jewish ancestors were subject to persecution, and it was interesting to watch Franziska (known as Frances in England) learn about her Jewish faith through her foster family and friends.  As a heroine, Frances had her faults and her personality wasn't always likable, but I felt like that made her realistic - she's a tween girl after all.  What did confuse me is why her friend Bekka played such a prominent role in Frances' memory, while she seemed to forget about her mother so easily.  Perhaps it's a reflection that friends are more important to tweens than parents, but as a mother, I was saddened at how badly she treated her mother and how quickly she replaced her birth family with her foster family.  While I would understand a refugee child needing to do this to survive, it seemed like the author could have spent more time developing that need, and not treat it so casually.

Marcie's Rating: 4 stars

Becky's Review:  I found this book quite fascinating because I did not realize that people of Jewish heritage who never had been Jewish but in fact Protestant were persecuted by the Nazis and had to flee from Germany if they could.  It was ironic that Ziska was taken in by an Orthodox Jewish family in England and she learns what it means to be Jewish from the family.  I enjoyed reading about Ziska's experiences in England.  I had to remember while reading that this is a young adult book so there wasn't as much meat to the story as I am used to.  I felt like events and subsequent feelings were being told to me rather than trying to let me experience them. I didn't feel an emotional connection to any of the characters in the story and I didn't feel anything while reading the story.  I also didn't understand how Ziska could forget about her mother and I didn't feel that the author adequately explored the relationship between Ziska and her mother at the end.   There were times that I was confused by what was happening in the book.

Becky's Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Summer Kitchen

The Summer Kitchen
Lisa Wingate

The Summer Kitchen  (Blue Sky Hill #2)

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  With her adopted son missing and the rest of her family increasingly estranged, Sandra Kaye Darden is drawn to the little pink house where her Uncle Poppy once provided security. What begins for Sandra as a simple painting project, meant to prepare the house for sale, becomes a secret venture that eventually changes everything.

Cass Blue is having trouble keeping food on the table since she ditched foster care. When Sandra Kaye shows up with lunch one day, Cass has no way of knowing that the meeting will lead to the creation of a place of refuge that could reunite a divided community.

In this moving story of second chances, two unlikely allies realize their ability to make a difference...and the power of what becomes known as the Summer Kitchen to nourish the soul.


Review:  Years ago, I read a couple of Lisa Wingate's early novels, and I enjoyed the gentle stories and positive messages they passed along.  This book was just what I expected - a nice story about a  suburban mother who is facing some challenges in her family life and steps outside her comfort zone by providing food to hungry children in a poor area.  It is also told from the perspective of Cass, a young runaway girl who is struggling to make ends meet while caring for a preschooler.  It's well-written and easy to read, although Cass's chapters are written in a young girl's dialect that I found a little distracting....  There weren't any surprises in this book, but I was looking forward to the typical happy ending, and so I enjoyed it.  The only complaint I had is that everything happened a little too coincidentally and easily to be realistic.  But it was a delightful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: 4 stars

Sisterland

Sisterland
Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.


Review:  I quite liked this book about two very different sisters and the relationships they have with the people around them. 
 
The summary was a little misleading, making the reader think it's going to be primarily about an earthquake and a psychic, when really it is Kate's relationship with her family and her desire to suppress her psychic abilities.  Parts got a little tedious - the author provides a lot of details around Kate going about her every day life and since she's a stay-at-home mom, I found I didn't really need to be reminded of all those details while I was reading to try to escape them.  The book is set in St. Louis, which was interesting to me, but the author name dropped a lot of streets, parks, shops, restaurants, etc, and it got to be a little much.  Yes, it's set in St. Louis, thanks for reminding us about that AGAIN.  And if Kate and Vi are identical twins, why do the girls on the cover have different color eyes?  Pay attention, cover designers!

I was also perturbed by the change in the book about 90% through; the author threw in a twist that I did not see coming, and that I didn't think really fit the characters.  It completely changed the focus of the book in a not-positive way.

Hmmm, so my review is pretty negative, but while I was reading it, I enjoyed it and didn't want to put it down.

Rating: 4 stars (maybe 3.5 stars, after writing the review)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pssst!

