Friday, September 27, 2013

In The After - Demitria Lunetta

One day They come.  All it takes is one night and most of humanity is wiped out.  Amy has come to acknowledge the fact that her parents are gone.  She has survived mainly because her mom, who worked for the government, had an electrical fence put around the house.  This has kept Them at bay.  They have good hearing and any sound brings them running.  Amy walks around barefoot or with socks as not to make any noise.  She has gotten food by raiding houses around her and making trips down the block to the convenience store.  On one of these trips she comes across a toddler left behind in the store.  Amy takes her back home and calls her Baby.  For three years it is just Amy and Baby.  Amy teaches Baby sign language and this is how they communicate to not make any noise.  Amy also teaches Baby how to be quiet when they go looking for food.  On a trip to gather food and clothing they come across Amber, who has been left behind by her brother and his gang.  Amber comes home with Amy and Baby.  Amber stays with them and Amy teaches her how she and Baby communicate and to be quite so They don't come.  On one of their trips to a neighbors house to get clothes Amber finds a Prada bag in a closet.  She squeals and that brings Them to the house.  They think they are done for when a black helicopter comes and captures one of Them.  Amy, Baby, and Amber are able to escape and make it back home.  Amy tells Baby that Amber has to go, but Baby doesn't want her to.  The next morning Amber is gone.  Shortly after Amber leaves a group of men come looking at the electrical fence outside the house.  When Amy suspects they are connected to Amber she tells Baby to get things ready in case they have to go.  When the fence goes down Amber and Baby run away.  They make it to a nearby lake and as they are bathing the black helicopter comes and takes them away.  They are taken to a government facility, which used to be a college.  It is run by Amy's mom, who she thought was dead.  Amy finds it a bit hard to live with other people when it's just been her and Baby for the last three years.  She starts poking around and finds out the truth behind the They.  She is put in The Ward and is given drugs to make her forget what she knows. 

I really liked this book.  It is a good story about doing what you need to do to survive, especially when the enemy can hear really well.  I liked how Amy was resistant and kept on trying to get information about what goes on in the building.  She knew something wasn't right and her mom was hiding things from her.  I liked the way the book ended.  Even though most of the human race was killed, what remains of humanity still fights and lives on. 

T.B. 9/27/13

Monday, September 23, 2013

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

This novel explores what it means to redefine yourself after a tragedy changes your course. Certain subject matters makes this book better suited for mature teens.

In high school, the name Chelsea Keyes was synonymous with basketball. Her whole like was planned around the sport, until a slip on some spilled soda shattered her hip, thereby ending her basketball career. With her whole sense of self now put into question, Chelsea and her family head out to a lake resort where Chelsea is signed up for a "boot camp" program to get back to the person she once was (with or without basketball). The person running this camp, Clint, has his own demons that have prevented him from pursuing his own favorite sport. The two form an instant connection and spend most of their three weeks together discovering each other as well as re-embracing their past passions. Things get a little complicated, however, when Chelsea's current boyfriend is considered in this equation.

This book is a good romance, although somewhat questionable when you consider the fact that Chelsea is basically cheating on her boyfriend. However, it does factor into the whole "self-discovery" aspect of this novel considering how different Clint is from her boyfriend Gabe. The novel does explore the loss of Chelsea's virginity - at times in some mature detail. For someone wanting a meatier romance, though, I think this book is a good fit.

This novel is more than just falling in love. It is a great story about getting back up and recreating yourself when life throws you a curveball. It's about not letting life's hardships prevent you from living life to the fullest, or - as the book says "Never live timidly."

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black

Tana wakes up in a bathtub after a night of partying only to find almost everyone massacred in the house.  Besides her the only other people "alive" are her ex-boyfriend Aidan, who is tied to a bed and infected, along with a vampire named Gavriel in chains next to the bed.  As they escape the house with a group of vampires after them, Tana is bitten on her leg.  She fears that she's infected and will turn into a vampire.  They stop at a gas station an hour away from the party massacre to decide what they want to do.  The best thing for everyone is to head to the Coldtown in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The Coldtowns were set up to contain the vampires and people who are infected and may or may not turn into vampires.  At a rest stop outside of Coldtown they encounter Midnight and Winter, a brother and sister who want to become vampires.  Midnight and Winter run a blog about vampires.  Midnight wants to interview Aidan since they've never encountered someone going through the transition into a vampire.  When he attacks her during the interview Tana decides it is time to get going to Coldtown.  As they approach the checkpoint before Coldtown, Gavriel is put into chains to make it look like he is their captive.  Tana fills out the paperwork to get the bounty and a marker for herself so she can leave Coldtown.  All of them enter Coldtown and are put into cages.  They escape and head to a house where Midnight has a contact.  His contact locks Aidan and Tana in a room together where Aidan's hunger for blood is to much for him to control.  He attacks Tana and she escapes.  She encounters Jameson who tells her who Gavriel really is and his connection to Lucien, the most famous vampire in the Springfield Coldtown.  Tana begins to question if bringing Gavriel back to Coldtown was the right thing to do. 

