Thursday, April 23, 2015

Children of the Stone by Sandy Tolan

Back in 2007 I read Sandy Tolan's book The Lemon Tree. It thoughtfully dealt with Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the relationship of two families, one from each side. It was and is a powerful book. Tolan's latest book Children of the Stone is also very powerful. It approaches the Palestinian-Israel problem through the experiences, hopes and efforts of Ramzi Hussein Abduredwan.

Ramzi grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp and as a child threw stones at Israeli soldiers. His struggling path of hardship under Israel's occupation and harsh, imposed rule, restrictions and destruction also leads Ramzi to music, education, mastery of the viola and the positive channeling of his emotions, dreams and passions. He remarkably implemented his dream of opening schools of music instruction for Palestinian children to help improve and transform their lives. His persistence and dedication has inspired others to work with him to bring worth and alternative possibilities to young lives overshadowed by tension, hatred, deprivation and violence.

Through telling the true story of Ramzi, Tolan carefully unravels the tangled threads of the history of issues, actions and re-actions of two peoples claiming the same land. He sensitively gives the reader insight into what it is like to live in such a lamentably torn, injured land. Ramzi's work is not just a feel-good program. He strives for both healing and change. While divisiveness continues, Ramzi and his co-workers also keep on with his "fusion of musical and political self-assertion."

Tolan's book came out in April 2015 and is available at booksellers and libraries, including Galesburg Public Library.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy

Genres: Mystery, Paranormal, Middle Grade
Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: eARC from Netgalley

Add on Goodreads
A girl who can see the past tries to save the future in this compelling tween mystery. 
A girl is missing. Three girls are lying. One girl can get to the truth.

Emily Huvar vanished without a trace. And the clues are right beneath Raine’s fingertips. Literally. Raine isn’t like other eighth graders. One touch of a glittering sparkle that only Raine can see, and she’s swept into a memory from the past. If she touches enough sparkles, she can piece together what happened to Emily.

When Raine realizes that the cliquey group of girls making her life miserable know more than they’re letting on about Emily’s disappearance, she has to do something. She’ll use her supernatural gift for good . . . to fight evil.

But is it too late to save Emily?
What makes this book so tricky is my grown up mind (at least in comparison to the intended audience). It’s absolutely adorable but I also felt like it was trying to be more mature than it was because it was dealing with so many important issues. There were some pretty intense plot twists but I found myself giggling instead of being shocked because the book is too cute for me to gasp at yet if I were younger, I would definitely be gasping and thinking about how frickin awesome the book was.

There are a lot of stereotypical aspects to this book. We have terms like “the mean girl”, and “the mean girl’s accessories” being used, we have a main character who is introduced to us as the stereotypical “beautiful but doesn’t know it” and that worried me. I was worried that this book would turn out to be one big cliché but after these initial cliché-like introductions, the characters were fleshed out (including one of the mean girls to a certain degree).

Raine is an interesting main character, she has the ability to extract memories from sparkles. Before you laugh, sparkles are just the things that appear on certain objects that only Raine can see and thus only Raine (and her grandmother could) can read.  I thought this was an interesting paranormal addition to the story although it made me wonder about the sparkles. Why sparkles? Why not just plain ole touching of objects?  

Raine also happens to be surprisingly mature. There are things she has gone through that make her more mature than her peers but at the same time, she also acts her age, she will throw a fit and she will say something stupid or do something stupid. What I also liked about her that even though she started making new friends right away, she never forgot about Shirlee, who wasn’t as cool or popular.

This book deals with bullying and that worried me too! I was scared that maybe the book wouldn’t manage to pull it off or would portray it in some offensive way or even go down the lane of some really cruel revenge. Bullying is such a touchy topic in general but also specifically for me and while I won’t give the book an A+ with the way it dealt with it, I will say that it does manage to tackle bullying in a very healthy and not uncomfortable way.

There is also a slight romance in the book which I thought was absolutely adorable. I wish I could quote my favorite line (in terms of the romance) but alas it would kind of be a spoiler. You should know though that the romance isn't about falling in love but about having a crush!

I loved the plot in this book. This may be a book for kids but I become just as invested. None of the twists caught me off guard but I know, I KNOW that kid me would have adored this book and would have genuinely been taken in by those twists. The problem is that the predictability made it harder for me to take what was happening as seriously as I should have been taking it. 