Pssst!
by Adam Rex

Genre: Picture book

Synopsis:  What happens when a bunch of animals have been cooped up for too long?  Pssst!  You're about to find out.
from the book jacket

Review:  My kids LOVE this book!  They giggle and giggle and giggle when reading this book.  They actually started to recite it in the car the other day because we had read it so much and they enjoyed it that much!  As an adult, I also enjoyed this book.  There is humor that kids won't get but yet adults will find funny and punny.  The humor is mostly in the illustrations and there are very few words-most are dialogue between the girl who goes to the zoo and the animals that talk to her.  The author/illustrator includes so many small details in the pictures and you need to look at all of them because they are funny!  Definitely an enjoyable book for all ages!

Rating: 5 stars

The Wrap-Up List

The Wrap-Up List
by Steven Arntson

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Gabriela has just received a very disturbing letter.  It was sent by a Death-an eight-foot-tall shimmering gray creature with gills.  The letter is short and to the point: Gabriela has a week left to live, and next Wednesday her Death, Hercule, will show up to escort her into the afterlife whether she's ready of not.  Gabriela is devastated.  Dying is bad, sure, but dying without ever having kissed the dreamy Sylvester Hale is even worse.

Gabriela isn't the only one in need of a first kiss-three of her friends would love theirs too.  She's determined to put their romantic affairs in order before her time runs out.  There is one last hope, though: Gabriela's Death has a secret weakness.  If Gabriela can figure it out, she might be able to trick him into letting her go...

It's a week of firsts for best friends, but Gabriela has to play it smart.  Otherwise, this week will be her last.
From the book jacket

Review:  What an enjoyable, quirky read!  At first I thought that this book would mainly be about teenagers finding romance but I was wrong.  While there was an aspect of the book since that was what she put on her wrap-up list, this book was about so much more.  We really get to know Gabriela and watch her grow up and try to figure out what Death's weakness is.  I wanted to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to Gabriela on her departure day.  There are moments that are laugh out loud funny.  Gabriela's Death is quite funny and had me giggle out loud at times.  There were also moments that made me tear up.

While this book was an enjoyable read, it also had flaws.  This book seems like it is set in the present day USA but yet there are Deaths and we are on the verge of war over immigration.  There was no explanation on what happened to our world to make it that there are Deaths and departures.  There also was some randomness of Gabriela's thoughts.  It appeared like the author was trying to Gabriela from point A to point B but couldn't figure out how to get there so added some very odd details in her thought process.  I chose to overlook those moments and just move on with the story but if you try to figure them out, you may get quite lost.  I think the author tried too hard with Gabriela's friends-they are quite multicultural and diverse.  I didn't think that needed to be there in order to make a good book but yet the author kept pointing out their diverseness.  Gabriela's religion, Catholicism, also played a big role but yet religion didn't seem to matter that much to Gabriela, it was important to her father.  It just didn't seem to make the most sense in the book.

Was this book enjoyable?  Absolutely!  Did this book have flaws?  Of course!  Did the flaws outweigh the good parts of the book?  Not at all.  I enjoyed the story that I was willing to overlook most of the flaws and keep reading which is why I'm struggling with the rating.  Was it good?  Of course!  Did I really like it?  Maybe.  It is a fast, easy read and relatively short so you might as well give it a shot to see what you think.

Rating: 4 stars (or maybe 3 1/2 stars)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Runaway King

The Runaway King
by Jennifer Nielsen

Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Juvenile Fiction, Adventure

Synopsis:  A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction.  A king gone missing.  Who will survive?

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation.  Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya.  Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it.

As his adventures lead him into dangerous new territory, Jaron must learn to tell his friends from his enemies and decide who he can trust-if he can trust anyone at all.  But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far.  Will he ever be able to return home again?  Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom.
From the book jacket

Review:  The second book of this trilogy was certainly full of adventure!  This book was less about the development of characters and more about what Jaron could do to save his kingdom.  Jaron certainly was a brave king and a quick thinker.  At times his way of getting out of sticky situations seemed implausible.  I think the book was well written and it kept my attention but it became more adventure-y than I normally read.  But I think this would be a great read for younger readers just like the first book.  I will read the third book as the author ended this book with a set up for the third book.

Rating:  3 1/2 stars

To see my review of The False Prince, click here.