Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

Title: History is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 307 plus notes and index
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): In the chaotic last days of the war, a small troop of American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find--his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world's finest purebreds in order to breed an equine master race. But with the starving Russian army closing in, the animals are in danger of being slaughtered for food. With hours to spare, one of the US Army's last great cavalrymen, Colonel Hank Reed, makes a bold decision--to mount a covert rescue operation. Racing against time, Reed's determined force of soldiers, aided by several turncoat Germans, steals across enemy lines to save the horses. Elizabeth Lett's exhilarating tale of adventure, courage, and sacrifice brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of human valor.

Review: I actually bought this in the London airport thinking I would read it on the plane home, but that didn't happen. And, confession time: I thought it was a novel! I didn't realize it was non-fiction until I went to see how many pages it was and saw the index and notes.

I was determined to read this book since I haven't read a non-fiction in quite some time, but the beginning was way too much detail for me (all about eugenics in horse breeding and how that appealed to the Nazis and the Americans in the early part of the twentieth century). Interesting, but just not in the detail that was given.

However, I did really like reading about Vienna since I studied there during my junior year of college. Reading the names of the streets and plazas brought back fun memories. And when I lived there I went and saw the Lippizaner Horses so I definitely feel a connection to the subject matter. They are incredible horses and the shows are impressive.

The next part was the lead-up to the stealing of the horses with the history of the Lippizaner horses, how they were bred and trained and a bit about the various stables throughout Poland. We also get to know the "main character," Alois Podhajsky who absolutely lives for these horses. Again, lots of detail.

The last third of the book was much more interesting to me: the Americans and a couple Germans band together to save the horses, we find out where they end up and what happens to all the humans involved. I was pleased to read that General Patton was more than supportive and helped save the horses, and I feel good about humanity that this escape/rescue happened during a horrible war. However, this book just didn't do it for me. If you love horses and/or war stories then this book is for you!
Challenges for which this counts: 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Title: History is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA fiction (LGBTQ)
Pages: 292
Rating: 4 out of 5

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

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): When Griffin's first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he's been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin's downward spiral continues. He's losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he's been keeping are tearing him apart. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Review: I enjoyed Silvera's first book, More Happy Than Not, so was pleased to hear he had a second novel, but I didn't enjoy this one as much as "Happy." That doesn't mean I didn't like this book because I did. I just didn't get as invested in this one.

Griffin is a character to whom readers can definitely relate. He is likable, caring, unsure of himself, and yes, has OCD. He scratches his palms when things are uncomfortable for him, he has to walk on the right of others, he likes even numbers in all things. This is an important and well done aspect of the story. Griffin really should be in therapy to deal with his obsessive behaviors, but he is too busy dealing with Theo's death.

Theo, Jackson, and Wade are also good and important characters. They are his friends, his confidents (sometimes), and his partners. They help Griffin navigate his life during a very important time. They accommodate his obsessive behavior, which helps, but doesn't.

The chapters are told as "today" and "history." Today is after Theo's death; the aftermath when Griffin is trying to figure out what Theo meant for him, how he is going to go on without him, and what he wants from life. History is his time with Theo. How friendship became more and how Griffin's relationships with others played out because of Theo. I do think Silvera did a wonderful job of showing Griffin's thought process and how we deal with love and grief.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe
Author: Neal Shusterman
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA fiction (dystopian)
Pages: 435
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (mid-west)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Thou Shalt Kill. A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life--and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe--a role that neither wants. These teens must mater the "art" of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own. Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

Review: Neal Shusterman is the master at taking our current society and twisting or exaggerating part of it to create a chilling new world. I loved his Unwind series (Unwind, Unwholly, Unsouled, Undivided) and Scythe is just as good. I also read Bruiser, which was super good (and not dystopian at all).

I liked both of the teens chosen to apprentice Scythe Faraday (the scythes are all named after historical figures who are relevant to them). Rowan and Citra are both smart, tough, thoughtful, and caring. Oddly, these are traits the society wants in someone who will be killing the population. Unfortunately, Rowan ends up with a scary scythe who is definitely the dark side of gleaning. But Scythe Goddard is creepy and cruel, bringing out another side of our society.

The various scythes that we get to know are also important. They represent various aspects of society as well--they are thoughtful, compassionate, frightening, good teachers, greedy, and more. Shusterman has another very good book in Scythe and I look forward to seeing how it does as a movie.

Challenges for which this counts: none

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Salon: July 9, 2017 (still in the UK)

My life in books:
Reading over the past couple of weeks has been good even though I was on holiday and now am grading for a course I'm teaching.

Challenge updates:
  • Read Your Own Damn Books--My goal is to read 25 books from my TBR shelves this year. So far I've read 30, adding one in the past two weeks.
  • Travel the World in Books--The idea is to read books set in as many countries as possible. In the past two weeks I added three new countries, Mexico, Columbia, and Spain.
  • Literary Escapes--Similar to the previous challenge, this one tracks the US states. In the past two weeks I added one new state, Washington, DC (I know, it isn't a state, but I'm counting it) so I am at 18 states total.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--I read the final book for this challenge so I have completed it!
My life outside books:
I've been back in Santa Barbara for a week or so and am in the midst of teaching an online American Government course with 58 students!

Well, we're back from a wonderful vacation in the UK. After taking my daughter and niece to visit Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews, we spent another day in Kent with my brother and his family. We took a lovely walk in a national trust park, boy do the Brits do their parks well! My daughter and I then headed to London for the rest of the holiday, with one day in the wonderful city of Oxford. My dad did his doctorate at Oxford so we made sure to visit his college, Corpus Christi, which was fun. The image below is of the Bodleian Library!

I managed to stub my toe on day one in London and broke it. Not much to do for a broken toe, but it meant I was a bit slower and a bit hobbly in my walking. We visited the Globe Theater, the Tate Modern, did some shopping, and spent time with a friend we made years ago when he taught my daughter in a dance class in London.

I am now starting more serious training for the AVON walk. We did a 6 mile walk the day after I got back from the UK and a 4 mile walk the next day. My toe was definitely sore by the end of it! And it's a lovely shade of purple and blue as well. I ended up cutting a hole in my new shoes so that my toe had room to expand while I walk. It's definitely making a difference as the walks get longer each weekend.

  • My daughter and I started a new series while on vacation in the UK: Suits. I didn't have any interest in watching it because I wasn't sure what it was about, but we're enjoying it!
  • I finally watched the final episode of season 2 of Madam Secretary and I really like this show. Now I have to wait a while for season three to be on Netflix.
  • We're also watching the final season of the Great British Baking Show. I do love this one!
  • We finished the Harry Potter movies, which inspired my dad to read all the books again.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Take the Bai Road by Erika Mitchell

Title: Take the Bai Road
Author: Erika Mitchell
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 272
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Mexico and USA (WA, Washington, DC)

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author for an unbiased review

Summary (from the author): After the events of Bai Tide, CIA case officer Bai Hsu is safely tucked away at Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Bored and frustrated, he’s starting to doubt he’ll ever return to the field until he’s given a difficult new assignment: Track and investigate the mysterious Ghost Cartel, who may or may not already have hooks in our government.

With secrecy of the utmost importance, Bai accepts the mission even though he knows he’ll be out in the cold. With no official cover, no backup, and no resources, Bai has no choice but to infiltrate a shadowy organization few know anything about,

Tangled in a conspiracy that will pit him against warring cartels in Mexico, this is Bai’s most impossible mission to date. It will test him, make him question himself and the organization he works for, and ultimately rip away everything that’s ever mattered to him.

Purchase Links: Amazon

Author Links: WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and her blog

Review: I read Erika Mitchell's first Bai Hsu novel, Bai Tide, and quite liked it. However, this book is better. I feel like Mitchell found her voice, is more confident in her character and her writing, and it all came together for a fun spy novel.

Bai Hsu is a CIA operative working on his own this time. He is so competent and talented: he is trained in martial arts, lock picking, fire arms, knows five languages, and is pretty darn savvy. I also think he has a good personality; he is smart, personable, and seems able to get along with almost everyone he encounters, even those whom he is fighting. I like that about him. He seems like someone I'd like if I met him.

I also thought having a story based around the Mexican drug cartels was interesting, even though the main story isn't about drug smuggling. Connecting North Korea from the previous book to the Mexican cartels and the US government was an interesting angle that I didn't expect. I also like that the book isn't one where I feel like events are implausible. Yes, it's spy stuff, but not out of control spy stuff. So that's fun.

Challenges for which this counts: