Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

Title: City of Saints and Thieves
Author: Natalie C. Anderson
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA Fiction 
Pages: 401
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Kenya and Congo

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In the shadow of Sangui City, there lives a girl who does not exist. Tina and her mother first arrived in Kenya as refugees from Congo desperately searching for a better life. Trading the peril of their besieged village for the busy metropolis of Sangui, they can barely believe their luck when Tina's mother finds work as a maid for the Greyhills, one of the city's most illustrious families. But there's a dark secret lurking behind the family's immense fortune, and when Tina discovers her mother shot dead in Mr. Greyhill's private study, she knows he pulled the trigger.

With revenge on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving the streets on her own, training as a master thief with the Goondas, Sangui City's local gang. It's a job with the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her a long-awaited chance for vengance. But once Tina returns to the lavish home, she's overcome by memories of her painful past, and the girl who does not exist is caught red-handed, setting into motion a breathless and dangerous cascade of events that will expose not only the truth behind who killed Tina's mother, but even more harrowing secrets from Tina's past that will change everything.

Review: Marsha, the librarian who lent me this book, recommended it because she likes books set in African countries and so do I. I don't know why, really, I just do. I read the blurb and it sounded good. Well, I read it in just two sittings!

I realize that some stories could really be set in almost any country in the world. We all have cell phones, modern cities, similar jobs, etc. But each country lends a bit of it's own culture, making the story that much richer and more interesting. By setting this book in Kenya and the Congo, Anderson was able to inform the reader about the plight of all citizens, but mostly women, in the Congo--raids on villages, gang rapes, and a lack of reliable electricity and necessary medicines. For the parts of the book set in Kenya, the disparities between the uber-rich and the street gangs of homeless youth is stark. While the rich live up on the hill in Segui City with guards, maids, drivers, and cooks, the homeless youth steal to survive and don't have access to an education.

This is one of those novels that has a bit of a fantastic story, fantastic in the sense of "would teenagers really be able to do this?" Especially the last bit of the book where the main characters take on the bad guys. That said, I realize that youth all over the world have to do things I wouldn't think they could do: fight in wars; get married and bear children at awfully young ages; survive rape and forced drug-taking; and escape in whatever means possible to save loved ones and themselves. So perhaps the ending is not so crazy and unrealistic. It just seems that way from my life of privilege. And that is one of the aspects of good literature, set in other parts of the world, that I find so powerful.
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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

Title: Phantom Limbs
Author: Paula Garner
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA Fiction 
Pages: 352
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (IL)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Moving has never been Otis' strong suite. After three years, he's still reeling from the death of his younger brother, Mason, and from the sudden departure of his best friend and first love, Meg, whose family moved across the country after Mason died. Otis would never have survived these last few years without Dara, his ball-busting, one-armed friend and self-appointed swim coach, who is hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. Otis, though, is increasingly sure that he'd rather find his own dream than continue chasing Dara's--especially when he learns that, after three years of radio silence, Meg is coming back for the summer. 

All Otis wants is for him and Meg to be as close as they once were (okay, maybe a little closer)--despite Meg's mysterious defection, despite the football player all over her Facebook page, despite Dara's tightening grip and loosening screws. But as they sift through the archaeology of their past and Otis discovers the reasons behind Meg's disappearance, he must face some uneasy truths about his brother's death--and about himself. As he realizes that none of their visions of the perfect future can ever pan out--not Dara's, not Meg's, not his--Otis must decide which dreams to hold on to and which to leave behind.

Review: I was all set to check out a couple other books from one of the local school libraries, but they didn't have them so I picked up this book instead. Oh. My. Goodness. It is so good. I am afraid to pick up my next book because I feel like I am on a streak of YA books that are fabulous.

Phantom limbs. Phantom pain. That feeling, for someone who is missing a limb, where the missing limb hurts even though it isn't there. That's what Dara experiences. Excruciating pain. But the mirror box really helps and so does the presence of Otis, her swim protégé and best friend. But Dara isn't the only one with a phantom limb. The metaphor is so well done in this novel: Otis' brother died when he was young and the pain is still raw for Otis. He also has Meg, his best childhood friend and first love. She is also missing.

The emotions in this book are raw and done so well. Everyone seems to be suffering in their own way since Mason died four years ago and no one is telling Otis the truth about the events surrounding Mason's death. That makes it sound like a mystery, but it isn't. It's just life and people deal with something that is so difficult they don't know what to do with it.

I also liked that Otis is a swimmer. I was a swimmer and I could smell the chlorine on his being, understand the double workouts every day. But I digress. Despite the heavy topic of the book, it is not depressing; I actually felt filled with hope as I finished it. I want someone I know to read it so I can talk about it with them. 

Challenges for which this qualifies:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA Fiction 
Pages: 369
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (TN)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Dill has had to wrestling with vipers his whole life--at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father's extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out f their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill's only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia--neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending--one that will rock his life to the core.

