Friday, September 30, 2011

Want to go Private?, by Sarah Littleman

Abby is starting her first year of high school, and no one seems to understand why she is less than thrilled about it. No one, that is, except Luke, a boy she begins chatting with on a website aimed at teens. When Abby's best friend Faith starts to pull away from her, she begins confiding in and depending on Luke more and more as her sole source of comfort and support.  The two begin a serious online relationship, despite a huge age difference, and before long, Luke begins to ask Abby to do some questionable things.  Wrapped up in Luke, Abby begins to slip in her classes, which gets her grounded.  She decides to teach her parents a lesson, and runs off to meet Luke, her secret boyfriend.  She has no idea what she is in for.

This book is truly, truly, frightening.  It actually made me a little bit sick to read it, because I know without a doubt these things happen every moment of every day.  When I first moved out on my own, and had no real friends where I was living, I started to try to connect with people online.  It  became very apparent that so many men will prey on vulnerable, lonely women and girls online, targeting those with low self esteem.  I was shocked at the suggestive things many men did and said to me, and I can only imagine the situation is much worse and more manipulative when it involves a child.  So, this book stirred powerful feeling in me, which is a sign that this book is important.

For the reader, it may be easy to see what Luke is doing to Abby, and where this is headed, but it is also easy to see why so many young girls fall into this trap.  Who does not, as a tween or teen, want to be told she is beautiful, sexy, special, loved?  Even adult women fall prey to this, so it is easy to see why Abby, a trusting young girl, could get so caught up.  I am also glad that the book really accurately portrayed how the situation affected the whole family for month afterward.  Often we hear the horror stories, and the seemingly happy endings, but we rarely see the fall out and long term resolution.

I cannot stress enough how good and important this book is.  Yes, it is a delicate matter, and yes, online sexual predators are frightening to think about.  The language in this book, and some of the scenes described,are really difficult to read.  However, this is a young adult book, one I think appropriate.  I would caution parents to either read it before hand to determine their level of comfort with their child reading it, or read it at the same time as their child, and talk about it afterwards.  It is a powerful cautionary tale.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Far Cry From the Turquoise Room, by Kate Rigby

Hassan is a Persian man living in England with his family.  Life is splendid; he does well at business and his family is perfect.  But suddenly, life changes, when his oldest daughter dies in a tragic accident.  At first, Leila, the younger daughter, does her best to fit in with the new family dynamic, trying to draw her parents out and make them happy.  It becomes clear that her parents will not return to their previous way of life, however, when they threaten to send Leila to boarding school.  This, coupled with the revelation that there will be a new baby in the family, prompts Leila to run away, and develop a new identity living with travelers throughout England.

The first few chapters of this book were like the soft introductory strains to a beautiful piece of music.  They helped to identify the tone, mood, and voice of the entire piece.  This music that the book creates is unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The simultaneous stories of Hassan and Leila make for an incredibly original book.

I really loved watching Leila's character develop.  We walk with her over the course of several years, and watch her come of age in the most difficult of circumstances.  She feels abandoned, by her sister, her parents, and later by the people who promised to protect her.  I also really enjoyed seeing Hassan's character begin to awake, albeit a little late, to the important place Leila has in their family.

This story is so moving, and I think it really lends a voice to people and situations not normally represented in modern literature.  While the book is very British in feeling and vocabulary, this is a story to which anyone can relate.  Many countries have immigrant populations, and many immigrants are misunderstood, as Hassam feels Persians are.  Many wish to fit it and fully assimilate, as Leila does when she wishes she were white.  And who among us cannot relate to the pain of tragedy and death.  

I am honestly struggling to find the right words to convey how breathtaking this book is.  So, instead of taking my very inarticulate word for it, just simply read for yourself.

I received  a review copy of the book courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dark Eden, by Patrick Carman

Will has fears, but not fear like most people.  His fears are darkly, deeply, crippling phobias.  After two years of unsuccessful therapy, his doctor and parents decide to send him to a week long treatment program with six other teenagers suffering from other phobias.  From the beginning, Will realizes something is wrong, that one by one they are being cured, but at what cost?

