Monday, May 21, 2018

Book Review: Still Life with Tornado, by A. S. King

Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King book cover and review
I'm a huge fan of A. S. King, and Still Life with Tornado is no exception.  I shouldn't like her books, but I do.

It's also very hard to review her books.  I can tell you what happens, but it just doesn't mean much.  It's all about the writing and the way King reveals things--slowly and carefully.

Sarah is sixteen and has always been very interested in art.  Something happens, and she stops going to school.  Her parents encourage her and try to figure out what is the matter, but she can't go back.  Her parents have their own issues.  They appear to be in a loveless marriage, and there is a lot of arguing in the house.

Sarah's brother left when she was ten years old after a trip to Mexico.  She hasn't seen or heard from him since. Parts of the book are flashbacks to just what occurred on this trip.

Also, Sarah is visited by her 10-year-old self, as well as a 23-year-old version and a 40-year-old version.  And everyone can see these people, not just Sarah.  I know that sounds weird, but just go with it.

Sarah spends her days wandering around and follows a homeless man that is a graffiti artist. She also attends "school" at an old run-down boarded-up school.

Still Life with Tornado is about Sarah and the rest of her family coming to terms with the past as well as the present and overcoming the violence and emptiness of her parents' marriage.

As I'm reading I vacillate between "this is really weird" and "I have to know what happened." But I'm always compelled to keep turning the pages, and Still Life with Tornado was a very quick read for me. I want my students to read A. S. King, but I haven't had many that would.  Too bad. I'll keep trying.

Published by Dutton BFYR, 2016
Copy obtained from the library
296 pages

Rating: 4.5/5





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Thursday, May 10, 2018

DNF Thoughts: The Academy, by Katie Sise

The Academy by Katie Sise book cover and review
This is the second book in a row that was a "did not finish."  I thought I would try something different, because I'm tired of fantasy, so I picked up this contemporary, The AcademyUnfortunately, this one did not work for me either.

Frankie messes up a few times and her parents enroll her in a military academy.  Frankie is a successful fashion blogger and has secretly applied to the American Fashion Academy, so she is understandably upset, but seems to get over it very quickly.  She's a teenager!  She should be throwing a fit.

I thought it was over-the-top that her parents took such drastic measures over a few teenage transgressions.  But this is a cute, contemporary so I can get over that.

But Frankie, I just couldn't understand.  She doesn't want to go, but when she gets there, she decides to do her best.  Over and over again.  Then she screws up.  All she has to do is get three demerits or a low GPA and she will be thrown out.  So why is it such a big deal for her to get thrown out?  She just doesn't seem upset or mad about being there, and she should be! And she vacillates so much between giving it her all and then deciding to screw up again. I couldn't ride that roller coaster. It just wasn't believable to me.

I also had a really hard time with this Academy.  A new student starts and you don't do anything to help them acclimate? You don't give them a tour, you give them impossible physical challenges without any training, you hand them a bow and arrow and tell them to shoot it, and on and on.  This "over-the-topness" was just too much. Frankie got thrown to the wolves, and she just kept taking it.

She was making some friends and they were helping her, but I didn't care about them either. I just didn't like this story.  I didn't feel any tension or drama. It seemed Frankie had several easy outs and didn't take them, which made her trials meaningless.  So I took the easy out and quit reading at 47%.

Published by Balzer + Bray, May 22, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
135/288 pages

Rating: DNF





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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Audio Book Review: Ape House, by Sara Gruen

Ape House by Sara Gruen book cover and review
I really enjoyed Ape HouseIt's a good thing Gruen is an interesting writer because there were some extra details that I thought were excessive.

John is a reporter who visits the Great Ape Language Lab to interview Isabel Duncan, one of the chief scientists.  He is fascinated by what he sees -- how the apes are treated as equals. How they were able to communicate with humans -- and wanted to.

