Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Middle Grade Japanese Internment Camp Novel Teaches Valuable Lessons

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Manami Tanaka's life on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is nothing remarkable.  The 10-year-old spends her days going to school, walking with her grandfather along the beach, and playing with her dog, Yujiin.  It's only when she's forced to leave her home that Manami realizes how much she's lost.  Ordered to relocate to an interment camp in California, she must give up not just her freedom, but also the companionship of her beloved dog.  It's this sacrifice that breaks her heart and steals her voice.

With around 10,000 residents, Manzanar is bursting at the seams.  The camp is like a large village, boasting its own school, hospital, store, baseball diamond, and cemetery.  Living in such crowded quarters is bad enough, but the people interred there have to deal with the unrelenting heat, dust, and confinement.  Manami feels as if she might go crazy.  She needs Yujiin now more than she ever has.  If she sends him pictures, will her faithful companion come running?  Will her family be happy again?  Or will Manami be forever mute, lonely, and sad?

Paper Wishes, Lois Sepahban's fictional debut, paints a vivid, sympathetic picture of the plight of Japanese Americans unfairly interred during World War II.  Through young Manami, we get a feel for the fear, anger, and dismay that must have accompanied such an experience.  Although short and spare, Paper Wishes teaches some valuable lessons about prejudice, hope, and making the best of bad situations.  It's an interesting, poignant story.  Its plot is quite thin, however, making the tale drag in places.  Because of this, I liked Paper Wishes, I just didn't love it.

(Readalikes:  I haven't read any other children's books on this subject.  Have you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scary situations

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dark, Disturbing Psychological Thriller Unique in YA Fiction

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ten years ago, Tessa Lowell left her troubled, redneck life in tiny Fayette, Pennsylvania, behind.  With her father in prison and her mother MIA, there's only one family member Tessa cares about seeing again—her older sister Joslin.  But it's Glenn Lowell who's summoning her home.  The dying inmate's last wish is to see his youngest daughter. 

Although reluctant to return to Fayette, once she's there, 18-year-old Tessa can't seem to make herself leave.  Too much unfinished business.  Like the secret she and her childhood BFF keep, the one that may have landed an innocent man on Death Row.  The guilt is eating Tessa up inside; Callie deals with hers as all alcoholics do—by drowning it in booze.  When it becomes apparent that a new killer is on the loose, the girls will have to decide what to do with their knowledge of a decade-old crime.  Then, there's Joslin.  Tessa knows she's close, knows she has answers Tessa needs—all Tessa has to do is find her.  And what about their mom?  Where is she hiding?  Although she thought she was beyond caring, suddenly Tessa is desperate to find—and question—them both.

As Tessa investigates her own past and its unsettling connections to her present, she comes to some shocking conclusions.  She and Callie aren't the only ones keeping secrets.  But does Tessa really want to know the answers if they're too horrible to contemplate?  Yes. If she's going to stop a killer, she's going to have to face some horrifying truths about her family, her past, and herself.

If you happen to peruse the YA shelves at bookstores and libraries, you're not liable to find many dark, disturbing psychological thrillers.  With the recent popularity of adult books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, that may be changing.  I'm not sure The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas, deserves comparisons to these bestsellers, but it does offer at least one whoa-I-didn't-see-that-coming twist.  The plot, although melodramatic and far-fetched in places, moves along at a fair clip making for a tense, exciting read.  In spite of this, I didn't find myself loving The Darkest Corners.  It's depressing, for one thing.  I think it's the big info dump at the end of the novel, though, that annoys me most.  It steals the finale's thunder, making the ending feel rushed and anticlimactic.  Overall, then, this book kept me reading; its execution just lacked a little something, leaving me feeling disappointed with a novel that should have been right up my alley.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, and references to mature subject matter (underage drinking, prostitution, sex, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Darkest Corners from the generous folks at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mormon Mentions: Lisa Beazley

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

--

In Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley, 34-year-old Cassie Sunday is composing a letter to her sister.  An exhausted stay-at-home mom, she writes:

"I just remembered something.  When the boys were about four months old and I had been back at work for a month, I used to watch TV during their two a.m. feed.  I got into that show on Showtime with Chloë Sevigny about the Mormon polygamists, and I remember thinking, these people are genius!  A few extra wives really come in handy with a house full of kids.  It's just good sense.  We could have used an extra wife right about then (still could, actually).  I would have gladly let her sleep with Leo.  God knows I wasn't.  I fantasized about it for weeks—not the sex part, but the wife part, the extra set of hands to take care of the babies, cook, clean, all that" (36).  