It seems like young adult fiction is taking a turn for the darker these days.  And though stories of monsters or sparkly vampires have their own type of darkness, this book is somewhat more sinister because it plays on something we all experience- fear.  I really enjoyed this story, and thought a lot of the plot twists were quite clever.  The writing is really original, and I love the classic literary references sprinkled throughout.  I can imagine a young adult reader, after having read this book, might be apt to look into a lot of those literary references, which to me is a bonus.

One thing that did trouble me was character development.  The character of Will is well developed, since this is really his story, but I would like to have seen more development of the other six teen characters.  I did not feel like I cared about them, nor did I understand why Will would care about them, and I even got some of the characters confused at times.  

I really liked the ending of the book.  It was certainly unexpected, and parts of it remain shrouded in mystery.  To me, that is a brilliant way to end a story, with a few loose ends.  It makes the story memorable.  I think a lot of young adult readers will enjoy this book; it appeals to both male and female readers.  While it is dark, it is also a fairly clean book.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.

Monday, September 26, 2011

To Die For, by Sandra Byrd

Meg has been a friend to Anne Boleyn since they were small children, but now as young women, their lives take on new purpose: to marry and have children.  It becomes clear to both girls that marriage is less about love, and more about politics.  As Meg is pushed into a marriage with a much older man, Anne pushes herself into a life with the King.  After many months of political intrigue Anne gets her wish and is married to the King of England, but she will soon find out the costs are high, not only to herself, but to those who surround her.  Including Meg.

I am a sucker for books about the Tudor dynasty, particularly Anne Boleyn.  The trouble with being fixated on historical stories is, well, history never changes, and neither do those stories.  It can become stale, trite.  Often authors exert little effort to breathe new life into a historical story, and instead regurgitate what we already know.  I am happy to say that his book was certainly not like that.  The focus of this book is of a somewhat fictionalized young woman who is a childhood friend to Anne.  Meg, this friend, is the filter through which we get Anne's story.  And within Anne's story, Meg has one of her own.

I really enjoyed the character of Meg, and am glad she took a more prominent role than Anne.  Clearly, the story of Anne Boleyn cannot be told without Anne in the forefront, but in this instance, it also could not be told without Meg.  I loved seeing how Meg's life fit into the grander scheme of things.

I felt like the book was well researched, and it flowed quite nicely.  Once again, here is a story from the annals of history, one which we all know, and yet it somehow felt new again.  Any fan of historical fiction, particular the Tudors and other British monarchy dynasties, will love this book.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the author.

Friday, September 23, 2011

From Ashes to Honor, by Loree Lough

Austin was one of the first responder police officers the day of the 9/11 attacks.  Not only did he watch many of his fellow officers and other emergency personnel suffer devastating injuries or perish, he also lost his twin brother to the tragedy.  When the strain takes its toll in the months that follow, the department makes him see a psychologist.  His anger surfaces, and she is forced to recommend he be put at a desk job.  Years later, their paths will cross again, and sparks surface.  The two share a common bond, but is that enough to build a relationship?

I have to admit, when I first was given the opportunity to read a book labeled as a 9/11 romance, I was highly skeptical.  My concern was that it would capitalize on a terrible event just for the sake of a story.  I could not have been more wrong, and for that I am delighted.  Loree Lough does an amazing job of setting the tone of the story by opening with the attacks, but the majority of the book focuses on the long term impact on the people in the trenches that day.  An honest picture is painted of PTSD, alcoholism, failed relationships, racism and bigotry, and the overwhelming survivor's guilt experienced by the emergency responders in the wake of 9/11.

I really liked the character of Austin, and felt like we really got to see him develop over the course of the book.  I think his struggles are probably pretty typical of anyone suffering PTSD.  And while many other readers have disliked the ending, I found it to be brave.  Do you really think many of the actual first responders have gotten a happy ending?