A few days after his visit, protestors bomb the lab, Isabel is seriously injured, and the apes are loose. Isabel considers the apes to be her family, and when they are sold out from under her, she is devastated and will do anything to be reunited with them.

John has lost the ape story to another reporter and ends up quitting his job.  We get a lot of detail about John and his relationship with his wife, Amanda, who is trying to be a writer but is depressed about being rejected. I really got frustrated with this point of view at times.  I really just wanted to hear about what was happening to the apes. I realized that the emphasis on John must mean that eventually he and Isabel would team up, but it took way to long to get to that point.

That is really my only complaint about Ape House. There were many interesting characters, and the road to saving the apes was fraught with detours. My heart really felt for those apes!  I felt their humanness just like Isabel. And the twists! I was surprised at who the bad guys really were, and I enjoyed how it all resolved.

The audio version was excellently narrated by Paul Boehmer. His voice didn't detract from Ape House at all (which is the way I like it.)

This adult title is appropriate for teens who are interested in animals.  And, if you haven't read Gruen's Water for Elephants, you shouldn't miss that one either.

Published by Spiegel & Grau, 2010, audio by Random House
Audiobook obtained from the library
320 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

DNF Thoughts: Onyx & Ivory by Mindee Arnett--But, It's Really Good!

I didn't finish Onyx & Ivory, but I wanted to write something anyway because I think the book is good -- for the right person at the right time.

Here's the problem.  I'm just really burned out on princes and princesses, forbidden romance, big secrets, and magic or fairies.  Recently I've read The Cruel Prince, Song of Achilles, Morning Star, and Furyborn. And there was another one that I did not finish that I won't mention.  All of these books have some or all of these elements. Onyx & Ivory says, "for fans of Leigh Bardugo," and I completely agree.  Or Sarah J. Maas.  I remember when I just couldn't read any more dystopians, just because they were dystopian.  So, that's where I'm at.

I read 37% of Onyx & Ivory, so I got a good feel for the book.  Kate's father tried to assassinate the king, so she's been banished.  She's gotten a job as a rider for the Relay, to deliver mail from town to town.  There are zombie-like creatures that come out at night, and these towns use magic to ward them off.  But there are some people with hidden magic who will be killed by the inquisition if their magic is revealed.  Kate is one of them.

She used to be best friends with the prince, Corwin.  Kate ends up saving him from these creatures, so they end up seeing each other, which they haven't done since Kate left.  And it seems like there will be a rekindled romance between these two, but that's about as far as I went.

The pacing is great, the characters are interesting, and the writing is good.  There isn't really anything wrong with Onyx & Ivory except the subject matter.  And if you are still in the mood for these romantic, magical books involving royalty falling for commoners, then, by all means, pick it up.  I will purchase this one for my library.

Published by Balzer + Bray, May 15, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
190/512 pages

Rating: DNF





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Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Review: Furyborn, by Claire Legrand @clairelegrand

Furyborn, by Claire Legrand book cover and review
Furyborn is set in a vivid fantasy world, where two formidable women pursue different paths in different time periods. The reader wonders why these two stories are 1000 years apart, but they must be related in some way -- and that mystery is part of the reason this tale is so compelling.

Reille is in love with the crown prince, who is betrothed to Reille's best friend. When Reille reveals powerful abilities to save the prince, it is suspected that she is the Sun Queen, who legend says can save the world.  She must withstand seven deadly tests, one for each of the elements, in order to prove her identity.

A thousand years later, Eliana is a bounty hunter.  Her family survives only because of her murderous acts. But when her mother disappears, along with many other women from the city, everything changes.  As she rebels against the empire, she hooks up with an untrustworthy revolutionary captain who promises to help her find her mother.  But his intentions prove otherwise. He wants to show Eliana the secrets of this evil world and show her how her abilities may be the key to creating change.

The leaps in both time and point-of-view are unsettling at first, but events urge the reader forward as these powerful women meet each obstacle and begin to discover the secrets that bind them together.

Given what we learn at the end, I wonder how these stories can be 1000 years apart, but I guess more will be revealed in future installments of The Empirium Trilogy.

The suspense builds at the end of each chapter, and then you are in the other women's world!  It's frustrating but effective. Incorporating powerful magical feats, Furyborn will leave you wanting more. Teens who enjoy epic fantasy will be enthralled.  Can't wait to recommend Furyborn.

Published by Sourcebooks Fire, May 22, 2018
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine and NetGalley
491 pages

Rating: 5/5





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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Review: The Blue Lagoon, by Henry De Vere Stacpoole

The Blue Lagoon by Henry De Vere Stacpoole book cover and review
I chose The Blue Lagoon because I was browsing through my Serial Reader selections, and it said this was a romance.  Every description of this book says it's a romance.  While I really enjoyed it, I just don't consider it much of a romance.

Dicky and Emmeline are stranded on an island in the South Pacific after a storm sinks the ship they were sailing on.  They end up in a lifeboat with Paddy, one of the cooks on the ship. Paddy takes care of them and teaches them how to survive on the lush tropical island where they end up. After a couple of years, Paddy dies.

The romance doesn't even occur until we are well into the second half of The Blue Lagoon. It is fairly sudden.  They discover each other's bodies, fall in love, and have a lot of sex, but then they move on to surviving and other things that I don't want to spoil.

The Blue Lagoon is very much a survival story.  They run into all the potential dangers that one can think of in that situation.  Storms, sharks, whalers, savages, and more try to end them.  But they are surprisingly resilient even though very young.

I was stunned to find out that The Blue Lagoon is the first book in a trilogy.  I thought series books were a relatively new concept, but these books were written in the early 1900s. I'm already looking forward to the second book, The Garden of God.

The Blue Lagoon is easy to read, other than some of Paddy's dialect. It is a sweet story that teens and adults can enjoy, even though it was written so long ago.

Published by T. Fisher Unwin, 1908
Copy obtained from Serial Reader
328 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All

Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All book cover and review
I loved this book.  When I read the description of Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VII Tell All, I was a bit apprehensive.  The book is written by several different authors in short story form, and I'm not usually a fan of short stories.  Although there are exceptions--and this book is definitely one of those.

When you look at the list of authors (M. T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, Deborah Hopkinson), it's no surprise that this book is a success. Anderson takes Henry VIII and each of the other authors takes a queen.  They are introduced in chronological order, and between each of the queens, we get the perspective of Henry.

At first, I didn't like Henry's interruptions.  I felt like the story was being told twice, but I then realized that Henry's thoughts are important and tie everything together.

Fatal Throne is a fiction book.  The stories have been embellished and some holes filled in.  But the authors did their research and these tales seem authentic.  And they read like fiction -- which is a good thing.  Even though we are learning a lot of history here, the stories are fascinating and really kept my interest.  Which is why historical fiction is my favorite genre!

Fatal Thrones will go on the top of my list so far for books I've read in 2108. Give it a chance--it is really quite interesting and a fairly quick read.

Published by Schwartz & Wade, May 1, 2018
eARC obtained from NetGalley
416 pages

Rating: 5/5





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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black @hollyblack ‏

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black book cover and review
It has been a while since I've read a book by Holly Black.  I'm hesitant about fairy books.  Much of the time they are too "magically convenient" for me.  But I found The Cruel Prince to be very compelling.

Jude and her twin sister Taryn are stolen away at the age of seven to live in the High Court of the Faerie. Their parents are murdered, and it turns out their older sister actually is a fairy.

Jude is a mortal living in a land of fairies.  Her stepfather, Madoc, has raised her with all the privileges of his rank.  She and Taryn attend classes with princes and princesses of the kingdom.  And they are terribly bullied. Jude doesn't want her life with the fairies to be one of settling down and marrying one of them and having their children.  She's a warrior and desires to be one of the king's knights.  Madoc will not allow it.

In the meantime, the High King, Eldred, has decided to abdicate the throne and has chosen Dain, his third of six children, to be his heir. Prince Cardan is the youngest and absolute worst of Jude's tormentors.  And his three followers aren't much better.  Except for Locke, who establishes a relationship with Jude.

Wow! There are a lot of twists and turns in this story.  No one is honest (even though fairies can't lie!) The pacing is excellent--always something developing to move the plot along.  The magic is subtle--mostly enchanting others to do as you wish.

There are a lot of characters that I sometimes had difficulty remembering.  They are all introduced at once, and a cast of characters at the beginning would have been helpful. I like my fairie books to be connected to the human world, and The Cruel Prince certainly was.

The Cruel Prince has a definite conclusion, but it is the first book in a trilogy. After a very surprising twist, there isn't a horrible cliffhanger. But I'm definitely anticipating the rest of the story! I read this one because it's our book club choice for this month. The Cruel Prince is a must-read for fans of the fae and in particular, Holly Black fans.

Published by Little, Brown BFYR, January 2, 2018
Copy obtained from the library
370 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Audio Book Review: Red Hook Road, by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook Road by Ayalet Waldman book cover and review
 I wasn't supposed to like Red Hook Road. But I did.

Red Hook Road begins with a tragedy.  Becca and John are killed in an accident on Red Hook Road just hours after they are married.  For the rest of the book, both families are trying to come to terms with their grief. Does that sound like a good book?

After the beginning, when I realized what this book was going to be about, I almost gave up.  But I'm more patient with audiobooks, and the writing was really great. I was caught up in these people's lives.  I could see the beautiful coastal village in Maine. The details are what kept me involved.

Red Hook Road isn't an action book, although there is a bit of suspense at the end.  It's a study of the characters and their interactions with each other--how they helped each other through.  And in some cases, how this tragedy divided them. Of course, it was sad at times, but there is a good balance of uplifting scenes too.

Like I said, this isn't my "type" of book.  But I love stretching my wings and finding something that I really enjoy, even if out of my comfort zone. Pick up Red Hook Road if you like atmospheric stories of family and love. I would highly recommend the audio version. Kimberly Farr does a great job.

Published by Doubleday, 2010, Random House Audio.
Audiobook obtained from the library
352 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Review: The Lies They Tell, by Gillian French

The Lies They Tell by Gillian French book cover and review
The Lies They Tell is a good teen contemporary mystery but didn't really stand out.

A fire has destroyed the Garrison's summer house on Tenney's Harbor.  The occupants were murdered before the fire was set.  Only one family member survived, a son, Tristan. Pearl's father, the caretaker, has been blamed for allowing this to happen on his watch, and Pearl is out to clear his name.

Usually, the year-round residents don't mix with the affluent summer crowd.  But Tristan, who returned to the island by himself this summer, and his friends regularly sit in Pearl's section at the club where she waits tables.

Pearl starts hanging around with them and secretly is doing her own investigating of the crime. She slowly finds clues that don't mean much, but in the end, all is revealed, and she must fight for her survival against the perpetrator.

I suspected who accomplished this crime from the beginning but still wasn't sure until the end. There are a few tense moments throughout the story, and slowly secrets are revealed. But all hell breaks loose at the very end, and I did feel my heart pounding a little bit.

I read French's The Door to January and was fairly apathetic.  The Lies They Tell is much more thrilling. It is also kind of interesting that I happen to be listening to Red Hook Road, which is an adult book about life on an island community where most of the people are summer residents and the relationships they form with the full-time residents. My review is coming soon.

The Lies They Tell is a bit slow to get going but other than that, it's an easy read that teen mystery lovers will enjoy.  It isn't a must-read, but there aren't enough YA mystery books, so I'll be happy to recommend this one.

Published by HarperTeen, May 1, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
304 pages

Rating: 3.5/5





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