Today's Grateful List/20 April 2015

  • Finishing a book
  • Almost done with laundry
  • A daughter who brings you food
  • Being in the house alone
  • Rain

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge by Rick Atkinson is apparently an adaptation of an adult series, reworked for a much younger audience. I haven't read the adult books, so I have only my reading of this book for reference. I chose this book from Amazon Vine because I like learning about World War II and this is one episode I admit to knowing little about.

What I Learned: A lot. For someone who didn't know much, I now understand Hitler's reasonings for this offensive, and how the Allies reacted to it (sometimes valiantly, sometimes waiting too long). There were some wonderful quotes that put things in perspective, particularly from Eisenhower. There was a lot of detail to show how individual soldiers were lost and how some refused to go down without a fight. I definitely came away with a clearer understanding of the Battle of the Bulge and a deeper respect for those who thwarted Hitler's last major ground offensive.

What I Didn't Get: There is almost no way the average 8-12 year old would find this book interesting, though I know a few might. The details that an older person would love often weigh the narrative down, creating an atmosphere of just too much intricate information. The back and forth of the chapters from either the Allies' or Hitler's points of view is often jarring; maps scattered throughout might help, though I did appreciate the ones that were included. For this book to appeal to this age group, a smaller focus would definitely help keep the reader engaged. After a while, even this interested reader began to let all the names of people and places run together. If I was trying to engage a ten year old in all the wonder, madness, and tragedy of World War II, I don't think jumping from place to place and person to person would be the way.

There is a lot of useful information in this book, and the photos are especially captivating. While I personally liked it, I feel that the targeted audience would most likely find it dull and confusing. I would suggest perhaps a 13-14 year old target is more appropriate, and then mostly for research purposes.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Shadows

I've been a huge fan of the Shadows since they were first introduced into the BDB canon. Mysterious, sexy, and intriguing, Trez and iAm have been gaining a presence over the past few books, so I was very excited when I found out the next book was going to focus on them. And, having finished it, I have to say I did enjoy it immensely and I do feel as though I got to know the brothers well. For that reason, I would've given the book 5 stars.

I'm not going to waste words on recounting the plot, because chances are, if you are this far into the series, you know in general what happens in this book. Instead, I feel a list of pros and cons is more suitable for this review. Spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned.

Pro: The love story between Selena and Trez. Making the most of the time you've got, no matter how small, is something we should all strive to live by. I loved their connection and I loved how Trez called her "my queen." We should all be so lucky.

Pro: iAm's devotion to his brother. This relationship was almost as good as that between Selena and Trez.

Pro: The appearance of several of the characters we've grown to know and love. It was nice to and hear from V, Rhage, Tohr, and the rest, even in small doses.

Pro: Good set up for the spin-off series debuting this fall. I *like* Paradise.

Pro: Layla is coming into her own, but she's gonna have to "man up" for the situation she's created.

Pro: Any and every sighting of Lassiter is wonderful, and his helping iAm was spectacular.

And now for the BIG problems, which really should knock two stars off but I'm feeling generous:

Con: Ward dropped the ball BIG TIME by leaving Xhex out of the equation when both Trez and iAm were having personal crises. They've always been there for her in the past and it would have been natural for her to be involved. I'm bitterly disappointed in this aspect.

Con: Ward needs to follow her own rules. If Selena indicated she was ready to go (through Morse code eye blinking--when did she and Trez come up with that if he refused to talk about her condition?), is that suicide? Even if administered by another, it's a bit on the questionable side. That would mean she couldn't go into the Fade.

Con: So Trez is just lost for the next hundred years or so? She's brought everyone else back...why not Selena?

Con: iAm's relationship with maichen was very quick and very fortuitous. I love iAm but I don't feel the connection.

Con: Don't think we didn't notice how Ward evaded the issue of the color of Selena's skin. It went from white in one book to cafe au lait in the next, and in this book, it's just "lighter than Trez's." Ward should be aware that her fans notice these things. We make mistakes, but please own them.

Con: The Rhage story. It doesn't feel right to me. Panic attacks? Okay, well, I get the reason. I just don't feel it.

Con: What the heck is the deal with the question marks? Within the same paragraph, Ward uses them for some questions but not for others. It pulled me out of the story every. single. time. Where is the editor?

I'm still a fan of the series, and overall, I enjoyed this entry. The story between Trez an Selena was well done, if a bit tedious at times. I did finish it feeling the loss, and I suppose not everyone gets a HEA. Realistically, I'd give this one a 3.5 but my enjoyment overrides my issues and I will go with four stars.


Charlie, Presumed Dead

The title for this review is NOT a spoiler, btw. It's just a fact you need to keep in mind as you read this superbly twisting novel by Anne Heltzel. There's a lot going on and not much of it is what you think it is. This, indeed, is a very good thing. Complex, possibly far-fetched, definitely engrossing, Charlie, Presumed Dead is all that and more.

Aubrey's boyfriend, Charlie, has perished in a small airplane crash and his funeral is being held in Paris, so Aubrey-from-the-small-town strikes out in order to attend. Once there, however, shock and disbelief smack her in the face when another girl gets up to speak at the funeral and identifies herself as Charlie's long term girlfriend. Determined to discover just what the heck is going on, Aubrey follows the girl and demands answers. It turns out, the one both girls should be demanding answers from is Charlie--but of course he's not talking. Lena reveals that she has been dating Charlie for three years; both of their sets of parents are international travelers with a hands-off policy in raising children and bank accounts that allow them to come and go as they please. Aubrey, on the other hand, has always been fairly sheltered and on a more traditional path in life. As they begin talking, it is obvious that the Charlie each knew was someone entirely different with both, deceptive with each and keeping critical secrets of his own. In fact, Lena is convinced that Charlie is not dead at all, and she is determined to prove it. Though highly skeptical, Aubrey agrees to tag along with this other girlfriend in order to find Charlie--and more importantly, to keep her own secrets from seeing the light of day. But Lena has secrets, too.

Told in chapters of alternating viewpoints, we don't have any great inside information from either girl because both are determined to keep others, and the reader, in the dark as much as possible. We follow these teens as they move first to London, then to Mumbai, and on to Bangkok, following leads and encountering shady characters who also may or may not be hiding something. Slowly the pieces come together, and the results are horrifying and thoroughly devastating in ways neither girl imagined.

This is a highly creative story, and while both Lena and Aubrey have annoying habits and behave in immature, reckless ways, they worm themselves into your subconscious so that you have to keep reading. While I was very suspicious of certain characters from the get-go, the stage is well set so that you can understand the hows and whys of the girls' interactions and behaviors even while silently screaming at them to think things through. My biggest problem with the novel is that I would find it hard to believe, in real life, that events could play out as they did, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is one excellent story. The reveals of what's going on are strategically placed and I'm left thinking about the plot and the characters, wondering what's happening even now. There's a good set up for a sequel, and I want it sooner rather than later.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I wanted to love Sisters of Blood and Spirit, and honestly, there were parts I really did enjoy. The premise is great--twins, one born dead and the other who still sees, hears, and touches her sister. No one understands how Lark interacts with Wren when Wren is dead, but Lark just knows that her sister has always been a part of her life; indeed, Wren's her best friend (that no one else can see). Eventually it all gets to Lark and she decides she's going to join her sister in the Shadow Lands by committing suicide, but Wren won't allow it and sets up a rescue. It's at this point that the story actually gets going; considered a bit of a freak at school, Lark is surprised when a group of students approach her for help with a problem they've created because it's known that she sees ghosts.

So far, so good. The group has gotten the attention of a long dead ghost from an abandoned psych hospital and they need to get rid of it, pronto. Lark enlists Wren's help because, together, they are stronger and can find out more info. Lark lives with her grandmother who seems to be overly indulgent and kinda clueless at times, though she does support Lark and acknowledges Wren's presence. With all the endangered kids on board, the twins set to work to free them from the malevolent forces of the long dead.'s not bad, and the pages turn fairly quickly because the action is fast. I just didn't like Lark, even with her sad background and her mad ghost-busting skills. It's not her harsh language but her generally cutting attitude and her inability to be nice for any length of time that made me sort of want one of the bad guys to swallow her whole. Wren is more likable in demeanor but still a bit on the odd side. I could see their special relationship building into something really cool but my dislike of Lark sort of ruined it for me. Plus the idea that (possible've been warned so skip ahead now...) ...

...the impossibly hot guys still want to be with such a negative person just rang hollow for me and I didn't believe it. Sure, she might be pretty, but not on the inside. In addition, there were holes in the final "battle" and the resolution big enough to drive a stolen paddy wagon through. No one's gonna notice an open grave with an obviously burned set of remains inside? Uh uh. There also seems to be some confusion between what's a ghost and what's a zombie. Also--how is Wren still aging on the other side? Does everybody continue to age or is it only the Dead Born? So many questions.