The book definitely has a Christian tone, so readers should be prepared for that; however, it is not overly evangelical, nor is it out of the norm for the tone of other Christian romance novels.  I think that differences of faith can be a very real, and very heartbreaking, situation, and again I comment the honestly of Lough by writing the book in the way she did.

Many other readers think that fiction based on 9/11 capitalize on the victims and those who suffered great loss.  To that I say, put this in the proper perspective.  9/11 is a significant part of our history, albeit recent history.  It is no different that a writer setting a book during the Civil War, or the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Those were tragic events as well, where many lost their lives, but they are a part of our history as a nation and need to be included in art and writing.  To sweep 9/11 under the rug and never mention it in works of art and writing would be a real tragedy.  We must remember our past, so that we learn from it.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire

Before there was a Dorothy, before there was a twister, and before the Lollipop Guild sang in Munchkinland, a very strange girl was born, a girl with green skin, who was named Elphaba.  As a tiny babe, she was a bit savage, and adverse to water.  As she grew, she and her sister attended Shiz University, where Elphaba learned that the Animals in Oz were being oppressed.  She made it her mission to join the resistance and fight for what is right and good.  Though she seeks to fight the evil forces, those forces instead force her to the margins of society and vilify her to the point that she is deemed a wicked witch.

Wicked is a revisionist view of life in the land of Oz.  As a fan of the Oz stories in both book and film since childhood, it only made sense to me that I give this alternate viewpoint a chance.  My first exposure to this story was actually through the musical, which is quite different from the book.  Where the musical is somewhat lighthearted, with a happy ending, the book is a dark allegory for past and current political actions throughout the world.

With the Animals in Oz being marginalized and repressed, one can see parallels to the Nazi treatment of Jews, as well as society's treatment of gays and lesbians.  We constantly see the struggle between good and evil, and evil does not always look the way we expect it to look.  Being different, whether because you have green skin or because you are a talking Animal, is ultimately deemed bad in the book, just like in society, and those who are different must be isolated, and if need be, punished.

The book is extremely dark, and it has significant political undertones which made it a little difficult to read.  In fact, I had to walk away from the book for several weeks, and return to finish it later.  It is funny, books with monsters like werewolves and vampires do not bother me as much as this one did.  When the monster is hatred or bigotry, and wears a face like you or I, it is much more disturbing.  Though it shares ties to childrens' books, this is clearly not intended for a young audience.  There are adult themes, and some pretty serious violence.

Readers will appreciate this book much more if acquainted not just with the popular Oz movie from the 1930s, but also the original Oz books.  Having read several of the Oz books, I was better equipped to recognize the mythology and characters from Oz.  One thing that I did have trouble wrapping my head around were the different religions of Oz.  I think there is a lot at play within the book, and it probably takes more than one reading to really allow it all to sink in.

This book was from my personal library.

The Wave, by Todd Strasser

Mr. Ross has always been different from other teachers.  He is dynamic, involved, and likes to take a more hands on approach to teaching, creating different games and ways for the children to interact with the material he is teaching.  When he starts to discuss the Nazis and World War II in his history class, his students question why the Germans went along with the horrors Hitler perpetrated.  Unable to explain why, Mr. Ross instead stages and experiment.  He creates a group called The Wave, where students are equal parts of a whole, exhibiting discipline and action.  When group synergy takes over, Mr. Ross is equally amazed and frightened at the things that take place.

I have a friend who teaches high school literature, and she is actually the one who gave me this book to read.  Until now, I had never heard of it, and can guarantee that this book would never have been assigned when I was in high school.  I found this book to be incredibly powerful; it speaks volumes to the fact that we need to teach children the truth about our history, even the bad parts.  

I think the subject matter is a little bit controversial, but necessarily so.  It was frightening to read how quickly the kids assimilated to the group identity and behavior.  We see this all the time with cults, and many kids are particularly vulnerable.  Adolescence is a time when so many kids feel marginalized, any group that promises equality and belonging will be appealing.  The book is based on an actual even that occurred in the late 1960's.  I doubt that such an experiment would be allowed by school administrators in this day and age, but the concept is power, and can teach us many lessons.  I highly recommend the book for young adults, particularly older teens, and would encourage parents whose teens read this book to discuss it with them.  We all need a reminder of what can happen when a group with a powerful leader goes unchecked.

