Monday, July 10, 2017

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Image result for between shades of grayStar Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Content Rating: HIGH

Back Cover:
Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.”

My thoughts:
If you read my previous review of Ruta Sepetys’ latest book, Salt to the Sea, you will know how much I enjoy reading this author. It’s interesting for me to say I enjoyed reading about such tragic stories, but I enjoyed them in the sense that I am glad that I finally learned about these events. I also said this in my previous review, but the way that the American system teaches children about WWII always focuses on Hitler’s impact on the Jewish people in Europe. While these stories are important, through Sepetys’ books, I have learned about whole people groups that I did not know suffered through such tragedies.

The content rating is HIGH because of the subject matter and the explicit way in which death is described. There are also more mature themes discussed at certain times throughout the narrative.

What I liked:

  • The Plot - Like I said previously, I honestly did not know much about how Stalin displaced most of the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) and parts of other countries in Europe (like Finland). Much of WWII material focuses on Hitler. Sepetys explains why most of these stories remain untold at the end of the book.
  • The Realism - As I was reading, I didn’t get the sense that Sepetys sugar-coated anything that happened to characters. She was writing from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl (Lina), and her reactions were appropriate. Sepetys did an excellent job of demonstrating that yes, these children were forced to endure tragedies that made them act older than they were, but that they were still just children.
  • The Writing - Even if you just read the first 20 pages of this novel, you will see Sepetys’ passion for these people. The author’s note and acknowledgement section at the end of the book explain Sepetys’ intense research for this book (she even went so far as to be locked in an old Soviet prison). She wants these untold stories to finally be revealed, and she chose an amazing way to reveal them.
  • The Pace - The events that happened in the novel happened at a very fast pace. Sometimes whole months would go by without me realizing it. There are no cliff hangers at the end of chapters to keep the reader interested. I read this whole book in almost 6 hours (between helping customers while I was at work) and I never once wanted to stop reading to take a break. 
What I didn't like:
  • The Ending - I loved the actual plot ending (if that makes any sense). Everything that happened in the ending was perfect. However, I felt as though Sepetys left me hanging at the end. There was no indication of how Lina and the rest of the people at the labor camp were freed. I personally would have liked to see how and why they were finally released.

What others are saying:

"A superlative first novel, A hefty emotional punch." - The New York Times Book Review

"Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both." - The Washington Post

"Beautiful... a superb though grueling novel." - The Wall Street Journal

"An eye-opening reimagination of a very real tragedy written with grace and heart." - Los Angeles Times

"An engrossing and poignant story of the fortitude of the human spirit in a dark time in Lithuanian history." - Associated Press

"Brave Lina is a heroine young and old readers can believe in." - Entertainment Weekly

Reviewed by Lydia Jones

Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfield

Star Rating :  3 out of 5
Content Rating : MODERATE
Backcover :
“This version of the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy is one that you have and haven't met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. 
Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master's degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won't discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane's fortieth birthday fast approaches. 
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip's friend, neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.”
My Thoughts :
If you’ve read more of my recent reviews, I’ve been on the quest to break out of my young adult sphere and find more adult fiction books (that aren’t super raunchy). In that quest, I discovered Eligible. Since I’m a sucker for anything Jane Austen related, I decided to give it a try. And I’m……mostly glad I did. I generally enjoyed reading this book; but, I had to get through some stuff I didn’t like to get to the enjoyable parts.
The content rating is MODERATE because there are mentions of sex all throughout this book, and some more mature themes in general. I would say it is probably good for anyone over 16, unless you’re from a more conservative background.
What I liked :
  • The Setting - I liked that the author put the Bennets in “high society” in Cincinnati, OH. I thought it reflected the Bennets’ situation in the original book pretty well. And their house is a good fit; a really nice and expensive house that is basically in shambles.
  • The Plot - The whole plot seemed to follow the original book pretty well, with some obvious modern changes. It covered everything from the original book as well.
  • The Characters - All of the characters accurately reflected what their original counterparts would be like. It makes sense that Darcy and Bingley are in medicine (since that’s a profession that would probably make them the most money) and that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are simply surviving off of their past wealth.
What I didn’t like :
  • The Pace - I felt like the pace in this book was so slow. The book itself is 518 pages, which is crazy for a more modern day book. I sometimes had to force myself to sit and read it. I only really got excited to read the book near the end when Elizabeth and Darcy discover that they actually like each other, and are trying to figure out how to become friends again.
  • Chip and Jane’s Plot - So I don’t think all the characters are representative or the original. Jane as a yoga instructor in NYC? Come on, that doesn’t seem realistic. And Chip was on a reality show?! Even with his sister’s influence, I don’t think he would’ve ever gone along with it. And their whole wedding, as a result of the reality show, just seemed like a sham and totally out of characters for both of them.
  • Some Other Random Things - There are some other random things that irked me. Obviously they weren’t important enough to deter me from reading the book.
What Others Are Saying :
What others are saying:
“Even the most ardent Austenite will soon find herself seduced.”O: The Oprah Magazine
“Blissful . . . [Curtis] Sittenfeld modernizes the classic in such a stylish, witty way you’d guess even Jane Austen would be pleased.”People (book of the week)
“[A] sparkling, fresh contemporary retelling.”Entertainment Weekly
“[Sittenfeld] is the ideal modern-day reinterpreter. Her special skill lies not just in her clear, clean writing, but in her general amusement about the world, her arch, pithy, dropped-mike observations about behavior, character and motivation. As a reader, let me just say: Three cheers for Curtis Sittenfeld and her astute, sharp and ebullient anthropological interest in the human condition.”—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times Book Review
“Bold and brilliant.”Glamour
“A clever, uproarious evolution of Austen’s story.”The Denver Post
“If there exists a more perfect pairing than Curtis Sittenfeld and Jane Austen, we dare you to find it. . . . Sittenfeld makes an already irresistible story even more beguiling and charming.”Elle
Reviewed by Lydia Jones
Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnesand Noble

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Star Rating : 4 out of 5
Content Rating : MILD

Backcover :
 “I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

My Thoughts :
I’ve seen this book on multiple book lists and forums talking about how cute and sweet and enjoyable it was. I was turned off by the title because, honestly, it’s pretty cheesy. And basic. But I think it fit the book perfectly. My interest was sparked by this book when I found out that the setting is in Florence, Italy. I am half Italian (on my mom’s side) and have always wanted to visit Italy and I love almost anything to do with Italy. And this book is no exception. I thought it was a sweet and enjoyable read, and while I did kind figure out the plot twist fairly early on, I was interested enough in the characters, and the descriptions of the scenery, to keep reading.

I gave it a MILD content rating because it is very clean and has limited swearing.

What I liked :

  • The Setting - Like I said: I love Italy. I read this book on my computer at work and it was so cool to be able to look up all of the places that the characters were visiting. The author described each place perfectly. And Florence is such a beautiful setting for this story.
  • The Characters - While all of the characters were relatively simple, I liked them. I cared about Lina and her life enough to root for her through the whole story and I felt that each character I meant was supposed to be in the story. There wasn’t one character present that I felt the author wasted time writing about.
  • The Plot - While the plot seems a little far-fetched, I could also see how it could happen. Italy is where Lina’s mother transformed, and it makes sense that she would want her daughter to see her second home, if only for the summer.
  • The Focus on Food - The author did a great job capturing some of Italian culture, specifically the importance of food. It’s not just about eating good food, it’s about the experiences you have prepping and eating the food with other people.
What I didn’t like :

  • The Length - I felt like the author could have gone more in depth with the characters and plot if she would’ve just written one more chapter, maybe two. As of now, this book is adorable and sweet and fun to read, but it would have been more profound. I know that probably wasn’t her intention but still. 
What Others Are Saying :

"Lina’s capacity for and understanding of love transform beautifullyover the course of the novel; the book is not solely about her personal romance but also other characters’ interwoven love stories. A good addition for teens with wanderlust." --School Library Journal

"Lina narrates in a breezy style, her mother's journal entries interwoven to provide revelations at carefully paced intervals.Seasoned with luscious descriptions of Renaissance architecture and Italianfood, a sure bet for fans of romance fiction and armchair travel." --Kirkus

"Readers will be caught up in this story of romance, family, and what it really means to be loved." --Booklist Online

"The reader will find it difficult to put this book down." --VOYA starred review

Reviewed by Lydia Jones

Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) by Rick Riordan

Star Rating : 4 out of 5
Content Rating : MILD

Backcover :
“Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse—Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena—Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.”
My Thoughts :
I enjoyed this book and I look forward to the rest of the series. It has some definite similarities to Harry Potter. Three main characters, two boys and a girl. They train at a school made just for them and are divided into dorms according to their character, etc, etc. However, it is a story all its own and I loved it. Let’s not mention that I am definitely outside the age of the target audience. It’s funny and fast moving and have already read the second and the third one. So, when you are done with it, pass it on to your kid.
I gave this a rating of MILD. I would recommend this for 10+ year olds. The premise of the story is about Greek gods and their children. It includes some swordplay and monsters, all very mild. There was no strong language, or sexual references.

What I liked :
  • The Concept – Son of a Greek god, like Hercules, but in modern times. The half-bloods, half god and half human, or demigods all have character traits from their god parent. The daughters of Aphrodite, the god of love and beauty, all like to look at themselves in the mirror. The children of Ares, the god of war, all have harsh personalities and will do anything to win in the camp games.
  • Ultimate Childhood Fantasy – Percy Jackson has trouble in school with dyslexia and always ends up in getting kicked out of school for doing something odd like blowing up the school gymnasium. But, turns out he has dyslexia because his brain is wired to read ancient Greek; and, all the strange things that are happening to him are because he has superhuman powers, god powers. Isn’t that the dream? To find out everything people label you as weird for is actually caused by your secret awesome powers?
  •  The Pace – It is face-paced, exciting and funny. It’s full of friendships that are forming, Greek mythology, a little mystery, adventure, and a little magic. 

What I didn’t like :
  • The Audio Version – The reader’s portray of voices isn’t very consistent throughout the book and is a little distracting from the story with the type of voice he choose sometimes. 

What Others Are Saying :
“This mingling of the world today and the world of myth is outrageous, funny, compelling, and delightful. Who would have guessed that Mount Olympus sits 600 stories above the Empire State Building? This wild romp of a book will intrigue and amuse middle schoolers, whether they know the Greek myths or not.” –Hyperion Books for Children

“The sardonic tone of the narrator's voice lends a refreshing air of realism to this riotously paced quest tale of heroism that questions the realities of our world, family, friendship and loyalty.” – Kirkus Reviews

Reviewed by Shayna Hinshaw

Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) by George R. R. Martin

Star Rating : 4 out of 5
Content Rating : HIGH

Backcover :
“A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.”
My Thoughts :
The Clash of Kings is book two in the epic series Game of Thrones, and these books should definitely be read in order. So this book is LONG! It took me forever to get through it. If the size of the book intimates you, try the audiobook. The only way I got all the way through it was because I was listening to the audio version (which is great by the way). Besides it being long, it’s a fantastic book. Martin has created a vibrant, detailed world that is easy to get swept up in.  

I gave this a rating of HIGH. Violence includes gory details of fights, rapes, beheadings, and more. Sexual content is high and includes a relationship between brother and sister. The language is very rough. Let just say there is a lot of sex, strong language, and violence in this book!
What I liked :
  • The Reader I listened to the audiobook on this one. Roy Dotrice is a great narrator. He has a different and unique voice for each character, even those with a small part to play. How he consistently keeps track of all the voices is amazing, especially once you read it and see how many many characters there are. Since, there are so many characters it’s hard to keep with all the names; however, I found that Dotrice’s voice portals helped me with just that.
  • The Characters – Martin is a master at characters. They are all compelling, either you hate them or you love them. They are so dynamic, developing and changing. The book is told from one character’s perspective for a while and then switches to another. The only problem with this is you will definitely have a storyline or two that are you favorite and you will inevitably wish he stays with that one longer or gets back to it faster.
  • The World – What’s an epic fantasy without an elaborate world to go with it? There are dragons, witches, warlock, shape-shifters, and so much more. Martin is so descriptive, you can see, smell, and touch the seven kingdoms.   

What I didn’t like :
  • The Length – I’m good with long books; but when I got to the end of this one and looked back at what all had actually happened, it wasn’t much! No wonder it’s taking Martin so many books to finish the story.

What Others Are Saying :

“[George R. R.] Martin amply fulfills the first volume’s promise and continues what seems destined to be one of the best fantasy series ever written.”—The Denver Post 

“The novel is notable particularly for the lived-in quality of its world, created through abundant detail that dramatically increases narrative length even as it aids suspension of disbelief; for the comparatively modest role of magic, Martin may not rival Tolkien or Robert Jordan, but he ranks with such accomplished medievalists of fantasy as Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson. Here, he provides a banquet for fantasy lovers with large appetites—and this is only the second course of a repast with no end in sight.” —Publisher’s Weekly


Reviewed by Shayna Hinshaw

Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.