So, how did I arrive at 3 stars? Well, it is a good story, and I really liked some of the characters, including Wren, Kevin, and Ben. There's potential for a sequel that I'd probably read because the action was good and I liked the relationship between Lark and Wren. There's a lot of gore but it fits the theme, and I like the whole paranormal aspect. Weighing those factors against what bugged me, I have to say I liked the book more than I disliked the stuff that bugged me. Definitely some problems, but it's still a fast, absorbing read.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tether picks up where Tandem left off--Sasha is back on Earth, having left Aurora and her love, Thomas, behind. She is trying to fit back in but it's almost hopeless--nothing is working out and her mind is preoccupied with what is going on on the other world. Brought to a man who knows something about both her deceased parents and alternate worlds through the clue of a folded paper, Sasha learns she can go back to Aurora, and she does. Once there, however, things become way more complicated; a third analog, Selene, has shown up, and she needs both Sasha and Julianna to accompany her back to her own universe in order to save it. The problem is, Julianna's disappeared again, and Thomas seems to be acting oddly at times, and everything seems to be much more dangerous than it was the last time Sasha was on Aurora. Making it all even more complicated is the "tether"--the invisible link between analogs that ties Sasha, Selene, and Julianna together, even allowing them to communicate through thought. Sasha is desperate to break the tether, but Selene needs it intact to save her world.

This second installment of the Many-Worlds series is another page-turner, with one event after another delaying finding Julianna and many heavy decisions being made. As a bridge novel, it held my interest well and moved the plot along, though I was a bit disappointed to see that we were in for another round of "Where's Waldo" with Julianna. Selene comes off stiff and wooden in contrast to the emotional Sasha, but that's likely done to show the difference in the two identical analogs. The developments are definitely way more complicated than they were in Tandem, and the risks are greater in lots of ways. Sasha is going to have make up her mind about a lot of things, and this novel sets everything up well for a big finish.

One minor issue I have is the continued use of "in Aurora". I know it's nit picky, but if it's an entire world, shouldn't it be "on Aurora" rather than in? Every time I read that phrase, I imagined the characters literally inside the planet. Maybe I've misinterpreted it, but it pulled me out of the story every single time. But beyond that very minor annoyance, I felt that the plot, if fairly predictable, was well-executed and kept me entertained throughout. I'm excited to see where we end up and can easily recommend this novel as a good middle installment in the series.


Excellent Debut YA

The night Laia's family is killed and her brother is taken by the government enforcers is one that plunges her into despair and makes her determined to rescue the one relative she has left. She approaches the Resistence, an underground organization that is working for the Scholars, the lowest strata in society, hoping to bring change. Laia, desperate to get her brother Darin out of prison, agrees to pose as a slave in order to spy on a fearsome woman called the Commandant, who rules the Blackcliff Academy with an iron fist and an unforgiving demeanor. Lana is supposed to find out what she can to report back to the Resistence, but she undergoes merciless torture at the Commandant's hands and realizes she's in way over her head, despite the concern of Resistence worker, Keenan. Meanwhile...

There's Elias, son of the Commandant and recent graduate of the program at the Blackcliff Academy. He's now a full-fledged Mask, a member of the enforcement group that is known to be ruthless killers. But Elias is different; he only wants to escape, and he's even made plans to do so, until he finds he's been chosen to compete in Trials to determine who will become the next Emperor. His fate seemingly out of his hands, Elias must make decisions that will hopefully lead him away from his life as a killer, but all of this serves to bring him in touch with the slave girl, Laia.

We follow the stories of both Elias and Laia in alternating chapters, both told in first person. Laia starts off as immature, driven only by her need not to lose her final family member. She's willing to do whatever it takes to rescue Darin, not having any clue what that might include. Over the course of the novel, it's almost possible to physically see Laia maturing and to feel her emotions widen as she faces betrayal, friendship, and determination; it's one of my favorite things about this novel. True growth is really rare in a protagonist, but Laia achieves it in spades, learning how to keep not only herself safe, but to have others' backs as well.

Elias, hated by his mother but the hope of his House, is obviously different than his peers at Blackcliff, most likely because he was not initially brought up by his mother. Elias dislikes killing and he hates all the games that must be played; basically he's very confused about his future and unsure of how he can change anything. Surrounded by a lot of evil, including two of the other Aspirants in the Trials to be Emperor, Elias has always turned to his best friend, Helene, the only female at the Academy. But now even that's in jeopardy, as he must examine his own feelings for this girl. Elias wants to keep everyone safe and wants his freedom in equal measures, and he's conflicted about it all.