I was loaned a copy of this book  from a friend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In the Forests of the Night, by Kersten Hamilton

After successfully making it out of Mag Mell, Teagan starts to come to terms with the fact that she is Highborn, and it is unlikely that being in love with Finn will ever work out.  It is in their nature to be enemies.  Yet Teagan starts to realize it is not Finn she is warring with, but herself.  She starts to realize that even as a Highborn, she has a choice which side to fight for, good, or evil.  As her goblin cousins begin terrorizing Teagan's family and friends, she becomes determined to fight for good.  And Finn is determined to not let her do it alone.

In the Forests of the Night is the second book in the Goblin Wars series.  Let me be completely clear in that you must read the first book if you have any hopes of anything making a scrap of sense.  And even if you do read the first book, things may not make much sense.

Like the first book in the series, this book draws heavily on celtic folklore, particularly the darker aspects.  To me, the words, creatures, and tales described are so obscure and quite difficult to wrap your mind around.  I personally find it difficult to read a book with a lot of words I cannot pronounce because they have foreign origins, so that really frustrates me about this book.  Perhaps in the final edition (this was an ARC I had) there is a glossary with a pronunciation attached.  If not, there should be.  It would make life in this fantasy world so much easier.

In terms of the story, I thought it started out slow, then about half way through the book it really picked up.  This story focuses more on the interaction between Teagan's real world life and the effects of being tied to Mag Mell.  I actually quite liked this aspect, and found it endearing that her non-magical friends would be so loyal as to fight creatures they cannot even see, all to protest Teagan.  We also learn a lot more about Teagan's family, their mystical ties, and their abilities.  

I know these books are wildly popular, but I am still having a difficult time seeing the extreme appeal.  They are good fantasy books, but quite dark for young adult fiction.  I would never have read the first two books in the series had I not first been bombarded with hype over the first book.  If given the opportunity, I probably will read the final book in the series once it comes out, simply because I have now invested time in Teagan as a character and want to see her fate.

I received this book for review as part of the Amazon Vine program.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just My Type, by Simon Garfield

Have you ever wondered why there are so many fonts and typefaces?  What are their differences meant to imply?  What makes a font good or bad?  And why do so many people hate the font Comic Sans?  All these questions, and many more, as answered  with a book that balances fact with humor.

Just My Type is not the sort of book I would normally choose, but when an opportunity arose to review it, I decided to think outside the literary box and go for it; I am glad that I did.  I found this book truly fascinating, and I certainly learned a lot.  I will never look at fonts the same, nor will I take for granted the thought that goes into the creation and use of various fonts.

I found the book to be smart, and witty.  There was a good balance of historical fact and tongue in cheek tales about the creation of different fonts throughout the history of press.  I will admit, when I first began reading the book, I found myself actually distracted by the fonts used in the printing of the book, focusing on the very concepts being discussed.  How ironic, right?

While font purists may think this book is a little too glib, for the everyday person, I thought this book was a great peek into the world of typography and the work that goes on behind the scenes.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about topics a little off the beaten path.

 received a review copy of this book through the publisher and Crazy Book Tours.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shasta Summer, by Teresa Geering

Shasta Summer
Summer seems to be a normal little girl by all accounts.  That is, until her parents take her to visit her Aunt May in the village of Shasta.  It quickly becomes apparent that Summer is actually the second coming of Shasta herself, the village's namesake.  She is returning to be reunited with her long lost love, Merlin, who has been placed under a spell.  In order to try to obtain eternal happiness, the lovers travel back in time to Shasta's original arrival at the village, and try to rewrite history.  But it seems the nefarious Erasmus has other plans for the two.

