Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

genre: young adult dystopian

The human race has defeated death.  Now that all diseases have been cured and all accidental deaths can be reversed, population has to be controlled SOMEhow. Herein lies the significance of the scythe: these select individuals have taken it upon themselves to deal death upon the world.  There are rules, of course, both for how the public can interact with the scythes and how the scythes can do their "job" and from what Citra and Rowan know about the job, they want nothing to do with it.  Until, that is, they DO start to have something to do with it.  And these two teens will soon find that the business of death is far more complicated that one could imagine.

This book blew me away.  I was engaged from the beginning by this probable world, by the pitfalls of immortality, by all the ethical questions that are played with.  Parts of it shocked me, disturbed me and shook me.  This is a book with violent action, with deep ideas and with heart.  It's telling that the minute I finished it I was out the door to the library to get the next book.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (audiobook)

genre: historical mystery

Flavia has gone on holiday with Dogger and her sisters and whilst punting on the river, she happens upon, you guessed it, a dead body.  This one, a man dressed to the nines whose disappearance may well be connected somehow to the murder of three church women a few years previously.  Women who were POISONED no less, Flavia's favorite.  What better way to spend your holiday than investigating a murder??

I will listen to every Flavia ever written.  This episode is just a pleasant and delightful as all the others.  She gets into scrapes, lies her head off, makes amazing deductions, does a fine bit of chemistry and generally  solves all the things.  I love it.  I love her relationship with Dogger and the more we learn about him, the more I just like him as a character as well.  Alan Bradley hasn't disappointed me yet.

Dogchild by Kevin Brooks

genre: ya dystopian

Jeet's world is a desolate one.  Living in an isolated community on the edge of survival, he knows that his fellow villagers don't really accept him.  His early life among the wild dogs that wander the wilderness and his subsequent "rehumanization" to the village means that he'll never be truly accepted.  When tragedy strikes his village, though, and he becomes privy to some information that affects how he views their rival village - he makes the choice to act.  And that choice is going to lead Jeet and his whole community to a final breaking point.

First off, this is a really long book.  I read it on my Kindle so I didn't have much of a sense of how long it would be until I'd been reading for so long and realized I was only at 30%!  I feel like it could've been much shorter and still have been an interesting story.  Because it IS an interesting story - I liked Jeet's dog connection and how his life among them as a child influences his present day character development.  I liked setting and even the plot is good, I just often found the length it took to make things happen (especially battles) made me loose my interest.  Also, I wanted MORE BACKSTORY.  More on the entire world but most especially WHY there are two rival, kill-each-other-until-we-are-all-destroyed villages.  I had a hard time investing in their feud - it all seemed so useless!  The first thing we learn about Jeet's village is that they have a deadly rival village....and that's all we ever really learn about it.  Also, part of Jeet's character is that he somehow is unable to use English grammar, which just irked my eyeballs every time.

It's telling, though, that despite all these things that frustrated me, I still finished it because I wanted to know what happened.  Readers who enjoy dystopian stories and who are just less picky that me will probably enjoy it. So, not a waste of time, just not a book I could let my brain and my disbelief relax into.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Someday, Somewhere by Lindsay Champion

genre: contemporary young adult

Dominique's life in Trenton is pretty dismal - working at her single mom's laundromat and going to school, that about sums it up.  There's no money and nothing to look forward to.  Her dream of becoming a dancer just has no way of coming true in the reality that is her life.  But then she ends up on a field trip to Carnegie Hall and one look at violinist Ben changes her trajectory.  Her crush - and his passion for life and music - are going to make the streets of New York City move to a different beat.  And it will change everything.

First off, there are a lot of elements to this story that made it an uncomfortable read for me personally: instalove, (believable?  meh, it's so hard to do well) so much dishonesty, clear and undiagnosed mental illness.  I just never felt like I could settle in and LOVE their love.  And the story never really sorts through all the huge consequences from the dishonesty and the mental illness, the resolution is way too "and oh look it's okay now."  Which, as a NOT young adult, rubs me the wrong way.