I loved this book! I read it on the recommendation of a friend who said she couldn't put it down, and she was absolutely correct. I would become equally caught up in both stories, holding my breath for Laia when she faced the Commandant and my heart torn when Elias tried to decide what would be the best course. There's some magic involved, and a group of guiding "counselors" called Augurs who seem to be trying to guide the entire Emperor selection process. Mostly, however, there are real characters who react in unexpected ways and feel emotions that cut to the bone. Violent at times, this book is definitely riveting, and I'm eagerly awaiting the second installment because I HAVE to know what's going to happen next. A wonderful debut YA novel!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Coldest Girl in ColdTown opens with a murder--several of them, in fact. Tana awakens after a party to find everyone else dead of an obvious vampire attack. Why she was spared, she has no idea, but when she discovers her ex-boyfriend Aidan alive, but tied to a bed and infected by a vampire bite, and an actual vampire chained in the same room, she knows she has to help all of them escape. This leads to a road trip toward a ColdTown, areas set aside specifically for vampires and those who worship or want to become them. Gavriel, the vampire, is being sought because he's escaped his prison of torture; Aidan is turning into a vampire himself; Tana fears she's infected and must wait out the time in order to stay human. None of them truly knows what awaits them inside ColdTown, but all suspect it's not going to be pretty. That's an understatement.

Tana's not the most sympathetic character; she's abrupt and scarred, having lived through her mother's descent into vampirism at a young age. Still, she is willing to help Aidan and Gavriel, both of whom need her desperately. In fact, Tana has to fight her own attraction to Gavriel; he's a vampire, for heaven's sake, the thing she is most scared of and what has robbed her of so much in her life. Others she meets along the way run the gamut from helpful to devious to downright dangerous; some put her life in danger and some go beyond the bounds of friendship to help out a girl who has literally nothing left in the world she finds herself inside. Particularly endearing is Valentina, the sweet cashier who not only dresses Tana, but helps her discover what is going on in the huge mansion belonging to the vampire Lucien.

There's so much going on, it's easy to get lost in the action, from Tana and her terror at the thought of turning into a vampire, to her younger sister, Pearl, who loves watching the live feeds of what goes on inside ColdTown. Despite this, I found myself at times contemplating putting the book aside; I found some stretches long (like when the group arrives at ColdTown and takes what seems forever to actually get inside) but those episodes would be followed up by page-turning action that would keep me up past my bedtime. I admit I totally disliked both Midnight and Winter and could have lived without their storyline. I did, however, love the Gavriel/Lucien/Tana parts; the emotional (or unemotional) conflicts were both well written and unexpected. If the story had been pared back to Tana without throwing into too many extraneous characters, this novel would have been a definite five stars. Still, it was interesting and I will look for the sequel because I'm firmly on Tana's side in this bloody story.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Vanishing Girls

Nick and Dara have always been extremely close sisters. Born just eleven months apart, they've shared everything, including the pain of their parents' divorce. But during Nick's senior year, things change when Dara becomes involved with Nick's best friend, Parker. Suddenly Nick finds herself on the outside and she doesn't like what she sees. Dara's always been a loose cannon, and Nick's always had her back, but the relationship between Dara and Parker threatens them in ways Nick never thought possible. Things come to a head at a party, and Nick and Dara leave together. They never make it home, and Dara's physically and emotionally damaged in ways Nick cannot reach nor heal.

I love the way this novel unfolded, including the parallel story of the missing nine year old girl, Madeline. Told mostly from Nick's point of view, we feel her pain at the loss of her sister's love and friendship and her inability to fix their relationship. Meanwhile, Dara stays hidden, only sharing her viewpoint sporadically as she tries to cope with all the losses in her life. She blames Nick for her painful recovery and her breakup with Parker. It's a sad, twisted existence, and both girls suffer.

There's a lot of detail in this novel, and a lot of emotion packed into its pages. There's also a lot of drinking and references to drug use, but they play their own role in the story. My heart broke, and broke again, for Nick as she tries at first to avoid her sister and then to come to terms about the accident, and my heart broke for Dara, the wilder younger sister who lost so much. Events are revealed slowly, with Madeline's disappearance woven neatly throughout. I finished the book feeling as though I'd been pulled through a wringer emotionally, wanting to reread it again to see what all I'd missed along the way that would shed light on the relationship between the sisters.