Once again, Geering writes a book that feels like mythology of long ago.  There is a sort of timeless beauty to the book, with no real references to modernity or pop culture, that will make it endearing for years to come.  The writing in the book is soft and dreamy, floating from past to present.  At times, the two stories, both past and present, seem so similar, the reader may get the feeling of deja vu.  This helps lift the filmy veil between the two time periods.

I really enjoyed the character of Shasta, and watching Summer become Shasta.  The inclusion of faeries and various magical elements make this seem like a fairytale for adults.  The story has a hypnotic quality that urges the reader to continue at any cost (including sleep).  The reader certainly feels transported to another time and place.

In order to fully appreciate the book, readers must have the ability to suspend disbelief.  This is a romantic fantasy, dealing with elements of time travel, reincarnation, and magic.  Readers need to be aware of this and fully comfortable with these subjects in order to fully appreciate the book.

This is the second book of a trilogy, the first being the Eye of Erasmus, but this is actually a prequel.  It makes me want to go back and re-read the first book, and makes me long for the third book, to see the full picture of this tale.  And rarely do I comment on book covers, because they often change, but the cover for this book is simply gorgeous.  That alone is enough to hook the reader, the gorgeous story is an added bonus.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Becoming Marie Antionette, by Julie Grey

Becoming Marie Antoinette: A Novel

The young Maria Antonia is a member of the Hapsburg family, her mother the Empress of Austria.  She is content to scamper about as a child, until her mother reveals her fate to her.  Mama is attempting to arrange a betrothal between Maria and Louis, the dauphin of France.  Before Maria is acceptable to France, however, she must undergo transformation.  Her appearance, her education, her ability to behave like a Queen, no, a French Queen, but all be improved before the betrothal is even possible.  After many months of hard work, Maria finally learns she is to be wed.  What will it be like, to be the future Queen of France?

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book.  I love the history of Marie Antoinette and often think she was dealt a poor hand in life.  Sure, she was royalty and privileged, but she had absolutely no say in the direction her life had, like most women of the time, yet she was ultimately executed because of that life.  I feel like the book did a good job of showing how helpless and naive Marie was.

The storyline was adequate; it is hard to be original when writing a semi fictionalized version of history, I am sure, but I just felt like I had read or scene all this before, in the same exact tone.  It reminded me very much of the 2006 movie about Marie Antoinette, in fact it felt like some of the writing had literally lifted scenes from the movie.  Perhaps this is just excellent research by both the author of this book and the writer of the screenplay, I cannot be sure.  But for me, it made the book seem just the slightest bit stale.  Still, I found myself somewhat captivated but the book.  I take this to be a good sign of a historical writer; the reader knows what is going to happen, and still finds the book compelling.

The book is a first in a trilogy about Marie Antoinette, so it ends shortly after she becomes Queen.  I am anxious to see how the author handles the next books.  This one is filled with descriptions of things that are most likely what a young teenaged royal would find interesting, fashion, relationships, and pleasing one's parents.  Not too different from today's teens, which might make the book appealing to young adult readers.  It is completely appropriate for this demographic as well as for adults.  I am hoping later books deal with more of the mature intrigues that happened during the reign of Marie Antoinette.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Women of Faith Weekend

When I started this blog out, it was mainly for myself, and the challenge of analyzing books I owned and loved.  Quickly, I became connected to several Christian publishers that allowed me to review their books, and began also submitting the reviews to the Christian Review of Books.  I review non-religious books most of the time, and now work with many talented independent authors and publishers, both Christian and secular.  

Recently, the very first publisher I signed up with, Thomas Nelson, presented book bloggers with the opportunity to attend a Women of Faith conference in their area, with the agreement that in exchange for the complimentary tickets, the bloggers would post blogs both before and after the conference, as well as add a button to the blog to help spread the word of the conference.  Knowing I would more than likely not get chosen, on a whim I decided to apply for one of the blogger positions.  Much to my surprise, I received word some time ago that I was chosen, and today, I received my tickets in the mail.  I am so excited to attend this conference!

There are day sessions on Friday, which I will miss, but I will be attending the Friday evening sessions, as well as the sessions on Saturday.  I am really looking forward to this little weekend event!