Thursday, November 20, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: TORN AWAY by Jennifer Brown




Title: Torn Away
Author: Jennifer Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Genres: YA, Contemporary
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Jersey Cameron has always loved a good storm. Watching the clouds roll in and the wind pick up. Smelling the electricity in the air. Dancing barefoot in the rain. She lives in the Midwest, after all, where the weather is sure to keep you guessing. Jersey knows what to do when the tornado sirens sound. But she never could have prepared for this.

When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?

In this powerful and poignant novel, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown delivers a story of love, loss, hope, and survival.




REVIEW

It seldom happens that a book captivates me to the extent that I would set aside all else and simply read through it without stopping. This, however, was the case with Torn Away. Irritated with her little sister's pleas to dance, glad that said sister is out of the way and off to dance class, Jersey is just ready to start cooking a meal for her family when the tornado sirens go off. How Jersey wished, after the disastrous tornado, that she had danced with her sister or spent more time with her mother.

I simply couldn't put this book down. The vivid and absolutely horrifying descriptions of the tornado, the devastation afterwards, and the lost feeling of, not only the main character, but everybody who had been affected, kept me turning the pages.

Although I certainly didn't always agree with Jersey's thoughts and decisions, I feel that the author created a truly believable character. I could honestly feel Jersey's sense of denial after she had lost everything, and her desperate despair when she was separated from everything familiar and taken to relatives whom she didn't know at all. Throughout the story Jersey finds herself in realistic scenarios—never unimaginably horrible nor magically good.

When Jersey's friend is forced by her mother to betray her, Jersey seems hurt, yet understands that it was the parent, not the friend, who did the betraying. Unfortunately she has a much less mature attitude towards her maternal grandparents.

For a touching story of devastation, loss, personal growth, and an end that is so poignant that it would be wise to keep the Kleenex close to hand, I highly recommend Torn Away as a read that will stay with you long after you have read the final page.






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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award (2005 & 2006), Jennifer's weekly humor column appeared in The Kansas City Star for over four years, until she gave it up to be a full-time young adult novelist.

Jennifer's debut novel, HATE LIST (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009) received three starred reviews and was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA "Perfect Ten," and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. HATE LIST also won the Michigan Library Association's Thumbs Up! Award, the Louisiana Teen Readers Choice award, the 2012 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award, was an honorable mention for the 2011 Arkansas Teen Book Award, is a YALSA 2012 Popular Paperback, received spots on the Texas Library Association's Taysha's high school reading list as well as the Missouri Library Association's Missouri Gateway Awards list, and has been chosen to represent the state of Missouri in the 2012 National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Jennifer's second novel, BITTER END, (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011) received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA and is listed on the YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list and is a 2012 Taysha's high school reading list pick as well.

Jennifer writes and lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area, with her husband and three children.

  

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

REVIEW: LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson




Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Publication Date: March 14, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 3/5

SUMMARY

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.




REVIEW

Clearly, from all the five-star ratings this book has received, I’m definitely in the minority here. I was very close to giving up on this novel, but then decided to read all the way to thirty percent on my Kindle before quitting so that I can say I actually gave it a fair chance. Well, lo and behold! At exactly thirty percent, when I was ready to bid farewell to Life After Life, it got its hooks into me and I couldn’t put it down.

From thirty percent to seventy percent the story intrigued me and I got swept along in Ursula’s multiple attempts at life. Nonetheless, after seventy percent finishing the rest of the book became a struggle again, and because it’s a fairly lengthy novel I was relieved when I finally reached the end. Speaking of which…the ending was rather disappointing and I couldn’t make any sense of it. The prologue was immensely promising and somehow I got it in my head that the rest of the story was meant as a build-up of events leading to that which occurred in the prologue. I was sadly mistaken and when the event, as foreshadowed in the prologue, happened in the story, it didn’t have the same impact as what it did at the very start of the book. That pivotal moment which I was looking forward to, ended up being watered down and rushed.