HOWEVER.  I really did enjoy reading it.  I love New York City stories and I love reading about people that are passionate about something (especially related to the arts) and

POSSIBLE SPOILER

I do appreciate mental illness being a topic in books for young people but I don't so much like it being a plot TWIST, necessarily.  I wish we could've delved into the that more.

I wanted to finish it and I liked the resolution enough, I just wanted more.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (audiobook)

30267929genre: historical fiction

The Kurc family has put down roots in the Polish town of Radom and, all nearly grown, the five Kurc siblings have lived a happy life filled with music and the Jewish traditions that tie them to their ancestors.  However, in the spring of 1939, when the hints of war become ever stronger, each member of the Kurc family begins their own saga of surviving what would become World War II.

To say this story is astonishing is an understatement.  I would be almost unbelievable if it wasn't true - but the author has done so much research into her own family that although it reads like a novel, it is based on the actual experiences of her grandfather's family.  I loved how we switched back and forth between the five siblings and the parents - although it took awhile for me to get the names straight, it was incredible how different each sibling's path through the war was.  I was in awe of their determination, their resourcefulness and although sometimes I had to suspend my disbelief, it still made my heart ache and I got teary more than once as beloved characters were on the brink of being lost.  What touched me maybe the most was the bonds that linked each sibling to each parent and to each other, the efforts they made to ensure each other's safety, to find ways to be connected no matter how distant they'd traveled, either by choice or taken by force.  By the end, I felt the love of this family seeping from the pages and I reveled in their luck along with them.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

35963837. sy475 Genre: graphic novel


This graphic novel tells the story of Ebo, a young Ghanan boy whose brother has left him behind to try and get to Europe - but Ebo refuses to accept being left behind. On his own he begins a journey that he hopes, more than anything, will reunite him with his brother and result in a better life somewhere else. From the endless desert to the streets of Tripoli to a tiny life raft full of people dreaming of safe harbor, Ebo’s journey is a perilous one.

Although fictional, Ebo’s story is flush with the reality that so many refugees have faced as they’ve fled war, poverty and persecution. The illustrations are stark and go a long way helping us to envision what it might be like to take such a journey. The only thing I really didn’t love is that the chronology is always flipping back-and-forth in time which felt disjointed to me. I would’ve preferred a more natural flowing chronology but overall the book is a strong one, making clear the horror and tragedy without being so graphic that an older elementary school student or young teen couldn't appreciate it.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery

genre: fiction

Growing up in her grandmother's huge and fancy house in Toronto, Jane's life with her beloved mother is a quiet one.  A life of duty and speaking when spoken to and CERTAINLY never speaking of her father.  But when Jane's father surprises them all with a request to join him for the summer on Prince Edwards Island, Jane doesn't even WANT to go.  Why would she want to spend the summer with a man who doesn't love her in a place she's never seen?

Except, when Jane finally arrives on PEI, it doesn't feel at all like she's never seen it before.  In fact, it feels more like "home" than anywhere she's ever lived and it's a place where she is free to be the kind of girls she's always wanted - but it would never be perfect until she can be with her mother also.  Will Jane ever be able to have everyone she loves with her at the same time?

OH JANE.  I know I can't be quite objective when I talk about this delightful book because it is SO nostalgic to me.  I watched a film about Jane so many times growing up and although I now know that the film is far more supernatural than the book, the FEELING of it is still the same.  PEI is STILL as magical and Jane's family is still just as broken but you have the same hope it can be mended.  I love strong young heroines at the heart of my stories and Jane is particularly delightful.  She WANTS to be productive, she wants to be hard-working and capable, with her hands covered in dirt or dough - all things that felt not-allowed in her lady-like life in Toronto.  Her descriptions of her carefree (or care-filled, depending on how you look at them) summers on PEI were just a pleasure to read.  This one was a total charmer for me.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Little Women by Louisa May Allcott (audiobook)

genre: fiction

Jo.  Meg.  Amy.  Beth.  I don't even remember how old I was when I first heard my mother tell me about those four little women, sisters whose lives and loves are the heart of this classic.  I know my mother gave me the book when I was a girl myself, I remember how it looked and felt in my hands, but I remembered the movies more and so I'm glad I took the time to delve into the text once again.