--  All I can say is ha ha.  And members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints haven't practiced polygamy in more than 125 years.  The practice is continued by some fundamentalist sects, but these groups are not associated with the mainstream LDS Church.  If you want to read more about plural marriage and the history of the Church, click here.   

Wickedly Funny Epistolary Novel Not As Fluffy As It Seems

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After swooning over letters their grandparents exchanged during WWII, Cassie Sunday and her sister decide to launch their own written correspondence campaign.  A stay-at-home mom obsessed with how she looks on Facebook, 34-year-old Cassie vows to be real in her letters to her older sister—no more hiding behind staged selfies and clever status updates.  If she wants to be as close to Sid as she once was, she's going to have to open up like she hasn't since.  

Spilling her guts turns out to be a cathartic exercise for the frazzled New Yorker, who hasn't quite adjusted to full-time mommyhood.  As Cassie vents about everything from toddler tantrums to her lackluster marriage to her annoying in-laws, she receives the kind of authentic support and reassurance she never gets from her Facebook friendships.  Sid, a soft-hearted midwife who's leading a luxurious ex-pat life in Singapore, is likewise invigorated by the correspondence.  Despite the physical distance between them, the sisters are growing closer than ever.

Then, the unthinkable happens.  Suddenly, all of the sisters' letters are on the Internet, out in the open for everyone to see.  Cassie has poured her heart out to Sid, sharing everything from petty gossip to a confession that will tear her husband apart.  Sid's been equally as forthcoming.  With their dirty laundry flapping in the Web's wind, the sisters stand to lose everything they hold dear—their marriages, their friends, their families, and, most distressingly, each other.

Keep Me Posted, a debut novel by Lisa Beazley, is an epistolary tale about the risks and rewards of being authentically oneself.  It's a cautionary story that will strike a chord with perpetually plugged-in women everywhere.  Wickedly funny, Keep Me Posted entertains while teaching some important lessons about honesty, vulnerability, and focusing on what's most important.  Although it leaves a few threads hanging, the story wraps up a little too neatly.  I would have liked the sisters to struggle a little more so their finale feels more hard-won.  Still, this a satisfying novel that's not as fluffy as it first appears.  While it didn't blow my socks off or anything, I found Keep Me Posted enjoyable.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books/movies about diaries being revealed to the public, although no specific titles are coming to mind ... Help?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Keep Me Posted from the generous folks at New American Library (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Masterful Canadian Mystery Series Gives Me All the Feels

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Bury Your Dead, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Armand Gamache mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Haunted by his role in a recent investigation gone horribly wrong, Armand Gamache retreats to Québec City for a much needed respite.  Though his face has been splashed all over the news of late, he's hoping to keep a low profile while he licks his wounds.  But, he is not the only visitor to the historic, walled city.  Despite the bone-chilling winter temperatures, a crowd of tourists is in town for the annual Winter Carnival.  While he enjoys seeing the faces of delighted revelers, Gamache wants no part in the festivities.  He desires only to be left alone with the memories that haunt his mind, breaking his heart and wounding his soul over and over again.

Gamache finds solace in the peaceful quiet of a forgotten library run by the Literary and Historical Society.  When a body is discovered in the building's basement, the chief inspector's days of tranquil study come to an abrupt end.  Local police are stumped by the murder of Augustin Renaud, an amateur archaeologist obsessed with finding the remains of Samuel de Champlain; reluctantly, Gamache agrees to help with the investigation.  As he searches for clues in Québec City's history, culture, and political climate, he makes startling realizations that reveal enough motives and suspects to keep him busy.  In the meantime, Gamache dispatches Jean-Guy Beauvoir to quietly re-open the investigation into a murder that occurred several months earlier in Three Pines.  Although Olivier Brulé has been deemed responsible, his partner, Gabri, refuses to believe it.  He's been writing Gamache daily letters begging him to find the real killer.  Jean-Guy is attempting to do just that, but will there be anything to find?  Or will further inquiries only confirm that Olivier deserves to be exactly where he is—behind bars?

As Louise Penny masterfully oscillates between the two stories, the tension mounts for both police officers.  Will they find the killers for whom they are searching before they become targets themselves?  Can Gamache exorcise his demons enough to move on?  Or has the most revered cop in Québec reached the end of his professional rope?

Although I adore the village of Three Pines, I'm always intrigued when Penny sets one of her Armand Gamache mysteries outside the town.  And what setting could be more fascinating than Québec City?  I'd never heard of the place before, but Penny brings it to such vivid life in Bury Your Dead that I felt as if I'd walked its streets before.  Everything about the old fortress intrigued me.  The mystery at the center of the novel is similarly compelling.  Like all the books in this series, Bury Your Dead combines a colorful setting, a cast of complex characters, and a gripping mystery to create an engrossing detective story that will keep readers guessing.  Penny, as I've mentioned before, isn't afraid to toy with the emotions of her dedicated fans.  The resolution in Three Pines satisfied, but it also made me sad.  Despite the bruising I've taken from The Brutal Telling especially, I'm more dedicated than ever to this series with its trademark warmth and humor.  If you haven't "met" Chief Inspector Armand Gamche yet, introduce yourself, will you?  You won't regret it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books in the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, including Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; The Brutal Telling; The Hangman [novella]; A Trick of the Light; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; The Nature of the Beast; and A Great Reckoning)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs plus milder expletives) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lady Helen A Clean, Compelling (Enough) Diversion (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Besides London and Bath, Lady Helen Poulter has never been anywhere.  Curious about the world beyond her Somerset home, the 19-year-old decides to accompany her mother and stepfather when they sail to the Brigadier-General's new military post in India.  Fascinated by the colorful sights and exotic sounds of Calcutta, Helen is delighted with her new home.  Unlike the other Englishwomen in town, she finds the city thrilling, its people intriguing, and their customs delightful.

Helen is immediately taken with another of Calcutta's magnificent sights: Lt. Arthur Bancroft.  With his handsome face and elegant manners, he's exactly the type of man she would like to marry.  But it's with Michael Rhodes, a 32-year-old captain, that she can really be herself.  Although crippled from a battle wound, the soldier has a calm, soothing way about him that always makes Helen feel safe.  A good thing, as she's discovering just how many dangers lurk in the shadows of India's blinding beauty.

As things heat up around her, both politically and socially, Helen discovers some harsh truths about her new home, about the two men vying for her heart, and, most of all, about herself.  When a deadly battle calls all the men Helen loves to the front lines, she fears the one she adores most will be lost forever.  Has she finally found her true love only to lose him?

Like Jennifer Moore's previous Regency romances, Lady Helen Finds Her Song is a sweet, upbeat love story.  Clean and compelling enough, it's an easy read, one that worked well as a fluffy diversion between all the heavy psychological thrillers I've been devouring lately.  The novel requires little from the ole brain cells, as its plot is about as familiar and predictable as they come.  While its unique setting offers the tale a pinch of originality, nothing else really sets it apart.  I would have appreciated a few twists in the story as well as more complexity from the characters.  A number of typos pepper the book, which take away from the overall experience.  All in all, though, Lady Helen Finds Her Song is a nice, enjoyable read.

(Readalikes:  Other Regency romances by Jennifer Moore, including Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince; Simply Anna; and Lady Emma's Campaign)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Lady Helen Finds Her Song from the generous folks at Covenant Communications.  Thank you!

-- 



Check out the other stops on the blog tour for Lady Helen Finds Her Song:


Enter to win a copy of Lady Helen Finds Her Song and a $25 Amazon gift card:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Brutal Telling Is, Well, Brutal

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Brutal Telling, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from earlier Armand Gamache mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Everybody in Three Pines—a quaint Canadian village near Montreal—knows Olivier Brulé.  The townspeople flock to his bistro for scrumptious food, stimulating conversation, and the warmth that always radiates from its owner.  So beloved is Olivier that when the body of a stranger who has obviously been beaten to death shows up in the bistro one night, no one believes he has anything to do with the murder.  Like everyone else in Three Pines, Olivier insists he's never seen the dead man, who appears to be a vagrant, before.  Only, he has.  

When Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûrete du Québec, arrives to investigate the crime, he discovers that Olivier's story is full of holes.  Not wanting to believe his friend capable of murder, Gamache digs deeper.  What he finds at the home of the supposed vagrant is unlike anything he's ever seen before.  Unfortunately, the priceless antiques hidden within provide Olivier, a well-known collector, with a compelling motive.  The bistro owner is not the only suspect, but he's beginning to look like the most likely one.  No one in Three Pines wants Gamache's conclusion to be true.  And yet, it's becoming obvious that Olivier has been keeping some big secrets from his friends.  Did gentle Olivier really beat an elderly man to death?  If not, then who did? 

There's one thing I've come to realize about Canadian author Louise Penny—she's not afraid to tread on her readers' tender feelings toward her characters.  Or to pummel their bleeding hearts.  I've been shocked by plot twists in previous Armand Gamache mysteries, but none of the other books has done me in quite like The Brutal Telling (Book 5).  It is, well, brutal.  My husband just raised his eyebrows at my strangled cries, so as soon as I finished the novel, I fired off an email to the one person who I knew would understand my pain: Kay at Kay's Reading Life.  She reminded me that there is more to all the characters in Three Pines than meets the eye and that each has come to the town for a reason.  Penny, herself, describes the hamlet as "this solid little village that never changed, but helped its inhabitants to change" (224).  This complexity is what keeps me coming back to the Armand Gamache series.  I love the richness of its setting, its characters, and its plotting.  Usually, I wait a few months between Penny books; not this time.  I marched right down to my library, snatched a copy of Bury Your Dead (Book 6) off the shelf, plunked down in my chair, and devoured it.  Am I satisfied with what I learned?  Yes, but still heartbroken.  Is Olivier a murderer?  You're just going to have to read the books for yourself ...

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Armand Gamache series [Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; Bury Your Dead; The Hangman (novella); A Trick of the Light; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; The Nature of the Beast; and The Great Reckoning])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Brutal Telling from Changing Hands Bookstore (my local indie) with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Tragic "Survival" Tale Sad, But Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At one time or another, all of us have no doubt felt the desire to sell all our worldly goods and head for the hills.  The solitude and simplicity of an unencumbered vagabond life are undeniably appealing, especially when the pressures of life feel too heavy to bear.  Few of us actually take the plunge, though, beyond say, a weekend camping trip or a rejuvenating hike in the mountains.  That's what makes the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless so odd.  And so intriguing.  

McCandless—a bright, enterprising young fellow—grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C.  The son of an aerospace engineer, he was used to a solid, upper middle class existence.  As a young man, however, he grew disdainful of "the good life."  After graduating from Emory University in 1990, McCandless renamed himself Alexander Supertramp and took to the road.  Impulsive and hopelessly idealistic, the college grad sold most of his possessions, donated all his money ($25, 000) to charity, and set off to explore the country.  Working odd jobs to take care of his scant personal needs, McCandless took pleasure in seeing new places, meeting interesting people, and finding enlightenment in his anti-materialism lifestyle.  

As he wandered, McCandless dreamed of walking into a true wilderness, of experiencing total freedom in a land relatively untouched by human feet.  He planned to disappear there, to live off the land, surviving by his own wit and instinct.  The place?  Alaska.  On April 28, 1992, the 24-year-old realized that dream.  He began hiking The Stampede Trail, near Denali National Park, toting along little more than his passion.  Ill-equipped to handle the harsh Alaskan backcountry, Christopher Johnson McCandless lasted only a few months.  On September 6, 1992, a hunter discovered his body—which weighed only 66 pounds—moldering inside an old, abandoned bus near the trail.  Ironically, the man who donated $25,000 to feed the hungry starved to death—and not all that far from civilization. 

McCandless' story fascinates travel writer Jon Krakauer, who made the young survivalist the subject of his first book, Into the Wild.  In it, Krakauer explores McCandless' life from childhood to his death in order to figure out what made the unusual man tick.  While doing so, the author ruminates on important topics like society's obligation to those who don't fit in; the foolhardiness of challenging nature unprepared; the dangers of romanticizing people like McCandless, whose tragic but preventable death inspires devotees to make their own pilgrimages to The Stampede Trail, often leading to stranded—even dead—hikers; and a person's right to live and die on their own terms, however odd they may be.  Krakauer even explores alternative scenarios that could have led to McCandless' death.  The fact that there are a lot of gaps and unknowns in the man's story doesn't make Into the Wild any less intriguing.  Although I didn't find the book nearly as awe-inspiring as Krakauer's bestseller Into Thin Air, it's still a gripping man vs. nature story, haunting and memorable.  It's a sad tale, but one I found very compelling.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, depictions of illegal drug use, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Has to Be Love A Compelling Novel About Change, Choices, and the Challenges of Growing Up

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Five years ago, life changed irrevocably for 17-year-old Clara Fielding.  A bear attacked her and her mother, leaving the latter dead and the former with vicious scars marring her face.  Everyone in tiny Knick, Alaska, knows about the tragedy.  Most of them don't even seem to notice Clara's disfigurement anymore.  But Clara does.  Not a day goes by that she doesn't think about everything the bear stole from her.  

Clara knows she's safe in Knick—and that she could stay that way forever.  She never has to leave her Alaskan village, never has to expose her scars to the outside world.  Not if she doesn't want to.  The question is, does she?  With high school ending, she's got a decision to make: stay home and build a future with her amazing boyfriend, Elias, or swallow her fear and act on the acceptance letter she's just received from Columbia University.  She knows she can't do both.  If she goes to New York, she'll lose kind, hard-working Elias.  If she stays, she'll forfeit the chance to study at her dream school.  It's a no-win situation. 

Enter Rhodes Kennedy, a 21-year-old Columbia student who's in Knick to teach at Clara's high school for a few months.  In spite of herself, Clara can't help falling for her the world-wise Rhodes, who encourages her to break out of her comfort zone.  In more ways than one.  Before she knows it, she's putting it all on the line for the newcomer, who's challenging everything she believes in: the sanctity of her hometown, her future with Elias, the debilitating nature of her scars, and her Mormon faith.  As her safe little world crumbles around her, Clara will have to decide what she really wants for her future.  Does she have the courage to give up something good for the possibility of something great?  Can she trample on the feelings of people she loves in order to pursue her own dreams?  What does she really want to do with her life?  And with whom?  A tortured Clara will have to make some heart-rending, life-changing decisions before time runs out ...

Despite its fanciful cover, Has to Be Love by Jolene Perry is not some fluffy YA romance.  It's got a bite to it.  Clara is a good girl who's battling grief, fear, uncertainty, and raging hormones as she tries to make some very adult decisions.  Her struggles with maintaining her religious standards—especially where it concerns her relationships with boys—will feel familiar to many teens.  As will her oscillating feelings over doing the safe, expected thing vs. risking her own security to take on a bold and scary challenge.  As authentic as Clara's problems seem, though, her constant obsession with her scars and the ways in which she's been victimized gets old fast.  It often makes her appear self-absorbed rather than sympathetic, which annoyed me to no end.  I have a few other complaints with Has to Be Love, but overall, I liked it.  The novel, which tells a compelling story peppered with original elements, also preaches some good lessons without feeling like a sermon.  Teens should find it both intriguing and relatable.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and fairly graphic sensuality/sexual content that would be most appropriate for readers ages 16+

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Middle Grade WWII Story Heart-Wrenching, Hard to Forget

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Unlike the children she watches from the window of her London flat, 10-year-old Ada Smith has never gone outside.  Because of the club foot with which Ada was born, Ada's mother calls her a "cripple" and insists she stay inside where no one can see her shameful deformity.  There's nothing Ada wants more than to flee her filthy, roach-infested apartment; escape from her mother's cruel taunting; and run around outside with friends.  Her little brother gets that privilege every day; it's difficult not to envy 6-year-old Jamie his freedom.  

When the fear of German bombs dropping on London starts propelling concerned parents to send their children out of the city, Ada seizes the opportunity to forge a new life for herself and her brother.  But Mam will only agree to send Jamie away.  Refusing to be left behind, Ada sneaks out to join him.  Soon, the siblings find themselves in the Kent countryside under the care of Susan Smith, a lonely spinster who insists she isn't fit to be their guardian.  And yet, Ada and Jamie thrive under her watchful eye.  

As the months fly by and London remains untouched, children are being sent back home.  That's the last thing Ada and Jamie want.  Can they hold on to the stable, peace-filled life they know with Susan or will they be forced to go back to the miserable squalor that used to be all they knew?  

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the heart-wrenching story of a young girl's triumph over abuse.  As Ada rises above her pitiable circumstances, tackling every obstacle in her path with courage and compassion, she comes to realize that strength of character has nothing to do with physical appearances.  For the first time in her life, she knows that not only is her twisted foot nothing to be ashamed of, but also that it doesn't have to keep her from living a life that is as full and happy as anyone else's.  Chock-full of important lessons, The War that Saved my Life is a poignant tale that preaches acceptance and love as antidotes to overcoming adversity of all kinds.  It's a different kind of WWII story, not my absolute favorite, but one I've found difficult to forget.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing's really coming to mind.  Suggestions?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and disturbing subject matter (child abuse/neglect, the horrors of war, discrimination against the disabled, etc.).  Homosexuality is also alluded to, albeit vaguely.

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Timeless LDS Romance Tells an Uplifting, Inspiring Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Cal Morgan and Kate Clayton first meet in eighth grade, the sparks immediately began to fly.  At least for Cal.  As the years go by, the shy farm boy continues to pine after the dark beauty even as she climbs up the social ladder to a rung far beyond his reach.  It's only in his 20s, following three years as an LDS missionary, that Cal begins to suspect he might actually have a chance with the vivacious Kate.  Even though her parents' long-ago divorce has made Kate leery of commitment, Cal can think of no one he'd rather have as his wife.  He's prepared to court her for as long as it takes, but there's one big obstacle standing in his way: war.  Can Cal make it out of the conflict alive?  If so, will Kate be waiting for him upon his return?  Can their love survive the horrors of war?  Can Cal?

Inspired by a true story, By the Stars, a debut novel by Lindsay B. Ferguson, tells of a sweet romance that blossoms between two ordinary people living in extraordinary times.  Although the war chapters get a little gruesome, the tale is, on the whole, a gentle one.  It's a clean, inspiring story that promotes faith, fidelity, and focusing on the good even when surrounded by evil.  By the Stars is a timeless tale, the sort you can hand to your teenager or your grandmother without worrying about offending the delicate sensibilities of either one.  All the characters in the book are likable, especially our hero and heroine.  Both are wholesome, kind-hearted souls; it's easy to root for their happiness.    

The thing is, though, it's a little too easy.  Because of the book's Prologue, we know the answers to most of the questions I posed in the first paragraph of this review before Cal even starts telling his story.  This makes the novel feels very predictable, even dull in spots.  I kept waiting for twists and turns, a little suspense to throw the couple's HEA into question, something to make me wonder and worry about their relationship's future.  While the action definitely picks up when Cal ships off to war, the first 200 pages or so of By the Stars really dragged for me.  It doesn't help that Ferguson's prose is much more tell-y than show-y.  Or that the text is liberally peppered with typos, misused words (poignantly and pointedly, for example) and errors.  The author assures me all of these will be fixed in the electronic/Kindle version of the novel as well as future print runs, which is good because they are definitely irritating and distracting in a "finished" book.

Overall, I think By the Stars has good bones.  It really is an endearing tale, especially because it's based on a real love story.  In fact, it reads like a memoir, which may be a better format for it than a novel.  To work well as fiction, I think the story needs much more dynamic prose; a focused, less episodic plot; better pacing; and more depth/nuance.  For me, as is, it's just an okay read.