This book ended up being pretty intense for a middle grade novel and I had a lot of fun reading it. It may not be perfect but it is enjoyable and one I would say that you should give a shot if you’re looking for a light, adventurous, surprising, middle grade read.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

The Midnight Queen is the first book in Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s Noctis Magicae series. It is set in the past in an alternate version of our own universe. Maps in the front of the book show Merlin College at Oxford and the Kingdoms of Britain, Eire, and Alba.

Told in the third person, the two main characters are Gray, a student at Oxford, and Sophie, the daughter of an Oxford professor. Gray is coerced into participating in a shady outing that results in another student’s death. Although Gray is not at fault, he is blamed and whisked away to the professor’s country home in Breizh (the alternate universe’s version of France). There he meets Sophie.

Oxford is a school of magic, and Gray has many magical talents, including the ability to turn into an owl. Sophie does not appear to have any magic (and women are not scholars, in any event), but things are not as they seem, with Sophie’s magic and other circumstances.

Gray is plain and awkward; Sophie is so inconsequential as to blend into the background whenever the professor is around. Gray and Sophie find themselves caught up in intrigue involving a plot against the King of England as a sweet attraction grows between them.

There is nothing particularly original about the magical world or the romance, but the plot took some unexpected turns and the key characters are well developed. Sophie eventually grows into the standard, all powerful “chosen one” of a sort, but she is likeable. Interesting side characters flesh out the story into more than just a teen romance.

There are some plot holes and I found some of the narrative confusing. (Sophie is clearly the oldest child in the Professor’s household but it took me awhile to figure this out as her sister Amelia is described more than once as her “elder” sister.) But I got thoroughly caught up in this book and will definitely read the sequels. Recommended for anyone who likes a good historical fantasy.

The Midnight Queen can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the adult fiction area under the author’s last name, Hunter. The second book in the series, The Lady of Magick, is due out in September 2015. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent

Devil-Devil is the first book in the Sister Conchita/Sergeant Kella mystery series by Graeme Kent. The books are set in the South Pacific in the Solomon Islands (the most famous of which is Guadalcanal). It’s the early 1960s, and World War II is a recent event that still affects the islands and the islanders.

My father was a Marine who fought in the Solomon Islands during World War II. He always wanted to go back for a visit, although he never did. I don’t know much about the Solomon Islands but love reading mysteries, so this series intrigued me.

Ben Kella is a sergeant in the Solomon Island Police Force. He is also the “aofia,” or spiritual peacekeeper, of the Lau people. This dual role causes much conflict with the locals and the colonial authorities. Sister Conchita is a young American nun who expected to be sent to South America (hence her choosing of Conchita as her new name) but instead finds herself at a Roman Catholic mission station in the Solomons. She is assertive and outspoken and often has to remind herself to take confession when she insists on having the last word.

The two meet in the course of an investigation and form a mutual appreciation and loose friendship. I expect that friendship grows in later books in the series. Both are interesting characters with a lot of room for development.

Graeme Kent ran an educational broadcasting service in the Solomon Islands for eight years, so I assume he is writing from his firsthand knowledge of life there. The different cultures, languages, and traditions mentioned in the book were a bit confusing but still fascinating. The mystery is not as important as the representation of the islands and the islanders. Kent shows great respect for both. I recommend Devil-Devil to readers who enjoy learning about other countries and cultures as part of the plot.

The Galesburg Public Library owns the three books that have been published in the series so far. They can be found in adult fiction under the author's last name, KENT.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fairy tale retellings, New Adult
Release Date: May 5th, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's
Source: eARC from Netgalley

Add on Goodreads
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
This book was everything I wanted it to be, yet there are aspects of it that didn’t work for me as well as I had hoped they would. 

The first half of the book was gorgeously written but at the same time, there wasn’t much happening. We saw relationships being built, which is important, and worlds being developed, which is also important yet it was slow paced and sometimes, I would have to force myself to read on.

Tamlin was definitely a highlight of the book for me and he is just such a beautiful creature. I loved seeing Maas’ take on the beast and I loved the neat ways in which she made the re-telling her own.

I am not big on fae, so going in, I was worried that my own bias would affect my enjoyment of the book and while there were things I wish that could have been different, I also really enjoyed the aspect. It gave the re-telling a very original outlook.

What I also loved was the cast of secondary characters, from Lucien to the sisters, they were such a varied (in terms of personalities) group and I enjoyed reading about them. They all undergo development over the course of the book and I love seeing the relationships Feyre had built with these characters.

They, in their own ways, brought about Feyre’s own growth process which was a beauty to watch. It’s so realistic too. The change within her doesn’t occur overnight, although calling her cold hearted from the start would be a lie. She has never been cold hearted, but her childhood has caused her to harden up and can you really blame her? From a young age she became in charge of people older than her. She had to risk her life on a daily basis to put food on their plates and was that fair to her? I don’t think so.

She is such strong character and while there are times, especially in the last quarter of the book, where I became frustrated her, I think overall, she is a character I cannot help but admire for her strength, loyalty, determination and kindness!

The romance is so beautifully developed in this book. I ADORED seeing Tamlin and Feyre become closer and I loved seeing them grow to trust one another. In a relationship like theirs, there is always that question of believability. I mean, Tamlin is old so out of all the women he has probably met and had relationships with, what makes Feyre special? A lot of things. Their relationship is fantastic. There might have been things that would have bothered me had I not been shipping them so hard but they work beautifully as a couple. They can confide each other, help each other and just lean on each other and it’s beautiful.

My biggest problem in this book came in the form of a creature named Rhys. I despised him and my problem with that is that I am not sure we are meant to despise him. I worry about where the author may choose to go with his character and the role he plays in Feyre's life. It seems as though things are being set up for something but I believe in Tamlin and Feyre’s relationship too much and hopefully, all my worrying will be for naught.

Another thing that didn’t work so well for me is the way things ended. I want to be more specific but I cannot be. One of the resolutions just didn’t work for me. It isn’t a fault with the book itself but something I, as a reader, have never enjoyed so it made that aspect really hard for me to roll with.

I realize I am being a little vague here but you got to deal with it. How will you ever know what I was talking about if you don’t read the book? *hint hint*

This is a gorgeously written re-telling, that did the original tale justice. I love the originality of it and I cannot wait to see what else awaits us in the future instalments (hopefully only good things).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bob's Burgers by Chad Brewster

Genres: TV Shows, Comic Books
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Source: eARC from Netgalley

Add on Goodreads
Now you can read about the Belcher family (parents Bob and Linda, and their children Tina, Gene and Louise) with brand-new in-canon stories created by the TV show's producers, writers, and animators! 

That's right, all-original stories that expand upon the fan-favorite animated series, including hilarious installments of "Louise's Unsolved Mysteries", "Tina's Erotic Friend Fiction", "A Gene Belcher Original Musical", "Letters Written by Linda", "Bob's Burgers of the Day", and much more!
I am a huge fan of the TV show so when I saw this comic on Netgalley, I knew I needed it in my life. I don't know where to begin though! I don’t know where to commence my fangirling of this wonderful work of art that manages to bring one of my favorite tv shows to life on paper.

I loved seeing Tina, Louise, Bob, Gene and Linda in a different setting but I also loved seeing aspects of their characteristics emphasized.

I wouldn’t say that this isn’t your typical comic because I don’t read enough comics to make that statement (read-I don’t read comics unless we’re talking about those strips that appear in newspapers) but I love that this isn’t just about showing more Bob's Burgers in a different format.

We have Linda’s letters to people (where she talks about her geniusness and tries to sell her ideas), we have Bob’s burger of the day, we have Tina’s friend fictions, we have Gene’s musicals and we have Louise’s mysteries and all of these separate sections dedicated to each of the characters makes me fall in love all over again.

I can see Linda writing those letters to people, and I can imagine them reading it and cracking up and throwing them away. I can see Bob trying so hard to come up with a burger of the day. It’s just so much fun to experience my favorite characters through another medium.

I think these comics are amazing and are just a fantastic way of showcasing our beloved characters from our favorite TV Show and you know, if you haven’t seen the show, YOU NEEDS TO.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack

The cover of this book says The Memory Painter is "a taut thriller and a timeless love story spanning six continents and 10,000 years...a riveting debut novel unlike any you've ever read." Well, I wasn't riveted. I almost quit on it. I went to the website goodreads.com to see what other readers might be saying. There appears to be lots of enthusiastic endorsements from others who have an advanced reader's copy of the book. One reviewer, however, echoed some of my criticisms, but finished by saying the last one hundred pages were more compelling. So back I went to finish the book.

Sorry, still no feeling of being riveted (or compelled.) The characters felt flat, the memory/time travel cum reincarnation cum vengeful rivalry premise felt contrived, convoluted and sometimes confusing. There is a huge dependence on author orchestrated coincidences strung together with weak dialogue. For a book that supposedly deals with the possibility of deep, timeless interweaving of lives, the result is a thin fabrication.

The cover also notes the book will be coming out April 28, 2015. Check out other reviews at www.goodreads.com to see if you might want to give this a try in spite of my reaction to the book.