This is a slow-moving plot which I felt dragged along in a lot of places. The parts I enjoyed the most were those that focused on Ursula’s time in Germany at the start, and during, World War II, and her interactions with and thoughts about Hitler. I liked the family set-up of Ursula’s family, and I started feeling at home at Fox Corner. However, right from the start there is a boatload of characters to keep track of, and many times I got confused by who is who.

Life After Life is not a book I’ll recommend to just anyone because I don’t think it will be everybody’s cup of tea (despite thousands of glowing reviews). It is without a doubt a well-written historical fiction with a very interesting idea at its core that got me thinking. I’m glad I finished it and I might even read another of Atkinson’s books in the future.


  



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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Kate Atkinson was born in York and now lives in Edinburgh. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and she has been a critically acclaimed international bestselling author ever since.

She is the author of a collection of short stories, Not the End of the World, and of the critically acclaimed novels Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Case Histories, and One Good Turn.



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Monday, November 17, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill




Title: Heart-Shaped Box
Author: Joe Hill
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 13, 2007
Genres: Horror, Paranormal
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre -- his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman's noose, Aleister Crowley's childhood chessboard, etc. -- so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it. 

The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker's sanity.





REVIEW

Being a major fan of horror, I absolutely loved Heart-Shaped Box. As rock star, Judas Coyne, is a long time collector of unusual memorabilia, it isn't very odd when he purchases a ghost for his collection. Soon, however, said ghost turns out to be much more than he bargained for and Judas, his current girlfriend, Marybeth aka Georgia, along with everybody else they come in contact with, is in mortal danger.

I get to read a fair amount of horror, yet, it has been a while since I last read something that isn't just blood, guts and scary phenomena. Although this book most certainly has its ample share of bloody, gory violence, it is also a tale filled with realistic personalities with excellently fitting back stories.

The extremely well fleshed out characters truly come alive through the brilliantly written dialogue. All the characters, even that of the main character, Judas Coyne, is thoroughly and realistically flawed.

The author successfully creates atmospheres of fear, horror, despair and, yes, even hope, through his wonderfully detailed descriptions of anything from nature and the weather to indoor scenery and facial expressions.

Heart-Shaped Box isn't just the telling of a horrifying adventure, it is also a tale of revenge, remorse, and character development, as well as relationship growth.

Perhaps not suitable for readers under sixteen or for extremely sensitive readers, Heart-Shaped Box is an absolute must read for all who enjoy the best that horror has to offer.




  

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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Joe Hill is the author of three novels, Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2, as well as a prize-winning collection of stories, 20th Century Ghosts. He also wrote a pair of comics: Locke & Key and Wraith (which ties into the world of NOS4A2). Some nice people gave him an Eisner Award for his work in funny books, which is a great honor, even if “funny” probably doesn’t do a good job of describing the kinds of things that happen in the comics. Come to think of it, his comics aren’t very comic either.


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: GEEK GIRL by Holly Smale




Title: Geek Girl
Series: Geek Girl, #1
Author: Holly Smale
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Publication Date: February 28, 2013
Genre: Young Adult
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Harriet Manners knows a lot of things. 

She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn't quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she's spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves. 

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did. 

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?




REVIEW

Having recently read several rather suspenseful and fairly serious books, Geek Girl turned out to be the perfect book to wind down with. Rather unpopular at school, geeky Harriet Manners tries to avoid being noticed by others, especially her nemesis, Alexa, and her even geekier stalker, Toby. Unfortunately, her loyalty to her best friend, Nat, lands her slap in the middle of the modeling world as well as in the center of more complications than she can deal with.

I so needed to read something like this delightfully relaxing and, most of the time, hilariously funny story right now. Even the serious, leaning to the disastrous, parts of the story is written in an upbeat way that just keeps the smile hovering.

Harriet is such a realistic, likable, and lifelike character, she makes the story come alive with her geeky statistics, natural doubts and fears, and often slightly off-beat observations. The even geekier Toby is absolutely lovable despite his weirdly accomplished role as Harriet's stalker.

Even Harriet's sometimes-less-than-completely-honest father, and her stern lawyer stepmother, turned out to be characters that I felt sad to say good bye to at the end of the book. Nick, Harriet's deliciously handsome co-model, comes across as a flighty, slightly untouchable character at first. Fortunately, the young man redeems himself towards the end of the story.

For a lighthearted, relaxing read full of laugh-out-loud humor and wickedly sharp wit, I recommend Geek Girl as an absolute must read.






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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Holly is the Number One bestselling, multi-award winning author of the GEEK GIRL series.

She fell in love with writing at five years old, when she realised that books didn't grow on trees like apples. A passion for travel, adventure and wearing no shoes has since led her all over the world: she has visited 27 countries, spent two years working as an English teacher in Japan, volunteered in Nepal, been bartered for in Jamaica and had a number of ear-plugs stolen in Australia, Indonesia and India.

Holly has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Shakespeare, and currently lives in London or at @holsmale.

  
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: BOY, SNOW, BIRD by Helen Oyeyemi




Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Publisher: Riverhead
Publication Date: March 6, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 2/5

SUMMARY

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.




REVIEW

Thinking that the fairy tale aspect as well as the enigmatic reference to mirrors would make it an interesting, even fascinating read, I quite eagerly started reading Boy, Snow, Bird. I'm sorry to say that I was rather sadly disappointed. Boy leaves her abusive parent for life in a small town and a marriage that seems to turn sour after a few years. Although Boy - really a girl - is a bit of a typical stepmother, her daughter, Bird, makes an effort to befriend her estranged stepsister, the beautiful and completely white, Snow. 

Excellent classics like To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Help notwithstanding, books concerning the color question have never been among my favorite reading material. The author uses the Snow White fairy tale to emphasize the color issue in this book—a clever ploy if stories about said color issue is within the reader's interest.

Unless the matter of both Bird and Snow not always appearing in all mirrors at all times is a metaphor for something, I simply didn't get that part of the story. I did, however, enjoy Bird's fascination with spiders. That, together with her upbeat, often hilariously funny, narrating voice during the middle part of the book, gave her an outstanding character.

Other characters like Mia, Boy's best friend, as well as both the grandmothers are unique and well fleshed out and contribute to the telling of this story.

The weird, but wickedly unexpected plot twist right at the end, though criticized by many, actually redeemed this book for me.

Although this book is not for me, it is clearly an excellent literary work that retells the fairy tale of Snow White while skillfully and tastefully touching on the color question within families and communities in the sixties.







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Helen Oyeyemi is a British novelist and playwright. She was born in Nigeria in 1984 and raised in London. She wrote her widely acclaimed first novel, The Icarus Girl, before her nineteenth birthday; she graduated from Cambridge University in 2006, where she studied social and political sciences. In 2013 she was included in the Granta Best Of Young British Novelists list.

  
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: BLOOD AND ICE by Robert Masello




Title: Blood and Ice
Author: Robert Masello
Publisher: Spectra
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

In this haunting and suspenseful thriller, Robert Masello delivers an adventure that spans continents and centuries—a spellbinding story that ranges from Victorian England to a remote antarctic research station, where an ancient glacier yields a shocking prize it has held captive for nearly two hundred years…. 

Journalist Michael Wilde—his world recently shattered by tragedy—hopes that a monthlong assignment to the South Pole will give him a new lease on life. Here, in the most inhospitable place on earth, he is simply looking to find solace . . . until, on a routine dive in to the polar sea, he unexpectedly finds something else entirely: a young man and woman, bound with chains and sealed forever in a block of ice. Beside them a chest filled with a strange, and sinister, cargo.

Now, in a bleak but breathtaking world of shimmering icebergs, deep blue crevasses, and never-ending sun, Wilde must unravel the mystery of this doomed couple. Were they the innocent victims of fear and superstition—or were they something far darker? His search will lead from the barracks and battlefields of the Crimean War to the unexplored depths of the Antarctic Ocean, from the ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade to an age-old curse that survives to this day.

As the ice around the murdered lovers begins to melt, Wilde will have to grapple with a miracle—or a nightmare—in the making. For what is dead, it turns out, may not be gone. And here, at the very end of the known world, there’s nowhere to hide and no place left for the living to run.




