Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell

Title: Scarpetta
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Year Published: 2008

Genre: Adult Mystery
Pages: 500
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I received this as a gift

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Leaving behind her private forensic pathology practice in Charleston, South Carolina, Kay Scarpetta takes up an assignment in New York City, where the NYPD has asked her to examine an injured patient on Bellevue Hospital's psychiatric prison ward. The handcuffed and chained patient, Oscar Bane, has specifically asked for her, and when she literally has her gloved hands on him, he begins to talk--and the story he has to tell turns out to be one of the most bizarre she has ever heard.

The injuries, he says, were sustained in the course of a murder... that he did not commit. Is Bane a criminally insane stalker who has fixed on Scarpetta? Or is his paranoid tale true, and it is he who is being spied on, followed and stalked by the actual killer? The one thing Scarpetta knows for certain is that a woman has been tortured and murdered--and more violent deaths will follow. Gradually, an inexplicable and horrifying truth emerges: Whoever is committing the crimes knows where his prey is at all times. Is it a person, a government? And what is the connection among the victims?

Review: I love Patricia Cornwell books and have three sitting on my TBR shelf. However, it's been ages since I've read one so it felt good to pick this one up and start reading it, even if it does weigh a ton because I have it in hardback.

I think I must have skipped one of the books in this series because they referred to incidents that I had no memory of (Marino attacking Scarpetta among others). Once I figured out the details of those events I was able to settle into this book and really enjoy it. I had forgotten how much I like reading about the forensic aspect of mystery solving, even though in real life I am absolutely no good with blood and gore.

I love reading a book where I know the characters and after reading so many Scarpetta mysteries I know Kay, her niece Lucy (who is amazing with all things tech!), Marino, Benton, and others. It feels like sitting down with a TV show you've watched for years. You know their history, their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses. Fun stuff!

This novel had a lot going on besides the tension among the main characters. There were multiple murders, lots of confusing evidence, and a bunch of secondary characters, all of which combined to make a really good read.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: War Brothers by McKay and LaFrance

Title: War Brothers
Author: Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Young Adult Graphic Novel
Pages: 166
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Uganda

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Jacob and his friends are sharing stories about their school break, when suddenly the door of their dorm is violently kicked in. Blinded by fear and confusion, the boys are abducted by rebel soldiers--members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Beaten, starved, and forced to become child soldiers, the boys wait in vain for rescue. With barely any hope left, they must make a desperate decision that will end in life or death.

Review: I started to create a draft of my end of 2014 post and realized I hadn't read any graphic novels this year. So, I decided to rectify that and read War Brothers. I am so glad I did!

I do love a good graphic novel. I am not really into Manga or comics, but a historical graphic novel with beautiful color illustrations makes me happy every time. This book has both of those elements and I read it in one sitting.

The story follows four teenage boys who are friends at school as they are taken by Josef Kony's LRA. One of the boys' dads is well-connected and tries to arrange a deal to free the boys. This gives them time as "stragglers" instead of soldiers. The story is tense, disturbing, and accurate--the authors interviewed many returning child soldiers in Uganda for the story. I felt like I got a sense of what faces these children when they are abducted and the mindset that the older soldiers have.

The illustrations are beautiful in this book, with vivid colors on glossy paper. Though the images are upsetting at times, they do a great job of conveying the tension, fear, and care of the characters.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: Wolf by Valerie Hobbs

Title: Wolf
Author: Valerie Hobbs
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 117
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Jack the Border Collie has finally found a home and a purpose on a farm, where he keeps a flock of sheep safe from coyotes and helps train young pups to do the same. But when two sheep disappear in broad daylight, Jack doesn't know what happened to them. Was it his fault? Is he just getting too old for this job? Still, he's determined not to disappoint his boy, Luke, who thinks that Jack is the smartest and fastest dog around. Then Jack and Luke discover that the animal threatening their farm is far more dangerous than any coyote: it's a rabid wolf. Jack knows that he must gather the courage and strength to protect eh ones he loves most--but can on old dog learn new tricks?

Review: Even though this is a sequel to Hobbs' earlier novel, Sheep, you can read this without reading the first book. Before I write about Wolf, let me tell you that I LOVED Sheep so also highly recommend reading that one. Also, a disclaimer. I know Val Hobbs, the author of this wonderful book. But that hasn't clouded my judgment... much :-) 

Hobbs does a wonderful job of getting inside the mind of Jack, the Border Collie! I love his voice. To see events from the animal's perspective is a fun way to read a book, especially this one as we read how he herds the sheep, how he sniffs out what is going on, and how he feels about his humans. But this isn't just a feel-good story. There is definite tension and danger, making it a really good read. There are also chapters written from the wolf's side and the reader feels bad for him as he suffers with rabies, hunger, loneliness, and the need to find a mate.

