August 31, 2012

Secrets of a Summer Village by Saskia Akyil

*This book was received as a free advanced reader's copy*

This was a charming book.  Highly appropriate for middle school aged children and even high school children it tells a very relatable story of a young girl and her exchange student trip.

Rachel is all set to go to Mexico for an exchange program.  The only problem, there is no room for her.  But then at the last minute a spot opens up for a trip to Turkey.  At first she's not sure if she should go, she knows nothing about the country and their customs.  But the more she thinks about it the more appealing it is, especially compared to working at a coffee shop all summer.  So off she flies to meet her new host family, who has a daughter her age and one a little older.  Turkey is nothing like she expects, the women are stylish, the food different but good, and the language hard to learn but worth striving for.  She enjoys her new sister Aylin and her family and even develops a crush on Aylin's cousin.  The summer is flying by with Rachel enjoying all of her experiences, so much so that she isn't sure she wants to go home.

Rachel is a very nice character.  She has a few flaws and seems very shy, but in a way she is also open too.  My only complaint about her would be that she is written a little younger seeming than seventeen.  I actually pictured her more around thirteen or fourteen years old instead of almost being a legal adult.  Perhaps she was just a little too naive.  Aylin on the other hand was more believable with her naivete.  Perhaps it was just because of her culture, but it seemed that she reacted more in an age appropriate manner to different things.  The rest of the characters really fleshed out the story and I enjoyed being "introduced" to each one.  Especially the adults as they represented a different side of a culture compared to just the exchange story.

There was no real strife in this book, and that was fine.  It was more just a growing up, exploring kind of tale rather than something that had to have an antagonist.  It was almost like sitting down with a friend, or reading someones journal on their trip to Turkey and you felt as if you could almost know Rachel in real life.  I do think that the language in this book and the writing style is highly appropriate for the younger age ranges.  There was nothing inappropriate and there were even some very helpful lessons on Turkish culture thrown in.  And the "voices" the characters used were authentic enough to replicate a new learner of English.  An adult could read it and enjoy it as well (I did and I consider myself an adult some of the time) but I really do think this book is a prime target for the 12-18 range.  Or anyone who is considering a school trip abroad.  I do think the ending was a little abrupt though, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the future.  Perhaps that means another book coming?

A very nice book, one I enjoyed reading.  I can only hope that Akyil continues writing.

Secrets of a Summer Village
Copyright 2011
293 pages

August 28, 2012

The Union Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

Alright, I have to say that although this book was reasonably well written, it was not even close to being one of the enjoyable ones of the Elm Creek Quilts series. No worries, if you haven't read the other ones this one won't be too hard to read, it diverges from the others more than any other of the books and would be easy to read on its own, with only a few little details being missed.

The Civil War is upon them and Anneke, Gerda, and the other ladies must watch as those they love enlist and join the war to end slavery. As their husbands are gone, they rally and organize trying to raise money for the troops and carry on life at home. Gerda makes an enterprise of writing newspaper articles under a penname while the other women makes quilts for the soldiers on the front-line and also to fund-raise. But as with most wars, happy endings are far and few between.

None of the characters were particularly charming in this book. I sympathized with Charlotte a bit, just because Gerda really was a horrible person in regards to her treatment of her. But beyond that I couldn't express any sympathy for any of them. They just seemed rather flat and not the well developed characters I'm used to seeing from Chiaverini. Some of the other characters at least did good deeds, but that was all that we really saw from them. I do have to say that the character of Abel had some decent convictions and wasn't afraid to act on them.

This is definitely a history type of book rather than a quilting book. I'm not a big reader of history so I can't comment much on its accuracy, but it would seem that Chiaverini must have done some research. And there were some gory battle scenes described; actually a lot of battle scenes, more than the quilting itself. And therein lies my problem with this novel. If it is going to be branded as part of the Elm Creek Quilts series it should contain a fair portion of quilting and be more focused on the women, rather than the history. Had this book been labeled as part of a different series I might have accepted it a little better (or chosen not to read it)but you come to expect something from a particular series and there's no shame in an author running a second series.