After not reading a vampire book for a while this was the perfect one for me to pick up and read.   It was a well told story with the right mix of a dangerous and serious situation Tana is in, along with some comic relief.  I like the way it ended too.  It was left open for a possibility of a sequel, and for the reader to imagine what might happen.  The book had the feel of episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which made the book even more enjoyable for me to read. 

T.B. 9/23/13

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

This book is a memoir of a young boy's journey during the Holocaust and how Oskar Schindler helped save his life.
Leon grew up with his family in Poland and had a typical life filled with everyday struggles. Although he was Jewish, he got along with non-Jews and went about his business not causing any problems. When the Germans started to take over Europe, they figured everything would quickly come to a close, just like the last time Germany came to town. This time, however, was different. Pretty soon families were forced to board trains and leave town. Leon and his family escaped this fate initially because they had work permits. Then the entire town was forced to move into a ghetto, made to share cramped living quarters and struggle to find food to survive. Before long, Leon's family started to separate - first one brother was sent on a train, then another brother, his father and sister had to leave for a labor camp while Leon and his mother went to another ghetto. The next stop became a labor camp where Leon found himself alone and struggling to survive, until he finds a way to contact his father who is working for the infamous Oskar Schindler. Although Schindler finds a way to reunite Leon's family, the fear they live in doesn't cease until the end of the war when they can finally start over, although knowing that life will never be the same again.
While this story is captivating and enjoyable (or as enjoyable as a Holocaust memoir can be), this book feels focused on its target audience of young readers. It has a great voice where you can hear the young Leon telling his story. As an adult reading this book, however, it felt as if something is missing. In no way am I trying to lessen what Leon went through because the reader definitely sees his struggle and sympathizes with his plight for survival, but his story is only 206 pages (small pages, a lot of spacing). At times I felt as if he was telling rather than showing. Maybe this comes from the fact that this memoir is based on the speeches he gives about his experiences, where he has a limited time and can't give every detail. Even though I personally wanted more, it was a gripping memoir that peeked my interest in Oskar Schindler and other tales of survival.

No Holocaust story is going to be easy to tell - especially when it is one you personally lived through. With so many books out there telling all of the horrific details, you almost expect that when you pick up a Holocaust book, which threatens to desensitize you to the emotional pain one experiences. Leon's story isn't as heavy on the details as you might expect, but that fits with the audience and doesn't do much to lessen the horrors he experienced. This book gives a great view of the Holocaust from the eyes of a boy who was barely even ten when the world around him began to change and nineteen when he had a chance to start anew. For young readers wanting to know about someone's experience in the Holocaust, this is a worth the read.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The setting for this book is France and the British Isles during World War II.  The author is clear in the afterward that this is not based on a true story but that it could have happened.  There were women flyers, there were women spies.  SOE, ATA and other military organizations did exist.  A military spy plane crashed on arrival in Nazi occupied France.  Shortly thereafter pilot Maddie finds herself part of the resistance movement in France even carrying out the secret mission set for her friend who has been captured by the Nazi's.  Julie (code name Verity)  has bargained with the Nazi's.  She will give them information for her life.  It stops most of the torture.  Julie writes almost daily, almost all day long weaving tales with hidden meanings, the Nazi's don't understand and with information they surely already have or is slightly off.  Most of the story is Julie's in capture and all that she endured and her knowledge that she was sentenced to die and did not want to.  Then it switches to Maddie.  By this time the resistance has tried several times to get her out of France and now another friend is here as well.  They believe they know the Nazi's have Julie and where.  This is more than half way through the book and by then I fear many readers will  have lost interest.  But things are absolutely heart rending, riveting from here to the tragedy filled ending.  It is here one realizes how close a friendship Maddie and Julie had by the sacrifice Maddie makes.  It is here that attempts at rescue prove only partially successful.  It is here that Julie's original mission is successfully carried out.  This story got a lot of praise and I could not figure out why till I got very far in.  Give it a chance, stick with it till the end.  Its worth the wait.  Its not the first time I've had to wait for the pay off.  JDW 9/16/13

Monday, September 09, 2013

Letters To Nowhere
An Adoption Story
By:  Anthony Wallace

This is the story of Anthony Wallace who was given up for adoption. Jean his birth mother wanted to keep him, but it was 1965 and girls did not have babies out of wedlock.  Her family sent her away to have the baby and give it up for adoption. When she returned back home she was told never to tell anyone about her pregnancy and that it would be best if she never thought about what she had done.  As much as she tried she was unable to forget about her baby who she named Anthony.  She felt the need to honor his birth, so every year on his birthday she would send a birthday card addressed  to Anthony and mail it. It didn't matter that the cards just sat in the " dead mail" bin at the post office.

The family that adopted Anthony told him that he had been adopted but there was never to be any discussion about his birth mother. Anthony secretly thought about his birth mother often and especially on his birthday each year.  Anthony had a brother who was also adopted. The Grady's tried to provide a loving family environment  for Anthony and his brother.  James Grady traveled a great deal for his job and the boys were raised mostly by their mother Anne.  When their dad returned from  his long trips the boys were told not to bother their father that he needed time alone to unwind, so the boys would avoid him as much as they could.  As the boys got older their relationship with their father became verbally and sometimes physically abusive.  Their mother always sided with their father to keep him happy even though she knew it wasn't fair for the boys. Both boys eventually  moved out and had little contact with their parents.

Anthony met the love of his life and eventually his wife while he was in college, Jane came from a close loving family that Anthony couldn't get enough of.  The two were married and Jane  always encouraged Anthony to keep in contact with his adoptive parents. When he tried, their conversations always ended  badly.   When Anthony and Jane decided that they would to try to have children Jane encouraged Anthony to contact the adoption agency that handled his adoption to try to get any medical information that they may have on his biological parents before they started their family.  This lead to Anthony finding out that his birth mother had tried to find him, and since Anthony expressed his desire to contact her, the adoption agency was able to provide him with his birth mothers phone number. Anthony called Jean and was invited to her house for dinner.  From the moment Anthony met his birth mother, two half brothers and sister he felt as if had found a missing piece of himself that he hadn't realized he had been searching for. Anthony and Jane were welcomed into Jean's family and Anthony keeps in touch with his new found brothers on a daily basis. 

Anthony still contacts his adoptive parents as he feels grateful that they tried to provide for him and his brother the best way they knew how.  He has never told them that he has found his birth mother.       

This is an inspirational book encouraging anyone who is looking for their birth parents, or birth parents looking for a child they placed for adoption never to give up as "you never know what life has in store for you."


Sunday, September 08, 2013

Insomnia by J.R. Johansson

This novel is a little reminiscent of Wake by Lisa McMann with the idea of stepping inside people's dreams, but it definitely has its own twist on the concept. Insomnia is the first book in a new series.

Parker has not had a restful night's sleep in the past four years. Every time he goes to sleep, he slips into the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with. Watching other people's dreams, however, does not allow his brain to get the rest he needs in order to survive. Parker realizes he's living on borrowed time. That is, of course, until he meets Mia. When he steps into her dreams, they are so peaceful that he's able to sleep and form his own dreams. Before long, he becomes obsessed with seeing Mia's dreams. Things take a turn when his obsession makes him a stalker and Mia starts getting threatening emails that she believes are from him. When her dreams start turning into nightmares and Parker can't account for what he's doing in his sleep, something needs to change in order to save Mia and possibly himself.

I wouldn't necessarily say this book is filled with terror or an over abundance of spookiness (like the comments lead you to believe), but it is an entertaining story. Something is clearly going on and you don't know how much you can trust Parker - the narrator. You definitely sympathize for him. What's going on is out of his control and he really wants to do the right thing. You care for him and want to see him survive. The novel ends with the start of a secret being revealed to hook a reader into the next book.

The whole idea of Parker and his abilities is intriguing, but I wonder how far the story can go before it gets a bit redundant. McMann took this concept and made only a trilogy. It will be interesting to see how this series develops.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Three Books in which No Dogs Die

SEARCH AND RESCUE by Colleen Coble is a gentle read in which a young teen almost loses a chance at getting her own puppy to train for search and rescue missions in the woods near Lake Superior.  This happens when she is accused unjustly of stealing a valuable necklace from a booth at an art show.  Emily has long been helping her mother and the search and rescue leader with their missions.  She has also been creating her own jewelry from fused glass to sell.  The accusations and the thought of missing out on training her own puppy are heart rending for her.  She had her friend do their own detective work to solve the mystery of the missing necklace and enlist the help of a reporter along the way to solving it.  Before the mystery is solved Emily has redeemed her reputation and received her puppy to train as well as participated in yet another search and rescue mission.  There are a lot of characters in this story, none of them more than superficial but the plot does carry the story ok.