If you want a quick read that will make you love the characters, then this is one you should check out.

Review: Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan

Title: Dear Blue Sky
Author: Mary Sullivan
Year Published: 2010

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 360
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Iraq and the US

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Cassie feels like her world is falling apart. Her beloved brother is fighting in Iraq, her parents are fighting about Iraq, and her sister is making all kinds of bad decisions. Her best friend, Sonia, has stopped speaking to her, and her little brother has stopped speaking altogether. Cassie's only relief comes from daily runs and hanging out with Kimberly Love--the offbeat classmate who has surprised Cassie with friendship after Sonia and her crowd dropped her.

But Cassie's perspective on things shifts when she discovers Blue Sky's blog. Blue Sky, an Iraqi girl, seems so similar to Cassie, yet her world is really falling apart. The girls begin a correspondence and Cassie learns that when Blue Sky writes "I want my life back," she means something profound, as she can no longer venture out in her destroyed city. Cassie takes strength from Blue Sky's courage and is inspired to stop running away from the pain and the reclaim her life.

Review: I have been meaning to read this book with my daughter, but we never got around to it so now I am reading it on my own.

I attended a conference recently about using technology effectively in schools (stick with me, this is relevant) and it totally fit with this book. Cassie's brother has just enlisted and gone off to Iraq, shattering her family. At the same time, her history teacher assigns finding a blog written by a teen in another country. Fantastic! My conference talked a lot about getting students to see multiple perspectives, to read articles and blogs from different countries to understand historical events. Cassie's teacher feels they will better understand history if they read about another country as it is experienced by a "native." Cassie chooses Blue Sky's blog. Blue Sky is a teenager living in Iraq.

I think reading Blue Sky's perspective on living in Iraq while reading Cassie's brother's letters about being a soldier in Iraq is powerful. We get two very different sides of a situation and see how the same events affect people differently, both short and long term.

Seeing how having a family member go off to war affects those at home is also done well in this slim novel. We experience the mother falling apart, the dad becoming distant and the relationships changing amongst the family members. The brother was the glue that held them all together and when he is gone, the rest aren't really sure how to keep it together.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

Title: The Outside Boy
Author: Jeanine Cummins
Year Published: 2010

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 360
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Ireland

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the back of the book): Ireland, 1959: Young Christopher Hurley is a tinker, a Pavee Gypsy who roams with his father and extended family from town to town, carrying all their worldly possessions in their wagons. Christy carries with him a burden of guilt as well, haunted by the story of his mother's death in childbirth.

The wandering life is the only one Christy has ever known, but when his grandfather dies, everything changes. His father decides to settle briefly in a town, where Christy and his cousin can receive proper schooling and prepare for their first Communion. But still, always, they are treated as outsiders. As Christy struggles to find his way amid the more conventional lives of his new classmates, he starts to question who he is and where he belongs. But then the discovery of an old newspaper photograph and a long-buried secret from his mother's mysterious past change his life forever....

Review: I am on a kick of books set outside the United States that seem to feel "gentle" to me. Must be the mood I am in. I've also taken adult fiction books off my TBR shelf and FINALLY gotten around to reading them. That feels good.

I don't have a lot to say about this book, but I liked it. I enjoyed the setting of Ireland and the author did a great job of getting me to feel as if I were there through the not-too-poetic descriptions of the towns, the family, the scenery, and the people, but it's the use of the Gypsy dialect that best sets the scene. The use of words and the cadence of the language really helped me feel I was hearing the story through Christy and not just some narrator.

I also felt for Christy. He is twelve years old, but seems to be an old soul; he questions life, is smart, can read and write (unlike many pavees), and through reading is interested in the world. He loves his life on the road, yet yearns for friends, roots, and most of all wants to know about his mother. While I would normally be mad at the father character for not sharing more about his wife with Christy, I felt for Christopher, Sr and his grief over his lost love. I really cared about these characters (even the horse and dog who play important roles in Christy's life).

If you're interested in learning more about the life of the Irish travellers, being taken back in time to the 1950s, and investing in the life of a boy, then this book is a good one!