Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review: After the Fire

After the Fire After the Fire by Will Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moonbeam is 17 and her story is told in “before” and “after.” After: injured, in a hospital, locked in, and so many people with questions about what happened.

Before: her life with Father John, where outside was forbidden, and people knew their places. Hers: the life of a promised bride, one day to be one of wives of Father John.

And the Fire: and the guns and explosions and now Moonbeam is in the hospital and so many of her Brothers and Sisters, so many of the people she grew up with, are dead.

Before: jumps back and forth a bit in time to try to explain the before. To explain why her parents brought their baby and themselves to a world with so many rules and so many restrictions. To explain why she stayed, why her mother stayed, when things changed and others left.
And also: to explain her secret, what she doesn’t want others finding out.

I liked how even thought this life was all Moonbeam knew, these people were all she knew, something inside her led to her realize what was wrong with her life “before” and how she could make different choices now.

I liked how we saw, as Moonbeam saw, things that were positive and wonderful about her childhood…. But that we also realized, sometimes before Moonbeam did, that there were things wrong with how she was living, and things wrong with the people she loved.

As a grown up, I’m not entirely convinced by her parents’ actions, but I found myself with sympathy towards her mother, and forgiveness, and I hope that means Moonbeam finds that, also.
And I loved how understanding and sympathetic the hospital staff and doctors and even the police were.

And if its not clear from the above, this is a child raised in an isolated cult, and then there is a siege similar to what happened in Waco, and Moonbeam is the voice of one of the teens who made it out alive.




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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Review: City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally one for your younger readers!

Cass is twelve, but I’ll admit I at first thought she was a couple of years older so I think this can be enjoyed by your younger teens because it’s not “young.”

A year ago, when she was eleven, she drowned. She survived, but ever since, she can see ghosts – including her new best friend, the ghost who saved her from drowning.

And here’s a twist: her parents are the best selling authors of a popular series about ghosts. Her dad is the logical one with the science and history, her mother is the fanciful one with myths and legends. Neither know about her new found ability to see ghosts; neither see ghosts themselves.
And then: her parents start hosting a reality TV show. About ghosts.

And their first stop to investigate? Edinburgh, Scotland, homes of hundreds of ghosts: dead from plague, dead from execution, dead from cold, dead from illness.

Cass discovers there is more to her talent of seeing ghosts; and that ghosts can be dangerous. Very dangerous.

I really enjoyed Cass and her personality; and the adventures are just the right level of scary and dangerous.





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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: The Widow

The Widow The Widow by Fiona Barton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you may recall, I read the second Kate Waters book a few months back, and then went back to read the first. It's not necessary to read in order; but had I done so, I would have recognized some of the author's storytelling techniques.

So, the "series" is anchored by Kate Waters, reporter. And reader, I like her. I like her because she's older (her sons are teens) and she and her life are messy and real. She is a good reporter, but she's not super brilliant. She's just... normal. Typical.

In this book, a man has died and the press swarm around his widow. Because a few years back, he was accused of kidnapping a small child. And while not convicted for the crime, everyone "knows" he's guilty. So the press want an interview, the one that will tell them for sure what he did.

This is told by Jean, the widow; and Kate, the reporter. And what I liked here is that I kept on going back and forth, as more details were shared, about whether or not Jean's husband was guilty or not. And if he was, how much Jean knew.

I'm eager to read the third!





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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review: A Skinful of Shadows

A Skinful of Shadows A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do enjoy a Frances Hardinge book! Always different and fresh; but also always with so much depth and complication.

1640s. England. Makepeace, twelve, lives with her mother and her aunt's family in Poplar, a village outside of London. OK, first of all: Poplar! This is the Poplar that becomes the Poplar of Call the Midwife. Every time I heard it I smiled. I'm not sure if that was on purpose or not but I loved it.

Makepeace was born out of wedlock; her mother lives in compliance with rules and morals and beliefs of their Puritan community. It's not so much that her mother believes it: but it's where they live, the times they live. Where they hide -- from their past. From where her mother, unwed, pregnant, fled.

Makepeace has nightmares: ghosts attack her, at night. Her mother offers no sympathy: she wants her daughter to toughen up.

Then the unthinkable happens: Makepeace and her mother are caught up in a riot against King Charles in London, and her other dies. Before, one word is whispered about where her mother had come from, and Makepeace, full of grief, is sent to her father's home. A great home, a great family, and Makepeace is one of the illegitimate children given a home. A home as long as she works, of course.

It is here she learns the family gift: they can absorb ghosts. The ghosts become part of them. Only some in the family have this talent, and that - not compassion, not love - is why homes are offered to children like Makepeace.

And that's just the beginning! What does it mean to have a ghost within you? What does it do to the host and to the ghost?

Meanwhile all this is playing out against the battles between Parliament and King, between the different forms of religion practiced.

Makepeace: what can I say. She is determined and loyal and smart. And her adventures!

And, of course, now I want to know more about the English Civil War. As an American reader, I know the generalities, and I felt it was enough to understand the story and what was going on. That said, I imagine someone with a greater knowledge of that time period would get more out of it, have a deeper appreciation of the politics Makepeace observed.





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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: Blanca & Roja

Blanca & Roja Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much going on, all good, but so hard to do justice.

Blanca and Roja, the del Cisne sisters, born into a cursed family. Two sisters are born, and one is always turned into a swan. Always.

This is a world set in the present, with cars and ice cream and high school bullies.

It is a world of magical realism, where girls can turn into swans and boys into bears.

It is a retelling of fairy tales: retelling, re-imagination, reinterpretation.

It is a story of families and competition and rivalry, and of love.

It is a world with prejudices and suspicion.

Blanca is fair haired and light skinned; Roja's hair is red and her coloring darker. Blanca is the good girl, the princess; Roja is tougher, the witch. They are close and vow to be the set of sisters who both survive, where neither get taken. But then the swans come and it becomes clear, one must be taken, and will this turn the sisters against each other?

Two local boys disappeared earlier this year: Barclay Holt, from one of the richest families in town. Page Ashby, whose family owns orchards. Best friends. Barclay had a fight with a cousin and went into the woods, became part of the woods, became a bear, and now is back. Page followed into the woods, and also now has returned. Barclay fled his family because of lies and violence. Page because Page isn't seen as they want to be seen: Page is a non-binary trans boy, tired of having to explain, of not being seen.

Blanca is told that she can save them both if a blue eyed boy falls for her. Barclay is blue eyed. But Page, Page is the boy Blanca has been in love with despite never talking, the boy Blanca wants.

And Roja: Roja knew Barclay as a yearling bear, still calls him yearling.

And so much more! How blue eyed is viewed as better than brown. How the sisters are treated in school, how Roja is treated differently than Blanca because she is the darker sister. How they love and compete. How their parents see them, how their town see them.

Can these two girls win? Or will the swans?







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Thursday, November 07, 2019

Review: The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. I listened to this and man, it was tough at times.

Because Macy.

Macy.

Macy tells her story in a dictionary, starting with "a." She jumps around a bit in time, telling now but also giving glimpses of her past so you understand, a bit more, her now. Now: her father is in prison. Her mother moves from one "Mr. Guest" to another. Macy cannot stand these men, but she doesn't want her father to know. Her brother has been "kidnapped" by child services and Macy wants him back. Her best friend is mad at her because Macy doesn't want to go to her friend's big birthday party.

This is a look at people who have very few resources. Macy's mother became a mother at fifteen; her own mother had abandoned her, and while Macy hates many of the things her mother does, she also knows that her mother had no role model on how to be a mother.

That Macy's life is difficult is an understatement. Which is part of the reason I had a hard time reading it.

Macy's school calls her "disturbed" and they aren't wrong, in that Macy is headstrong, stubborn, often willing to bite off her nose to spite her face, more in the now than the future which means in the future she deals with consequences. She is also loyal, logical, cynical, loving, and smart. She can be her own worst enemy. But it's also clear that from her life, "now" is the only time you can rely on.

This is a snapshot of a year in her life, of what she will do to regain her brother; but also what she will do when her best friend is threatened.

A tough read; yes. But worth it.







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Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Review: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Written by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, a Nigerian journalist, and Vivianna Mazza, an Italian journalist.

We are introduced to the teenage girl narrating this book by what she wants; what her dreams are. A new pair of red shoes. A good harvest. A scholarship to university. Becoming a teacher. Getting married to a good man.

For the first half of this book, we learn of her life, the daily life of her village and family. She has dreams; she loves her family; she has a crush on her boy. She and her family are Christian, but one of her best friends is Muslim. Violence exists elsewhere in their country because of the terrorist group Boko Haram, but in their village, people of different religions get along.

Halfway through the book, Boko Haram attack the village. The narrator and her friends are among a group who are kidnapped. At first, she thinks she is lucky: she is not dead, like the rest of her village. Like some of her family.

The second half is her life as a captive. Boko Haram force all the captives to follow their own radical beliefs. She watches as friends are beaten; her name is changed; she is forced into a marriage. It is heart breaking.

This is a work of fiction, based on the real life kidnappings in Nigeria, and the real stories of some of the girls who have been kidnapped. I fell in love with this girl and her world and her voice, and I hope the world is kind to her.

A note on the violence: yes. It’s there. But it’s not explicit. Don’t get me wrong – it’s horrifying. But it’s the “one sentence” description, not pages of description.






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