Little women is a story of family, more than anything.  About how truly interwoven our experiences are but also about how just because you ARE in a family, it doesn't mean that things will come naturally or easy.  The entire book is filled with didactic teachings for how to be a "good little woman," how to be obedient and kind, how to work and how to appreciate what you have.  The March family's poverty is a major theme and how the girls grow up dealing with that poverty helps us understand their character - and how it changes as they grow.  Of course, we can't forget Laurie, the beloved boy next door whose antics and boyish ways keep things exciting.

It IS a good book.  There is solid writing and the characters are SO fleshed out, they really are like real people.  Marmie is always there with advice and care and the secondary characters, too, have flaws and strengths that add to the story.  The preachiness of it rankled me a little - I don't remember that from my early readings.  But I can forgive it that because it also really gives us a picture into a time and place so different from our own, and yet, when it comes to relationships and trials, not that different.  And even though I KNEW what was going to happen to Beth, it still crushed me and I think that Alcott's writing in that chapter is beyond superb.  It is astonishingly beautiful and powerful to me.  It is the people in this story and the love that ties them together that has made Little Women stand the test of time.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Books I've Given Up On Part 6

Artemis by Andy Weir - I LOVED the Martian so I was really looking forward to this it just wasn't working for me.  The protagonist annoyed me and while I liked the science, the plot just didn't grip me and I could tell I was getting bored.  Life is too short!

A Place for Us By: Fatima Farheen Mirza - Sarah Jessica Parker raved about this on Instagram and I tried it on Audible - I think that was my problem.  ProblemS, actually.  #1 - I couldn't keep names straight - so many names that are unfamiliar and sound really similar.  #2 - it has no chronology and I couldn't get a sense of when we were switching time periods so I often felt lost.  I think this book deserves to be read because I did give it quite a while and engaged in it but was done feeling frustrated.

Nexis by A.L. Davroe - interesting premise, thanks to custom babies and plastic surgery modifications, to be "natural" is beyond unheard of.  But our main character is. And it is ALL that she can talk about.  Seriously, that word "natural" is so overused and the writing is just amateur - I kept finding myself rolling my eyes until after about 11% I just gave up.

Unbound by John Shor - Too much telling, too formal, just felt flat.  This Great Wall of China story just did not grab me so I gave up, maybe sooner than I should've but this was two books I wasn't excited about in three days and I didn't have patience for it.

A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan - so so slow.  A woman from Singapore who never cared about where her food came from decides she wants to learn to cook the cultural dishes she grew up with in her family.  Sounds like a good idea, yes?  But, nothing was keeping me engaged.  I had to work so hard to make myself read it I finally asked myself, "WHY?"

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq - I loved listening to her voice, she's a great narrator and it's an abstractly lovely piece of work, it just wasn't being the sort of "mythology" book I needed or wanted for my book challenge and I'm not invested in it enough to keep going. She's got a beautiful way with words, I might try again another time.

The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson - I read the first in the Remnant Chronicle series and thought to try this second one but it just felt flat for me.  I gave it 26% on my Kindle but found I just didn't super care, it was going too dang slow and the love triangle was making me irritated.  So there you go.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

genre: fiction

Hill House stands ready to greet the four individuals, those visitors who don’t know what’s waiting within its walls. On the hunt for the occult, Dr Montague is on the lookout for the paranormal and mysterious while Theodora is ready for a lark. Luke is in line to inherit Hill House and Eleanor - well, Eleanor just wants something, anything, to happen in her life. After their arrival, it doesn’t take long for Hill House to begin to make itself known in unexpected and frightening ways, ways that will change all of them.

This one is a slow burn with spooky interludes that confused and creeped me out without ever being terrifying. I expected to be more afraid, honestly, but instead it played more with my mind. The writing wasn’t stunning but the descriptions of the house itself, the visuals it created for us as readers and the way the world shifted and tilted was really well down. The author kept me off kilter until the end and while I can’t rave about it, I’m satisfied.
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