Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Lexile = 810
An unexpected pleasure. I picked this up because it looked like Caraval. Creepy lit tent, midnight... I figured that this had some type of mystery attached to a carnival. Well, no. Instead we have space exploration and the Dust Bowl.
The year is 2065 and small groups of people are being sent to colonize Mars. To qualify, you must pass through a rigorous process that involves saying goodbye to all you have here on Earth. Because you are not coming back. Adri has passed most of the tests and is at the launch site where she is assigned to stay with a long-lost elderly aunt (or cousin?) in the weeks leading up to the launch. While there, she finds an old journal in the house chronicling the hard times surrounding the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
The story also jumps back to World War I England! And yet it all works together. I liked how Adri's future world is still connected to the world of the past. They still live in the homes from earlier times and they still have recognizable appliances and the like (although Adri complains that her Aunt doesn't have a "smart" fridge that could shop for them).
All of this historical leapfrogging is really just a background for terrific characters. Adri thinks she is alone in the world. She has nothing to lose by leaving Earth. And the long-dead journal writers have something to say to future readers.
Watch a short video of quotes from the book HERE.
Monday, July 16, 2018
Lexile = 780
Grace, Maya, and Joaquin all share a mother. None of them know anything about the others. Joaquin is the oldest of the three and was never adopted. His life in the foster care system was at times really tough. Maya is the sassy brown "outsider" in her family. Grace is about to have a baby and plans to give that baby up for adoption. Her experience has started her thinking about her own birth mother and how and why she adopted. She finds out about the siblings she never knew and together they grapple with the concept of family.
If you live with someone, are they your family? If you are related by blood with someone, are they your family? Grace, Maya, and Joaquin have had vastly different lives. Benway's award winning book attempts to answer questions of race, adoption, and family. I really loved this book.
Watch an interview with the author after she won the National Book Award HERE.
Sunday, July 15, 2018
Lexile = 840
If you haven't read Caraval, you probably should. Check out my review HERE.
Just when you think the game of Caraval is over, it all begins again. The prize for this round is finding out the real identity of Legend, the master of Caraval. Lots of hints are dropped, and I thought I had it all figured out... but of course I didn't! Tella has already saved her sister, so now she turns her attention to.... her MOTHER! Yup. We thought she was gone, but she is merely trapped in the magical realm.
And there is the love triangle that continues. Dante? Julian? And WHO IS LEGEND? I don't think there will be a Caraval #3, so all your questions will be answered.
Watch a very slim book trailer HERE.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Lexile = 710
Before I tell you why I didn't really like this book, you need to know that it seems to be aimed at a younger (read middle-school) audience. The main characters are 14 and 16, which is usually a good indicator of who the author thinks will be reading the work.
Kayla(16) and Avery(14) are thrown together by Avery's father for a summer in Spain. Kayla and Avery used to get together as very young children, but they couldn't be more different. The author's attempts to show their differences results in bland stereotypes of the characters, which is what really bothered me in the book. Avery is beautiful, athletic, popular, and stuck-up. Kayla is poor, overweight, smart, and kind. Oh my goodness, what will happen when these two are forced to be together all summer?
Avery and Kayla find out why they were "invited" together, which is some kind of big family secret. That all seemed like invented drama for me as well.... but maybe it would be high drama for a younger reader.
Haddix is one of my favorite authors. I love both of her dystopian series: The Missing and The Shadow Children. This is an ok book; it just wasn't for me.
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Lexile = 770
So I just read Fatal Throne, which tells the stories of each of the doomed wives of Henry VIII. I guess now it is Henry's turn. VIII tells his story... and best of all, it begins when he is young enough to be carried, comforted and snuggled by his mother, Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII.
Our little Hal is not meant to be king. His older brother Arthur is first in line for the throne. Little Henry is repeatedly ridiculed by both Arthur and King Henry. The author is obviously attempting to provide a reason for Henry VIII's later ruthless madness. Historians agree that the young Henry was handsome, playful, and engaging. His quest for power and for the ever elusive heir to the throne perhaps drove him mad. Empire and sons: that is all he wanted.
