Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: One by Sarah Crossan

Title: One
Author: Sarah Crossan
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction (a book in verse)
Pages: 388
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (FL)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): Grace and Tippi. Tippi and Grace. Two sisters. Two hearts. Two dreams. Two lives. But one body. Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins, joined at the waist, defying the odds of survival for sixteen years. They share everything, and they are everything to each other. They would never imagine being apart. For them, that would be the real tragedy.

But something is happening to them. Something they hoped would never happen. And Grace doesn't want to admit it. Not even to Tippi. How long can they hide from the truth--how long before they must face the most impossible choice of their lives?

Review: This book was recommended to me so I didn't even know it was written in verse until I sat down to read it! And I confess, I am fascinated by conjoined twins. Not that I think of it that often, but when the topic presents itself, I can't stop thinking about all the logistics and details of their lives. That is probably wrong of me, I know. And that's just what this book points out. We all feel it's our business to know. And it's not.

This book was really good. It is told from Grace's point of view, but I felt like I was hearing both her story and Tippi's. They want so much to have a "normal" life even though they know that isn't totally possible. It is also clear that staying together is important to them. And anonymity. Through their story of attending a regular school, dealing with family, and making new friends, I felt like I was beginning to understand their situation, to know what matters to them, and to hope for them.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Review: First and Then by Emma Mills

Title: Frist and Then
Author: Emma Mills
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 267
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (FL)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy silently crushing on best friend Cas and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delvers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive jock Ezra right where she doesn't want them--first into her gym class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Review: Oh, this book was just what I needed this week! It's a quick read with good characters and a storyline that went places I didn't expect.

Devon has a "normal" life: she is pretty smart, has a best friend, has parents who are there and good, but not perfect, and she does okay in school. She isn't sure what she wants to do after this, her senior year, but doesn't seem too worried about all that. She also isn't very good at really seeing people; what they are going through. Because her life is mostly good, she doesn't relate to others who have crap going on or who have pasts that aren't easy. It doesn't mean she isn't sympathetic or empathetic, she just doesn't notice or seem to realize that others don't have the life she has.

The author did a great job of bringing people into Devon's life that show her other experiences and situations that are different from her own, but I didn't feel like I was being hit over the head with it. It was gradual, gentle, and effective. The book is touching, funny, cute, and surprising. No wonder it has done well at my school's library!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Title: Conversion
Author: Katherine Howe
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA historical fiction and regular fiction
Pages: 402
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): It's senior year at St. Joan's Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian,deciphering boys' texts: through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can't.

First it's the school's queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan's buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen--who's been reading The Crucible for extra credit--comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago....

Review: Such an interesting premise for a story. This book alternates chapters between 1706 Salem, Massachusetts and the witch hunts and modern day Danvers, Massachusetts and a string of girls who get sick. In her Author's Note, Howe says that she was inspired by the events in 2012 in Le Roy, New York (you can read a lengthy NY Times article about it here). I love that this is inspired by other literature and real life! Howe has done extensive research to be true to both stories, while creating a work of fiction. It adds to the authenticity that Howe herself is a direct descendant of three of the women accused during the Salem Witch Hunts.

This book was really well done and I liked that the author alternated the Crucible/historical sections with the modern; it made the parallels even more obvious. As much as life has changed, some things are still the same!

The main character, Colleen, is so stable. She is smart, a good friend, has sane parents, and I like her connection to the teachers, administration, etc in the school. She is a good central point for the story. I think high school students will really like this one as they can relate to the characters and will probably have read the Crucible or at least heard of the Salem witch trials.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: Lost Kin by Steve Anderson

Title: Lost Kin
Author: Steve Anderson
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult historical fiction
Pages: 314
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)Germany

FTC Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for review

Summary (from the back of the book): Occupied Munich, 1946: Irina, a Cossack refugee, confesses to murdering a GI, but American Captain Harry Kaspar doesn't buy it. When Harry scours the devastated city for the truth, he finds his long-lost German brother, Max, who returned to Hitler's Germany before the war.

Max has a questionable past, and he needs Harry for the cause that could redeem him: rescuing Irina's stranded clan of Cossacks who have been disavowed by the Allies and are now being hunted by Soviet death squads--the cold-blooded upshot of a callous postwar policy. As a harsh winter brews, the Soviets close in, and the Cold War looms, Harry and Max desperately plan for a risky last-ditch rescue on a remote stretch of the German-Czech border. A mysterious visitor from Max's darkest days shadows them. Everyone is a suspect, including Harry's lover, Sabine, and Munich detective Hartmut Dietz--both of whom have pledged to help. But before the Kaspar brothers can save the innocent victims of peace, grave secrets and the deep contempt sown during the war threaten to damn them all.

Review: Thank you to TLC Tours for always keeping me reading books that I wouldn't otherwise find out about! When I read the description of the author and this book I thought they would be a really good match for me. Like the author, I lived in Germany (Anderson was a fullbright in Munich and I studied in Bonn during college), I have a Masters in History, and I concentrated on Germany and World War II). Crazy, right?

Although I enjoyed reading this book, it didn't lure me in as I thought it would. It took me a good 100 pages to really get into it. Maybe that's because at about page 100 is when the "story" begins with the Cossaks hidden in the forest. I felt like before that point, there was a lot of extra that was building up to the main storyline.

I appreciate that this book is historically accurate and it is definitely set during an interesting time period. I think a lot of people read books about the Holocaust or other events set during World War II, but reading about the aftermath in Germany is less common. For that, I applaud the author. It was good to read about all the groups that had an interest in post-war Germany, the strained relations among them, and how easy it is for individuals to cross lines. Overall, this book was a bit of a slow go for me. I think I wanted more action up front.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes

Title: Eagle Tree
Author: Ned Hayes
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 273
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (WA)

FTC Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for review

Summary (from the back of the book):
 Fourteen-year-old March Wong knows everything there is to know about trees. They are his passion and his obsession, even after his recent falls--and despite the state's threat to take him away from his mother if she can't keep him from getting hurt. But the young autistic boy cannot resist the captivating pull of Pacific Northwest's lush forests just outside his back door.

One day, March is devastated to learn that the Eagle Tree--a monolithic Ponderosa Pine near his home in Olympia--is slated to be cut down by developers. Now, he will do anything in his power to save this beloved tree, including enlisting unlikely support from relatives, classmates, and even his bitter neighbor. In taking a stand, March will come face-to-face with a frightening possibility: Even if he manages to save the Eagle Tree, is he risking himself and his mother to do it?

Review: Trees. There is a lot about trees in this book. Probably a bit too much, but that is the mind of March Wong and who am I to complain about that? The author has really captured the thoughts and speech and obsessions of this autistic character very well. March is tunnel-visioned about trees and climbing trees. How great that he can put his knowledge and passion to work to save the Eagle Tree.

I had to take a break in the middle of reading this book because I did get overwhelmed with the trees. Imagine how March's mother (and by that I mean real moms and dads with autistic children who have interests that equal March's) feels hearing about them every day, all day. And she has to worry that he will hurt himself when he climbs them. She learns that she can have some control over the climbing by setting rules: how long he can stay in one tree, how many trees he can climb each day, etc. March understands rules that are precise and seems to use them to know how to behave in the larger society.

There is a nice rhythm to this book based on the cadence of March's thoughts and speech. I also liked the environmental message and the way it treated March and his autism.