I do prefer the more modern Elm Creek Quilt novels and as said before, wish Chiaverini would separate her two storylines into two different series. I think it would just flow better and be easier to keep the characters straight. And then too, readers could read whatever series they wanted without feeling like they were missing something if they skipped a book.

The Union Quilters
Copyright 2011
342 pages

August 27, 2012

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

I'm a huge fan of Jennifer Chaiverini's Elm Creek Quilt novels.  That being said, if you haven't read much of the series (or any) this review is probably not going to be that helpful for you.  You could probably read them as stand-alones in a pinch, but having the background on all of the characters really helps.  Especially for this book, where the backstory of the main character is especially relevant.

Bonnie is still reeling from her pending divorce and the infidelities her husband Craig has been having for a long time.  At the invitation of a friend, she heads to Hawaii to help her start up a quilting camp on one of the islands there.  In Hawaii she really appreciates the beauty of the islands and sets herself to developing a great camp and learning the Hawaiian method of quilting.  Problems start arising with her ex and the splitting of assets though, and his rage terrifies her. 

Bonnie is a decent character.  A little judgemental at times, and easy to anger, but I suppose going through divorce proceedings wouldn't be the nicest thing to experience.  Her friend Claire, who invited her to Hawaii I wasn't as fond of.  I found her just a little too headstrong and abrasive.  The ex-husband, Craig, was a little over the top.  But in being so he made a great antagonist in the book.  I did miss the original characters of the Elm Creek novels a little, but at least they were mentioned here and there and Bonnie was a part of everything.

I love the thought of a quilt camp in Hawaii.  Well, I even just love the thought of Hawaii.  But I do have to say, it just seems so unrealistic that that would be where Bonnie got to escape to.  Or maybe that's just jealousy on my part.  This book involved a lot of quilting too, which I was appreciative of as it's not always like that in these books.  It really made me want to try to do a Hawaiian quilt of my own, although I don't think my skills are at that level yet.  Regardless, it was a fun read and I couldn't put the book down until I had read it cover to cover.

As always, I look forward to more of Chiaverini's work.  Good thing I have the next book in my to-read pile!

The Aloha Quilt
Copyright 2010
321 pages

August 23, 2012

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

Between the name and the cover of this book (my particular copy had a group of boys standing on a hill) I was intrigued by this book.  A quick glance at the inside cover and I was even more intrigued.  So I picked it up, and it was very interesting, and tragic, all at the same time.

Beasts of No Nation follows Agu. Agu is a smart little boy, who, went war started in his nation, was picked up by some rebel fighters and forced into being a soldier.  Along with this came forced killing, rape, and other atrocities that should never happen to a child, or really anyone against their will.  His life as a young warrior becomes brutal and harsh but he still remembers the days from his family and laments for them as he struggles to forget what happens by day.

Agu is a very sympathetic character.  I really didn't care if he was killing people because for him it was the survival of the fittest and not a life that he chose for himself.  He wanted to be educated and instead was degraded so far as a human being that I wanted to weep for him.  There were even some other redeeming people in the book, although Agu was our narrator, and for them I harbored a little hope as well.  As for the bad guys, well, let's just say they were easy to hate.

This book, although I can't verify having never experienced it myself, does seem to be very authentic in the telling of what happens to the child soldiers who are forced into war.  This is something that is happening all over the world and shouldn't be ignored, but with the brutality few are willing to step in to do something about it.  So many children are being hurt, forced to kill, and this book kind of opens the curtain on that, even if it is a fictional story.  There is a lot in here that isn't for those with weak stomachs, as it doesn't hold back on the violence or rapes experienced by these boys.  The writing style was the in the present tense, first person.  I normally don't like that kind of writing but it really worked in this book.  Especially with the use of onomatopoeia it really felt like Agu was there telling you the story.  Although after awhile it did cause the brain to hurt a little bit from translating it in your head; kind of like a long conversation with someone learning English.  I think if the book had been any longer I would have started to have trouble with it.  But as is, it was a good length.

A very sad and tragic tale, but one that was also very informative on just how the life of a child warrior could be.  I would read more by this author.

Beats of No Nation
Copyright 2005
142 pages

Yield by Bryan K. Johnson

**This book was received as a free advanced review copy**

I wasn't sure what to make of this book at first.  It started slow, wasn't my normal reading style, but as I continued it I felt myself being drawn more and more into the story.  Enough that I definitely would like to read the other books that will come in the series.

Yield is a futuristic take on America and what could happen to its citizens in a tragic event.  More specifically, it offers up a third world war kind of situation, with all the modern elements that we take for granted today that weren't in the first world wars.  There are three main sets of characters that the storyline revolves around.  The first and foremost being a group of people who were on a plane when bombs struck nearby Seattle.  The survivors band together and try to make their way back to Portland, where most of them have family.  One of these characters, a fireman named Devin, has a family in Portland around which the book also tells a little of the story and how they are coping in a city not hit by the bombs.  And the third group, are media news people, who were in Seattle at the time of the attack and want desperately to broadcast what's happening there to the rest of America.  All of these people have to fight for survival in a now hostile Seattle with several unsavory people roaming the streets with them.  Food, shelter, and protection are a must as well and not easily come by.

I like most of the characters in this book.  Especially those with Devin in the primary group.  It was easy to see that they were given the most attention and detail by the author.  In contrast, while the other groups were ok, I just didn't feel as interested in them and their storyline and actually would have preferred that the book not be split into sections and stuck with the main group.  But they did provide some kind of background to some of the characters.  Devin especially was interesting, and while he had some problems, he seemed to be an all around good guy.  The rest of the group followed suit being decent individuals.  There aren't really bad guys per say in this book.  At least not reoccurring ones.   There are the people that dropped the bombs, but they're still mostly a mystery as far as motivation and specifics.  There are the wild people roaming the streets, who don't stay in the book long and there's also just everyday people, who by being themselves offer conflict.  So it's a varied group but with no one for certain that we can hate as an antagonist.  Which since we're rooting for Devin and the gang anyway, it doesn't seem to matter what adversaries they face.

I enjoyed the plot and premise of this book.  The "what if" kind of scenarios are always intriguing, although I genuinely hope this is nothing like what our future could turn out to be.  That being said, I did have some issues with the way the book was written.  I almost lost interest in the first part of the book because there was just too much build up.  It got tedious and I wasn't really enjoying myself, luckily that switched as I stuck it through and the book got very interesting.  Almost to the point of hard to put down interesting.  I also wasn't a big fan of the use of present tense.  There's very few books that can get away with using present tense successfully and while this one was readable, I'm not sure it was the best choice.  It can make things seem more urgent, but it can also make books read somewhat stilted as well.  There is violence in this book, cussing, and other things that some people could find offensive, but hey, it's a book about violence, you kind of have to expect that.  If that's not your thing, you shouldn't be reading it.  I happened to think it made it more realistic.

I'll definitely look out for the next in the series (although I'll be secretly hoping it switches to past tense).  Should be an interesting read and I'm looking forward to what happens to the characters.

Copyright 2012
425 pages

August 13, 2012

A Season of Love by Amy Clipston

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

I think I might be in the minority here, but I just wasn't impressed with this book by Amy Clipston. I like Amish fiction, and while there were plenty of good elements to this book, there were just some I couldn't get past.

Katie is unsure of where her life is headed. Her friends Lindsay and Lizzie Anne's have boyfriends and betrothals and she's starting to feel left out of things as they plan their futures. Because Katie has no beau, she just works in the bakery and while she enjoys it, she knows she wants more too. So when handsome Mennonite Jake starts doing carpentry at the bakery, she knows she shouldn't be attracted to him, but she is. Unfortunately her father doesn't like her newfound attraction and punishes her severely. She and Jake can never be together, but she wants to badly.

Katie, while the main character of this story, is kind of a bystander. She meekly stands by and lets things happen and while I know it is not the Amish way to dissent, it just seemed that she wasn't very firm in any of her beliefs, which is not the Amish way. I actually enjoyed her friends personalities more because they knew what they wanted and they worked on ways to make it happen. And Katie's father, he was more than just a little unreal and I just couldn't quite believe in his change of emotions. They changed too swiftly to be believable. Jake was a good character and I did enjoy reading about him. He at least was decisive and probably would make up for Katie.

The plot was fairly simplistic, almost a Romeo and Juliet of the Amish world. And I did like it, and thought that the way Katie's friend's stories were woven in was done just right. I also liked the use of the Amish German dialect and thought it came across ok, not too hard to understand or keep up with. Really it was just the characters and their sudden changes in beliefs that I really had trouble with in this book. And that was enough to really distract me from liking it above average. Things have to be believable. The pace was ok, it drug out a little bit in the beginning and then really started racing towards the end. A more moderate pacing might not have gone amiss. And because this is Amish fiction there is a lot of Christian elements to the book; not a bad thing for some, but it was definitely noticeable here.

An ok Amish book. Not the best out there but surely not the worst either. I would read another book by Amy Clipston.

A Season of Love
Copyright 2012
300 pages

August 12, 2012

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

Oh!  I've had the ups and downs with this series.  The first book, while interesting, drew me in enough that I had to continue but did not excite  me wholly.  That was the job of the second book, and the third.  But now, with the fourth and fifth books, I find myself underwhelmed by the series and where it is going.  I should caution, if you haven't read the first book (and all the others after it) this review is not going to be helpful to you at the least.  It is best to start at the beginning.

There are many many plots and stories in this series.  So much that it is hard to describe them with the detail that they deserve.  But there are some large ones.  Like the plight of Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons, who only wants to reclaim the kingdom for herself.  Tyrion Lannister, who has been outlawed and must use his cleverness for not only saving his skin but furthering his agendas.  King Stannis, also trying for a throne that he thinks is rightfully his, and the burning god that he claims to follow.  And several others, which, like in all the books, only want to play the game of thrones and win.

Don't get attached to the characters.  That is the most important lesson that Martin gives us.  You never know just  how long they'll be with us and it does no good to retain a favorite, although sometimes it can't be helped.  I find the dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, most intriguing and I know that I'm not alone in that sentiment.  He is so complex and (I believe) a good character that I find myself rooting for him quite often, even when he does something that I don't agree with.  Arya Stark is a character that I didn't like in the beginning, but her role in the books has become so intriguing that I look forward to her stories and what she goes through.  For a little girl, she is quite brave and devious.  And my undisputed favorite would be Daenerys.  She acts the true queen but still has enough innocence that she is quite likable.  And she's the character I identify with most (although I am very much aware that I don't possess dragons nor am I a queen).  She is just that inspiring for a book character.

As said before the plot is very twisted and there are many many characters.  As such, it can get very hard to follow and there are some chapters that I find myself drifting away from the book and not really caring about the characters featured.  Not to mention that while this book had most of my favorite character's stories, it didn't have them all.  It also went back in the timeline to the previous book and that was a tad confusing as well.  I prefer it when things happen in a continuous timeline rather than bouncing back and forth.  While there are some interesting aspects to this book, most of it is a lot of talking and planning and quite frankly, boring.  I like intrigue well enough, but when that's all there is it sometimes makes you wish the book would just hurry up and get somewhere.

I still like the series even if I think it's gotten weaker in the past two books.  There's so much detail here that rereading the series over and over I'm sure there would be something new found every time.  I look forward to when the next book comes out.

A Dance with Dragons
Copyright 2011
1016 pages

August 08, 2012

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

This has been my least favorite of the series so far.  Too hard to keep up with some of the plot lines and missing a lot of important people, I just couldn't get into it like I could the others.  If you haven't read the first three books please don't waste your time with this review.  Start at book one or be hopelessly lost.

When last we heard of them Daenerys was conquering people, Jon Snow had become the head of the Crows, and Tommen was ruling with his mother close beside him.  And many other people were doing many other things.  In this book, we are introduced to several new characters and even get a glimpse of Tommen's sister and her life, although only a glimpse.  Cersei is ruling for Tommen and not taking kindly to those who would oppose her, she's hatched several new plots and none of them kind.  Sam has left the wall to travel with Maester Aemon and a girl called Gilly so that he can join the Citadel and become a Maester himself.  And Arya has crossed the sea to Braavos, where she isn't sure what fate has in store for her.

Arya is probably the best character in this book.  I was ok with her before, but really, her story is the most interesting here.  We hear nothing of Tyrion and Daenerys, who are my favorites.  I know they're supposed to be in the next book, but perhaps a mix and smattering of them here would not have been out of place.  As it is there were a bunch of new characters added that I just didn't care about and who really didn't add to the story for me.  Maybe they'll serve a purpose later, but they just made the book tedious as is.  Cersei continues to be unlikable, but we always need a good villain I suppose and she fills that role well.  Likewise, Petyr is always walking that line between good and bad and I can't figure out if I like him or not because of his cunning. 

The plot was all over.  With the amount of characters and the lack of major battles or plotlines, I just couldn't keep track of anything.  And it seems like we were told about things more than shown them in this book.  There are a good several woundings of important characters and we hear about them after the fact, which is unusual in these books.  Like all of Martin's books there is rape, murder, violence, torture, regular sex, and everything else that could make people cringe.  It's not for those people who like their books tame and might even offend a few.

I'll continue reading of course, but I just didn't like this book as much as the other three I've read.  It served its purpose for continuing the plot along, but not as enjoyably as the others.

A Feast for Crows
Copyright 2005
684 pages

August 01, 2012

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle

This is one of my favorite books.  Has been since I was a child and continues to be so today.  It's beautifully written, has some strong messages, and is very relatable, especially for teenage girls (of which I was one when I first started loving the book).  It's actually a part of a series, but is easily a stand alone book.  If you want more background on the characters, it might be better to start with the first book though.

Vicky Austin and her family have come to their grandpa's home on an island to spend the summer with him.  He is dying of leukemia and while it's a tough time for all, they know where it is supposed to be.  While on the island, a friend of theirs, Captain Rodney, suffers a heart attack while rescuing a boy from a capsized sailboat.  His death, combined with their grandfather's deterioration sets a pall on the whole island.   When Vicky learns that the teenage boy rescued is a friend from the past, that just adds to the confusion.  And if she didn't have enough with that, Captain Rodney's son, Leo is interested in her as well.  The third boy she encounters, Adam, likes her for the help she provides with his dolphin project, but keeps her at an arm's length, unwilling to trust her.  All of these feelings are bubbling inside  Vicky and there just doesn't seem to be a fair outlet.

Vicky is a very relatable protagonist.  She has her normal problems, and while I didn't have three boys ever after me at once, I feel like I could be her sometimes.  She's more of a dreamer than a scientist, and loves to write.  For the three boys, I didn't really care much for Leo, he didn't add anything.  Zach made a good source for problems throughout the book.  And Adam, Adam is a good guy, and I've read some of the other books with him in it so I was already a little attached to him.  He's my favorite out of the three anyway.  I like Vicky's parents too; they are calm and insightful and add a lot to the story.

When we get right down to it this book has a lot of romance in it as Vicky shares time with the three boys.  But there is nothing inappropriate, and Vicky is strong enough to set her limits with all of them.  The real theme of this book is sorrow and death, and learning to accept the inevitability's of life.  I really like the message carried throughout and even though there is an undertone of religion in the book, it is done very well and doesn't seem preachy in the least.  I also like the incorporation of poetry and think that L'Engle always makes good choices in the verses she includes in her books.  I also like the sub-plot with the dolphins and Vicki's interactions with them.  It was an interesting concept and one that was completely believable to me.

Definitely one of my favorite books. I would always recommend it, and many other works by L'Engle.

A Ring of Endless Light
Copyright 1980
324 pages