Lauren Oliver has become a favorite author of mine, and with Vanishing Girls she has cemented her place on my Must Buy list. There's so much more to be said for and about this novel, but without being able to do so without giving spoilers, I will just say that you will be swept up into the lives of two damaged girls who need to find a way to make themselves whole again. Read it now. You won't regret it.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Between Shades of Gray

I grew up with a father who fought in World War II. I always knew he didn't think much of Josef Stalin, but beyond the bit I learned in school I really didn't know why. This book by Ruta Sepetys, helped illuminate for me what went on "behind the scenes", so to speak, in Stalin's Soviet Union. To say I was profoundly moved and appalled is an understatement.

Fifteen year old Lina and her family are taken from their Lithuanian home one night in 1941, placed on a cattle train, and sent far away to remote Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina does not understand why they are forced to leave, and fear of the unknown is crippling. Along with her mother and younger brother, the taken people are forced to live in a shack and work for the NKVD (the Soviet military in charge). Lina, a gifted artist, is forced to dig in dirt, pick beets, and carry heavy bags of grain, all for a small bread ration each day. Her mother, Elena, is relentlessly upbeat about the possibility of being let go and reuniting with the father, and Jonas, Lina's younger brother, works hard but falls ill to scurvy. There is a young man, Andrius,with whom Lina begins to form a relationship, and a soldier named Kretzky whom Lina particularly despises. The others in the camp, including the bald man and the grouchy woman, bring the story to life as Lina struggles to maintain a sense of hope while just trying to survive.

At first glance, this story seems to be another Holocaust story, but the truth is, it has nothing to do with the Holocaust at all. These Lithuanians were all Christians who were sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor for their "crimes" against the Soviet Union. This included the children of those accused, and there was little to no hope of escape. The conditions these people were forced to endure do indeed echo the Holocaust, but are perhaps even worse as their story remains mostly untold.

It was easy to become engrossed in this story, as Lina's voice is clear and her words pull you inside the horrible, unthinkable actions of man against mankind. Her art helps her to survive, allowing her to express herself in limited ways and giving the reader a sense of the human who would not be defeated. This is not an easy book to read because of its subject matter, but it is an important one. With its strong content and horrible situations, it is probably better for slightly older children, but its message is definitely one people of all ages could embrace.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Girl on the Train

Hmmmm...what to say about Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train that hasn't been said yet? Well, I'm not much of a mystery reader usually, but the buzz about this one was interesting enough to make me think maybe I'd like it. So I picked it up on a whim and what do you know? It's that good and generally lives up to the hype. Win!

The basic storyline is this: Rachel, a miserable alcoholic, continues to take the daily train into London even after losing her job because she doesn't want her roommate to find out how and why she's unemployed. You don't find this out right away; the author has a delicious way of revealing details that click another piece of the plot into place a bit at a time. Anyway, the train takes Rachel past the stop where her ex-husband and his new wife and daughter live--coincidentally in the same home Rachel shared with her ex, Tom. Rachel becomes fixated on a couple a few houses down from where she lived, even giving them names and inventing an entire, perfect life for them. But then the perfect wife, Megan, goes missing and Rachel, either desperate or drunk or a combination of the two, becomes overly involved. A drunken night she does not remember places her at the scene during the time Megan disappeared and an acrimonious relationship with Tom's new wife fuel Rachel's imagination and lead her to interacting with Megan's husband, Scott. But nothing is the way it seems and everyone has something to hide.

If I'm being nitpicky, the biggest problem with The Girl on the Train is that there is literally no one likable in the entire book. Not Rachel, who is a drunk and sorta pathetic all around; not Scott, who is the focus of his wife's disappearance; not Tom, who cheated on Rachel and then married Anna; not Anna, who is self-righteous in her marriage; not even Megan, whose infrequent point-of-view chapters reveal that she has her own problems. I would have liked for at least one person I could whole-heartedly cheer for, but there is no one who is not flawed to the point of being contentious. Still, that does not in any way take away from the mystery and its ultimate resolution. I was turning pages long after my bedtime in order to sort it all out.

I suppose there may be more complex mysteries out there, but this one, even with its unlikable characters, is so well plotted and fueled that I was totally caught up. It's one I have no problem recommending to most everyone, including those who don't normally read mysteries *raises hand*. A very solid 4.75 that I will round to a 5 because I think it's that much of a page turner. Read it for yourself and find out what the buzz is about.