DUKE by Kirby Larson intended for upper elementary readers this historical fiction novel is entertaining  and easy enough for reluctant readers through middle school and even into high school.  Its 1944 and in the throes of world war II.  Everyone is doing their best to help with the war effort.  When a neighbor recruits Hobie Hanson's beloved German Shepard Duke for the war effort it is extremely hard to give him up. In fact, he tries to get Duke back by writing letters of discouragement to Duke's Handler, a marine private.  When his father, who is in the service, becomes a prisoner of war, when his teacher's husband is killed in action and when Duke saves the life of marine private Corff, Hobie regrets his actions.  Things mostly turn out ok in this story.  The language, the attitudes and behaviors of the people reflect the time period of the novel.  So, to readers today it may seem way to sweet and unrealistic.  But that was the way it was back then.  Keep this in mind if you read this story.

ROTTEN by Michael Northrop  JD Dobbs return home after a summer upstate without really telling anyone where he was or why.  He finds that his mother has adopted a rescue dog. Its a Rottweiler named Jon-Jon by mom and Johnny Rotten after the Sex Pistol's Singer by JD.  The dog had been abused and has anxiety issues that require sort of gentle handling.  JD catches on pretty quickly, I thought,  but one of his friends corners JR and gets nipped.  His parents choose to turn a minor bite into a full blown issue in an attempt to get money from JD's mom.  JD knows the truth of how the bite happened and how bad it really is but cannot prove it.  It looks as if JD and mom will lose everything including their home.  JR will have to be euthanized.  That is unless JD can find a way to prove JR is not as bad as he is portrayed...  So most of this story is JD relating to the dog, which is pretty cool and figuring out how to save JR's life.  That includes revealing to his friends and others how he spent his summer in what is for him an uncharacteristic show of honesty.  JD and his friends, even Janie his girl are not the most upstanding students in school.  The guys have been known to hang outside and smoke pot during school, to skip school, to start fights and to routinely get detention. This could make an ok read for a reluctant reader.  Northrup's books are more about the issue than about the people and I prefer character driven stories.
JDW 9/6

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Boy on the Bridge
By:  Natalie Standiford

This is a historical fiction novel taking place in Russia in 1982, a time when Russian people lived fearing their government knowing that they could do anything to anyone without explanation.

Laura is an eighteen year old foreign exchange student from California studying abroad at the Leningrad State University in Russia.  She is there for one semester to improve her Russian speaking skills and observe the lifestyles of the Russian people.  She has been warned by her chaperons that fraternizing with the wrong people could get her sent home and the possibility of Russian friends being arrested.  Laura has also been warned that Soviets often seek out Americans in hopes of marrying them and escaping to the United States.

Shortly after arriving in Russia, Laura is rescued from thieving gypsies on a bridge leading to her dorm by Alyosha, a handsome Russian artist. Alyosha  asks Laura if she would be interested in tutoring him in English and he would help her with her Russian and show her some of the local sites. Alyosha gives Laura his phone number and tells her to call him the next day, he also reminds her to be very careful that she is not being watched by anyone from the University.  They meet the next day and from that day on they become inseparable.  Laura ignores warnings from a few of her close friends and starts missing classes and not returning to the dorm at night, her best friend covers for her the best she can. Laura begins living recklessly, going to public places that she shouldn't be seen at with Alyosha, buying things for Alyosha that Russians are not allowed to have. Alyosha introduces Laura to his friends, takes her to parties, and even takes her away to a friends summer house for the weekend. Alyosha tells Laura that he loves her, she admits that she feels the same. Eventually Alyosha proposes to Laura and convinces her that he could become a famous artist in California and would support her for the rest of her life.  Laura thinks that she is to young to get married but her heart tells her otherwise, she accepts his proposal.  They must get married before Laura leaves to go back home.  Laura goes wedding dress shopping with Olga who is Alyosha ex-girlfriend, Laura notices that Olga is wearing Calvin Klein jeans and asks where she had gotten them from.  Olga explains that Alyosha had gotten them from American friends. Olga goes on to explain how every semester Alyosha goes to the university gates becoming friends with Americans with hopes of finding a girl to marry. Olga goes on to explain that he hadn't found the perfect girl until he met Laura.

I don't want to spoil the ending so you will have to read this book to find out how this love story ends!