The story of Henry and all of his wives moves quickly... there is a lot to cram in here. Again, the focus is on him.... no executions are even mentioned, just that Henry has a new wife every few chapters. I am soooo glad I read Fatal Throne first... I think I needed the background in order to fly through this version.
Watch a book trailer HERE.
Friday, June 22, 2018
Lexile = 590
Oh my ... where do I begin? They say that reading can take you places that you have never been. The Hate U Give takes you to the 'hood and that is a place I have never been.
Starr Carter lives in Garden Heights, a neighborhood filled with violence and drugs. But it is also filled with people who love their neighborhood and are trying to live their lives. Starr's parents have sent her to a "fancy" school in the suburbs, so she is living in two worlds. She even talks about having changing her manner of speech at school and not talking about her home neighborhood with her school friends.
One night, Khalil, a friend since they were babies, is pulled over for no reason by a cop. He is forcibly removed from the car and killed. The officer claims he had a gun. Starr witnesses the entire thing and knows that Khalil is perfectly innocent. What follows is textbook Black Lives Matter controversy all told from Starr's perspective.
Starr's story is so well told and perhaps that is what makes it difficult to read. The language here is VERY rough. I can usually overlook language and focus on the plot, but it was pretty overwhelming. That will eliminate some readers, I know. Reviewers all over are saying this is "must read" for people everywhere. I even heard is was included on a recommended library list put out in a BYU class. I agree there are many lessons to learn in Thomas' book.
The Hate U Give is being made into a movie and is due for an October 2018 release. I bet the language is drastically pulled back in order to get a PG-13 rating. Meanwhile, watch an excellent student produced book trailer HERE.
Friday, June 15, 2018
Fatal Throne has SEVEN authors! Candace Fleming coordinated this collaborative effort and enlisted six female authors to each write a chapter telling the story of an individual wife of Henry VIII. MT Anderson did the Henry sections that appear between each wife. What an interesting way to craft a novel!
Not only was Henry a good catch because he was King, but for his time, he was handsome, athletic and quite charismatic. Later in life he suffered from a rather disgusting leg wound and gained a LOT of weight. Not so handsome and athletic then. (But still he was the king!)
Most of his wives initially served as ladies to the previous wife, which makes the intrigue of being a court rather venomous. But, at least in this fictionalized account, each of Henry's wives thought that they were truly different, that they truly loved Henry, and that the outcome of their marriage would indeed be different. We know how that ends. I should include here that King Henry was most interested in having an heir to the throne. That combined with his lustful personality means that there is some sexual content in these pages.
The timeline of the story is a bit convoluted. Each wife begins at the end of their reign and then jumps back to when they met Henry, so there is quite a bit of back and forth. Some wives (authors) told a better tale as well. I learned the most about Anna of Cleves, wife number four. She was considered ugly and the marriage was never consummated. But I liked her best! She ends her story this way and it is a great summary of the book:
Once upon a time, there were six Queens who married the same man, one after another.
The first was a beauty, with red hair, blue eyes, and ivory skin. She gave the King a child, but it was a girl. So he banished the Queen and took her child from her.
The second, whose beauty was as dark as her soul, also gave the King a daughter. And for this, he cut off her head.
The third, as mild as milk, gave the King a precious son, and oh, how he loved her for it. But the womb that gave life to the boy stole life from the mother. She died of childbed fever.
The fourth Queen... ah, the fourth Queen. The King called her ugly and put her aside.
The fifth Queen was young and the fairest of them all. Her eyes sparkled. He laughter was music. The King adored her, but she love another. So he cut off her head, too. The sixth Queen was learned and the King did not like it. He would've cut off her head, but she begged his forgiveness for being clever and he let her live.
They are all dead now, those beautiful Queens, all dead. And the King is dead. All his men, too. And the precious son for whom he remade the world.
But the ugly Queen? Ah, she lived child. She lived.