REVIEW

Having thoroughly enjoyed reading The Romanov Cross by this author, I was naturally looking forward to reading Blood and Ice. I was not in the least disappointed! While journalist, Michael Wild, is visiting an Antarctic research station in order to heal from a recent personal tragedy, he discovers two bodies frozen into a glacier. However, when the block of ice containing the bodies starts melting, the bodies disappear and what might have been a career making discovery for Michael turns into a nightmare for the entire research base.

This captivating page-turner is most certainly going onto my favorite reads of 2014 list. The story of Michael in the present as well as that of Eleanor and Sinclair in the past unfolds methodically, never giving away too much at once, thus inspiring one to just continue reading.

A master of realistic description, Robert Masello makes the reader see the Antarctic with its storms, bleak but interesting landscape, and fascinating marine life in vivid detail. While telling the 19th century part of the tale, he describes Victorian England and the Crimean war with equal skill.

The dialogue, especially that of the characters in Victorian England, is realistically adapted for that period. The characters, even the secondary ones, grew on me—not a good idea as some of them naturally have to fall by the way side. Even Sinclair Copley, whose personality became somewhat warped after his Crimean experience, is a likable, well fleshed out character.

In the pages of this book you will travel on both 19th century and modern ships, experience life at an Antarctic research base, attend the very first Ascot Gold Cup and relive the fatal charge of the light brigade. Rooted in Turkish folk lore and filled with adventure, mystery and a bit of masterfully written romance, Blood and Ice is a must-read for anybody who loves a well-researched, suspense laden, yet heartwarming, thriller.








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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, television writer, and the bestselling author of many books, most recently the historical thriller entitled The Romanov Cross, published by Bantam/Random House (2013).  The book has received starred reviews in both Kirkus, which praised its “delicious sense of creeping dread,” and in Publishers Weekly, which said: “Masello skillfully weaves together the story of the deaths of the Romanov family and the possibility of a new worldwide influenza pandemic . . . Toss in a pack of slavering wolves, the undead, and a chilling ending, and the result is a terrific, can’t-put-it-down read.”  To date, foreign language rights have been sold in Germany, Italy and Poland.



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Monday, November 10, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein




Title: Rose Under Fire
Series: Code Name Verity, #2
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Genres: YA, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that's in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.




REVIEW

Having read the wonderful Code Name Verity, I really looked forward to reading Rose Under Fire. Though not quite as brilliant as its prequel, this is a wonderfully researched and often heartbreaking tale in its own right.

In a desperate, if slightly impulsive effort to possibly save Paris from a flying bomb, Rose Justice is caught by the German Luftwaffe and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. During this life-changing period she meets the Rabbits: Polish victims of Nazi human experimentation. Together with several others Rose resolves to get out of the camp and tell the world about these atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.

Rose, the main character, is a girl who knows what she wants, naturally attracts others and can think clearly in a crisis—just the kind of female lead I can relate to. Other well fleshed out characters include aggressive little Polish Róa, Red Army prisoner of war, Irina, and the motherly Lisette who attempts to look after a group of horribly crippled girls in the concentration camp.

In this story the author manages to portray the absolute instability of war. Impulsive marriage proposals, hastily performed marriages, the devastation when a loved one goes missing, the paralyzing fear when your number is called for the gas chambers and the ultimate joy when the war is over is beautifully depicted in the pages of this book.

On the other hand, the harsh reality of life in Ravensbrück; the hunger, the fear and the cruelty, are equally vividly described. I was deeply touched by the camaraderie that developed between so many women from vastly different nationalities.

Several of the characters from Code Name Verity also appear in this book though not in key roles. The poetry written by Rose gives a lovely lyrical quality to the prose. 

For a read that will thrill, horrify, and stir you to tears, but that should, ultimately, touch you and leave you fulfilled, I highly recommend Rose Under Fire.






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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Elizabeth Wein has lived in Scotland for over ten years and wrote nearly all her novels there.  Her first five books for young adults are set in Arthurian Britain and sixth century Ethiopia.  The most recent of these form the sequence The Mark of Solomon, published in two parts as The Lion Hunter (2007) and The Empty Kingdom (2008).  The Lion Hunter was short-listed for the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2008.  Elizabeth also writes short stories.



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