Review: I heard very good things about this book and it won the 2017 William C Morris Award for a first YA novel by an author. Can I say "wow!"? I totally get why this one won the award; it is fabulous.

I love the characters in this book and know they are going to stay with me for a long time. Dill is someone you just want to hug to make things better, but he is so tied to his dad's reputation (his dad is in prison for unseemly acts) that he is having trouble seeing himself. Lydia is so busy being the person she is on her fashion blog that she can't see what is right in front of her. And Travis is the gentle giant that I want to whisk away from his family and show him how great he is. But they have to figure these things out on their own.

I was pulled into the town of Forrestville, Tennessee from page one and think Jeff Zentner did a wonderful job of helping the reader to really feel the town and all its issues as well as its positive impact on the characters. I highly recommend this book!

Challenges for which this qualifies:

Review: When We Collided by Emery Lord

Title: When We Collided
Author: Emery Lord
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA Fiction 
Pages: 341
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (CA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): We are seventeen and shattered and still dancing. We have messy, throbbing hearts, and we are stronger than anyone could ever know. Jonah never thought a girl like Vivi would come along. Vivi didn't know Jonah would light up her world. Neither of them expected a summer like this...a summer that would rewrite their futures.

Review: I heard a bunch about this book so was really looking forward to reading it. It won the Schneider Family Book Award for books published in 2016. The Schneider Award is for a book about teens with disabilities and the disability in this book is mental illness. It is such an important topic and many of our teens are dealing with it in themselves or a family member.

Wow. I am not even sure where to begin with a review of this book. It is so good!

Vivi and Jonah alternate chapters telling their story, which is one of love, like, friendship, pain, grief, depression, and wonder. Yes, I laughed and I cried while reading this book. And I feel like I have a better sense of what it feels like to be bipolar. No, I don't totally "get it," but I have a bit more understanding. Jonah and his family are grieving, Vivi is on a wild ride. Together they begin to navigate how to feel again even though they are coming from different directions.

Each character in this book has an important role; even the small characters. They contribute in some way to our understanding of and appreciation for the issues at hand. How do you talk to someone who is sad? What if they are beyond sad? How do you keep up with someone on a manic high? And what do you do if it's all too much?

I read this book in one day and feel immersed in Vivi and Jonah's world. Their feelings and experiences are portrayed so well in this novel that I want everyone to go out and read it. And I want to talk to someone about it, but don't know anyone who has read it yet. I'll have to be patient.

Challenges for which this qualifies:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: In this Grave Hour
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult Fiction (short stories)
Pages: 331
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)UK

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Sunday, September 3, 1939. At the moment Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation Britain's declaration of war with Germany, a senior Secret Service agent breaks into Maisie Dobb's flat to await her return. Dr. Francesca Thomas has an urgent assignment for Maisie: to find the killer of a man who escaped occupied Belgum as a boy, some twenty-three years earlier during the Great War.

In a London shadowed by barrage balloons, bomb shelters, and the threat of invasion, within days another former Belgian refugee is found murdered. And as Maisie delves deeper into the killings of the dispossessed from the "last war," a new kind of refugee--an evacuee from London--appears in Maisie's life. The little girl billeted at Maisie's home in Kent does not, or cannot, speak, and the authorities do not know whom the child belongs to or who may have put her on the "Operation Pied Piper" evacuee train. They know only that her name is Anna.

As Maisie's search for the killer escalates, the country braces for what is to come. Britain is approaching its gravest hour--and Maisie could be nearing a crossroads of her own.

Purchase Links for In This Grave Hour

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Review: Jacqueline Winspear does such a good job with the Maisie Dobbs mysteries. I always say the language is gentle and Maisie fits the time period so well. Previous to this novel, I have read Winspear's Maisie DobbsBirds of a FeatherThe Care and Management of Lies, and Elegy for Eddie

This novel brings Maisie and her friends up to World War II, which I think is great--the books are moving ahead in time. Winspear has done a good job of setting the scene for the outbreak of war, the uncertainty, and the changes in people's lives. I also liked that this story tied into the time period of previous novels--World War I--by having Belgian refugees at the heart of the mystery. I feel like I have studied both these wars a ton, but the Belgian resistance and refugees was something with which I wasn't all that familiar.

Maisie is smart. And a keen observer. And kind. In fact, there is an orphan child in this book and I want Maisie to adopt her. But that would become an obstacle in her work so maybe that isn't a good idea. Hmmmm. I am torn. I skipped a couple of the books in the series and I obviously missed out on Maisie's major romance, marriage, and the death of her husband. It's okay that I skipped the books as enough reference was made to the events that I caught on, but it made me sad for Maisie.

I'm not sure what else to say about this book except that, like the ones that come before it, the mystery is good, I like the characters and the setting, and it just works for me.

Challenges for which this qualifies: