The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson by Laurie Halse Anderson

A great book, but so hard to read at times due to the subject matter (in that regard, very similar to her amazing book SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson if you’ve read that). My experience with PTSD is, thankfully, nonexistant, so I don’t know how accurate she is at depicting it.

The writing is fantastic, and smoothly pulls you into the story. You’re rooting for Hayley immediately, even though she can be a main character with plenty of flaws – so understandable though, given her background. And despite my usual aversion to teen romances, I liked the relationship between Hayley and Finn. It felt more believable than most, although it came a little too close to insta-love for me to be completely crazy about it.

One big caution: the publisher’s description says ages 12 and up, but I’d be very hesitant to hand this to a 12 year old. My thought is high school age only – this has some tough material in it! Know your reader before you just hand this one over.

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The Year of Shadows

The Year of ShadowsThe Year of ShadowsThe Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand by Claire Legrand

Slightly creepy, but at a level that was still fine for me to read (and I have a very low tolerance for creepy/spooky reads). I’m not sure what age range I’d suggest for it though – while the reading level skews lower, I think the content isn’t what I’d recommend for tweens or younger. It’s a much heavier book than I was expecting based on the cover and description.

The best part of the book by far are the secondary characters – there are so many that are wonderful! So many times it seems like secondary characters are given scant development and they remain kind of a blob of different people – no they’re not the same, but who can really remember who is who when they’re not really differentiated – and that is not the case here at all.

At times it’s hard for me to say how obvious a book is with the plot – it seemed glaringly clear to me how certain events would be resolved, but I’m a lot older than the target audience, so would it be so obvious to them?

Besides the possible major plot weakness as far as “did this surprise anyone?” moment (and is it one, when it may not be an issue for the target audience?), the basic premise had some flaws, and other plot specifics were inconsistent and/or simply weak.

Not really recommended, even though it’s not a bad book by any means. There are just plenty of other books that are better. It’s getting some gushing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and I just don’t see it. Maybe it’s the cranky old lady in me coming out. 🙂

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Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After

Hattie Big SkyHattie Ever After

Hattie Big SkyHattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson and Hattie Ever AfterHattie Ever After by Kirby Larson by Kirby Larson

There are lots of historical fiction books for children that discuss homesteading. There are books that are set during World War I. But there aren’t many that discuss homesteading during that era – most of the ones I’m familiar with are set in the 1800’s, not the late 1910’s.

That’s just one of the reasons I liked Hattie Big Sky so much – the unexpected twist on what could have been a familiar story line. Another big reason is how appealing Hattie is as a main character. I love a protagonist I can root for whole-heartedly, and Hattie definitely is one. The fact that her story is based on an ancestor of Larson makes it all that much more enjoyable.

Hattie Ever After picks up right after Hattie Big Sky ends, and so I’ve avoided providing a publisher’s description or many other details it, because it’d be hard to avoid spoilers for book 1. And that would be a shame. 🙂 Something to keep in mind if you go looking for information on book 2 if you haven’t read book 1.

I didn’t like Hattie Ever After quite as much, but some of that is simply that I loved Hattie Big Sky so much. Recommended with cautions however – there is an element in the first book that may be too much for tender-hearted readers, so be aware of that before you hand the book over to a younger reader.

Publisher’s Description of Hattie Big Sky:
Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim.

For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Book Details

Title: Hattie Big SkyHattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson and Hattie Ever AfterHattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
Author: Kirby Larson
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Historical
My Rating: 5 Stars and 3.5 Stars

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The Weight of Water

The Weight of WaterThe Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan by Sarah Crossan

When I put together my list of favorite books from 2013, I planned to link to all of the reviews I wrote about those books. Except a couple of the books had slipped through and I’d never mentioned them at all. Clearly, I had to rectify that situation, so although it’s been several months since I read this one, it’s past time for it to be highlighted.

I often have trouble reading contemporary young adult fiction. It’s why I never finished Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and why I won’t even try to read The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green (well, that and the whole cancer theme.) Crossan’s book could have been one of those books. The setting is contemporary England. The main character, Kasienka, is a Polish immigrant who doesn’t fit in at school, and her mother is miserable after being abandoned by Kasienka’s father.

Instead the book was so beautiful. The writing is lyrical (the entire novel is written in free verse), and Kasienka’s story is so gently told. The characters are well developed, and the resolution is believable and satisfying.

One hesitation I have with the book is that I think the publisher’s suggested age range is a little bit lower than it should be. Both for some of the content and the style, I think slightly older might be a better fit. However, I freely admit that I’m not experienced in figuring out age ranges for books beyond what my children are reading, so others might disagree with me and think the publisher’s range is just right.

Publisher’s Description:
Carrying just a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother are immigrating to England from Poland. Kasienka isn’t the happiest girl in the world. At home, her mother is suffering from a broken heart as she searches for Kasienka’s father. And at school, Kasienka is having trouble being the new girl and making friends. The only time she feels comforted is when she’s swimming at the pool. But she can’t quite shake the feeling that she’s sinking. Until a new boy swims into her life, and she learns that there might be more than one way to stay afloat.

Book Details

Title: The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Author: Sarah Crossan
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Ruby Red

Ruby RedRuby RedRuby Red (Ruby Red Trilogy) by Kerstin Gier by Kerstin Gier

Ruby Red is the first book in a hugely successful young adult fantasy series, and I really enjoyed it. It’s got time travel, and a big mystery, and confusion of who to trust. It’s also got a heavy dose of teenage romance which is what ultimately kept me from finishing the series.

I loved the time travel. I loved trying to figure out what was going on with that and how it worked and what was going to happen next. I liked Gwyneth as a main character and a narrator.

Book one ends with (possible spoiler alert! Not really because it’s super obvious that something is going to happen between them, so if it’s really a spoiler to you I would be incredibly surprised) Gwyneth and Gideon sharing a kiss. And then book two picks up with Gwyneth obsessing over it. Swooning even.

Apparently I’m a cranky old lady because I found it tiring. Let’s move on from the young love aspects and oh so dreamy kissing and get on with the story. And to be clear – I feel like I’m the odd ball here – I’ve heard nothing but praise for the series, so what was bugging me is not the case for most readers.

If you do like fantasy, I would recommend you giving this one a try – and because it’s been a bestseller, most libraries should have it so you can look at it without much risk. It’s got such a fun plot, and lots of action, I wanted to love it.

Now, if someone would please read the entire series for me and tell me what happens? And explain the deal with the time travel and the gems and the renegade time travelers? I would really like to know what happens… Or, tell me that I gave up on it too quickly and need to give it another chance, and the swooning didn’t take over the entire book like it felt it was about to at the beginning of book two.

Publisher’s Description:
Gwyneth Shepherd’s sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon—the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red is young adult novel full of fantasy and romance.

Book Details

Title: Ruby RedRuby Red (Ruby Red Trilogy) by Kerstin Gier
Author: Kerstin Gier
Category: Fiction / Young Adult Fantasy
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Witch Child

Witch ChildWitch ChildWitch Child by Celia Rees by Celia Rees

The driving force behind me reading this book was the publisher. I’m not kidding – Candlewick is one I trust to produce interesting books, so a historical fiction book produced by them? I couldn’t resist, and overcame my aversion to the cover.

I loved the framing of the story – the journal entries that were supposedly discovered centuries later and are studied as historical treasures. I loved the is-she-or-isn’t-she aspect of Mary as a new way of addressing Puritans and witch trials in Colonial America (and England too).

The writing is engaging, and the story is compelling. While I was expecting the overall plot line that unfolded, there were several subplots that occurred that included aspects that I hadn’t anticipated, so that was enjoyable to discover where the author was taking all the threads in the story.

The ending is abrupt, and had me frustrated that I didn’t have the sequel, SorceressSorceress by Celia Rees, the sequel to Witch Child, on hand and ready to read. I’m impatiently waiting for my copy from the library to discover what it reveals about the story. My only hesitation for recommending it is for those who don’t want to read about witches or witchcraft in any form. Otherwise, it’s a compelling read with strong writing and some well-developed characters.

Publisher’s Description:
When Mary sees her grandmother accused of witchcraft and hanged for the crime, she is silently hurried to safety by an unknown woman. The woman gives her tools to keep the record of her days – paper and ink. Mary is taken to a boat in Plymouth and from there sails to the New World where she hopes to make a new life among the pilgrims. But old superstitions die hard and soon Mary finds that she, like her grandmother, is the victim of ignorance and stupidity, and once more she faces important choices to ensure her survival. With a vividly evoked environment and characters skilfully and patiently drawn, this is a powerful literary achievement by Celia Rees that is utterly engrossing from start to finish.

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Rose Under Fire

Rose Under FireRose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein by Elizabeth Wein

Earlier this year I read Wein’s book Code Name Verity, the companion book to Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. There were many aspects of that book that I liked – the strong storytelling, the unusual format, the unreliable narrator – but ultimately there were other aspects that frustrated me enough that I was left disappointed the in the book. I liked her writing enough to want to try again with another book, and after finishing her latest work, I am so glad I did.

Rose Under Fire is more of a conventional historical fiction book – there is an epistolary framework, but the approach is different than in Code Name Verity. For me, that was a plus, but if you loved the structure and premise of Verity you may be disappointed it’s missing here.

One of my complaints with Verity was how the information about the planes and flying was incorporated into the book, and that aspect is much stronger in Rose. There are still details about it, but it all fits into the story much more cohesively, and never feels like an information dump to show off research.

It’s not a perfect book – there are several things I could quibble about, but overall I really enjoyed it (as wrong as it seems to talk about “enjoying” a story largely set in a concentration camp). My biggest wish-it-were-different aspect is that the story ends rather abruptly, and I would have liked some sort of epilogue telling what happened with certain characters.

If you liked Verity, you’ll probably like this one too. Even if you didn’t like Verity, I think you may still enjoy this compelling book.

Publisher’s Description:
While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to RavensbrĂĽck, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her? Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Book Details

Title: Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Category: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4

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Book Review: I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree

I Will Plant You a Lilac TreeI Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a Schindler’s List SurvivorI Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a Schindler's List Survivor by Laura Hillman by Laura Hillman

An interesting account, and not as graphic as some Holocaust memoirs (there is still difficult content of course, but it’s not quite as detailed and extensive as other accounts). I don’t rate it higher mostly because it lacked some of the emotional impact of other accounts – it reads in a very detached manner.

The book also suffers from missing context, and it ends very abruptly. An afterward of some sort would have helped tremendously. Hillman was one of the Schindler’s List survivors, but if you don’t already know what that means, this book wouldn’t help you understand it at all. There’s a list. She’s on it somehow, and it apparently saves her life. That’s all.

There’s also a really confusing section where she’s at some camp and mysterious things are happening – no one will tell her anything and no one trusts her not to let it out what’s going on there. I was hoping to find something at the end of the book either saying what was the situation with that camp, or that it remained a mystery.

I’m assuming now that it is still a mystery to her, but I hated it being presented as this completely bizarre interlude with no apparent attempt to provide any context for it. I’ve read a ton of Holocaust memoirs and have never read of anyone with an experience like she had there. What was going on there? Basic Googling didn’t help me, but there seemed like a lot of references to that camp in German and/or Czech (or some Eastern European language that I don’t know.)

She seems like an amazing woman, and I mostly enjoyed reading about her experiences. If you’re especially interested in Holocaust accounts, this one is fine. It’s just not a great one that I want to recommend to anyone and everyone (like I Have Lived a Thousand Years and A Jump for Life).
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Book Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters by Cat Winters

Since I only gave Winters’ debut novel three stars, it might seem like I didn’t like it that much. Instead, it’s that while I loved some parts of it, I also really disliked some parts of it, and so when I had to settle on a final score if you will, I settled on that middle-of-the-road three stars.

I loved the historical elements. Winters’ gets so much right such as the fear and desperate hope in the home remedies. She excels at depicting the horrific toll that war takes on the young men who fight it, and those back home who love them. Her descriptions were also fantastic – fantastically awful at times, but they did a tremendous job of bringing the setting and time frame to life.

Unfortunately, I did not like the romance or paranormal aspects. Those aren’t elements that I typically like in my books in general, so if you do, you may love this book. Why did I pick it up if I don’t usually like paranormal romance? Because I didn’t realize it was one. I thought it was just historical fiction, and the references to sĂ©ances and spirit photographers were because those really happened back then.

So, don’t be put off by the meh rating – mostly this book was a mis-fit for me. If you like paranormal young adult romance I’d give this one a try. I’d happy read this author again, if she writes any later books in a different genre.

Publisher’s Description:
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, sheÆs forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first loveùa boy who died in battleùreturns in spirit form. But what does he want from her? Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Book Details

Title: In the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Author: Cat Winters
Category: Young Adult Fiction / Paranormal Romance
My Rating: 3 Stars

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Book Review: Poison by Bridget Zinn

Poison by Bridget ZinnI’ve mentioned before that I don’t like books that are silly (picture books excluded), and I came very close to not reading Poison because I thought it might be – the cover looks fairly typical fantasy, except for that question: “can she save the kingdom with a piglet?”

Really? A piglet? Oh, look, there’s a piglet peeking out of the plants at her feet.

For anyone else who might hesitate to read the book because of that piglet question, let me reassure you: the book is fun, not silly, and yes, the piglet in question makes sense with the plot.

I was delighted with this story – it was so light and, yes, fun. The main character is appealing, and the dash of romance is just enough – not so much that it overpowers the story. There is plenty of action, but the pacing never feels frantic.

If you’re looking for a complex, layered story, this isn’t it. A lot of the supporting characterizations are thin, and there isn’t the depth that a lot of fantasy series have. For an introduction to fantasy for a younger teen or even a tween reader, this is a (here I go again) fun pick.

There are some plotting problems, and you need to be able to suspend disbelief at some of the more improbable events, but I still was absolutely charmed by the story.

The saddest part for me was finishing the book, and then reading the author’s biography on the back cover. Zinn died shortly before the book was published, so she never saw her debut book in print. As a fan of this book, I’m also so sad that the planned sequel will never be written. I’d have loved to read more about Kyra.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart…misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

Book Details

Title: PoisonPoison by Bridget Zinn
Author: Bridget Zinn
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 4 Stars

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