Note:  Although I always try to write balanced reviews, my style still tends toward the brutal.  I know this, you know this.  Since my opinion isn't the only one that matters (Shocking, I know!), be sure to check out other reviews for By the Stars at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.  You can also follow along on the book's blog tour:

March 8: My Book a Day | Write Writing Written | New LDS Fiction
March 9: Robyn Echols | Rambling Reviews
March 10: Bookworm Lisa | Totally Obsessed
March 11:
March 12: Novel-ties | Books R Us
March 13: Read Between the Bindings | This Mormon Life
March 14: Marianne Sciucco | Clean Romance Reviews
March 15: LDS & Lovin’ It | Emmy Mom
March 16: I Am a Reader
March 17: Getting Your Read On
March 18: Mel’s Shelves | The Things I Love Most | From Eeka’s Eyes
March 19: Singing Librarian Books | Inklings and Notions
March 20: Ashley Ziegler | Jorie Loves a Story
March 21: Katie’s Clean Book Collection | My Little Sunshines
March 22: Aubrey Zaruba | Making Life a Bliss Complete | The Random Book Blogger
Books Are Sanity | Fire and Ice
March 23: Becky’s Book Reviews | Rockin’ Book Reviews
March 24: My Reading Spot
March 25: September Fawkes
March 26: Wanna Be Balanced Mom
March 27: Compass Book Ratings | Wishful Endings
March 28: Blooming with Books
March 29: Jorie Loves a StoryMarch 30: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and a few respectful references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of By the Stars from the generous folks at Cedar Fort.  Thank you!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Alternate History Soldier Girls Series Off to an Intriguing Start

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

On September 16, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act into law.  While military conscription had occurred in The United States before, this was the first time it had happened during peacetime.  The law required all men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register for the draft.  As the probability of the U.S. entering World War II became more evident, the law was expanded to include all men between the ages of 18 and 45.  Females were not included.  

But what if they had been?  

What if women were not only required to register for the draft, but also allowed to voluntarily join the military and serve in combat roles?  What if they, like their male counterparts, were given the chance to prove themselves on the front lines during World War II?  How would it have changed things, both during the conflict and afterward?  

These are the questions asked in Front Lines, the first novel in a new alternate history YA series by Michael Grant.  In it, we're introduced to three ordinary women whose lives change irrevocably because of a 1940 ruling which allows them to enlist in the military.  Two years later, 16-year-old Rio Richlin, a farmer's daughter from California, lies about her age in order to sign up.  Not only does she want revenge against the enemies who killed her soldier sister, but she wants to do her part to serve her country.  Frangie Marr, a 17-year-old black girl from Oklahoma, wants to be a doctor.  It's a pipe dream, of course, but one she might be able to realize—to some degree, at least—by getting medic training and experience in the Armed Forces.  Besides, her family desperately needs the money she can earn as a soldier.  Knowing her double minority status will make her a particularly vulnerable target, Frangie signs up anyway.  Rainy Schulterman, an 18-year-old Jewish woman from New York City's Lower East Side, wants her chance to outwit the Nazis who are systematically murdering her people in Europe.  Training to be an intelligence officer is a challenging but fulfilling way to use her smarts against the seemingly unstoppable enemy.  

As Rio, Frangie, and Rainy make their way through enlistment, boot camp, advanced training, and war itself, they'll find challenges and difficulties around every corner.  Not only will they battle flagrant discrimination, but they'll also endure the pain, fatigue, fear, homesickness, and self-doubt that plagues every soldier.  Along the way, however, they'll discover the vast potential that lies within each of them—and the courage to unfurl it in defense of the country they love.

I'm always intrigued by World War II novels, especially those written for teens.  The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys all stand out as excellent stories that bring the conflict, with all its inherent drama, to life.  Even among these titles, though, Front Lines stands out.  Its unique premise makes it different from the rest.  While the story itself may not be all that original, Grant keeps it exciting by throwing plenty of conflict into the characters' paths.  The front lines action doesn't begin until 3/4 of the way through the book, but the first 300 pages still managed to keep my attention.  More or less.  Yes, it feels long in places and no, it isn't as mesmerizing as I wanted it to be, but I still enjoyed Front Lines.  I'm looking forward to the next installment.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, blood/gore, language (no F-bombs—the word "fug" is used as a substitute), and sensuality/sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Front Lines by Michael Grant from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin