Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Saturday, April 25, 2015

LOVED This Book!

Identical twins Ella and Maddy are involved in a horrible wreck, and when Ella comes to, she cannot remember who she is until her sister's boyfriend Alex calls her Maddy. Confused and upset, Ella is sure she is the social butterfly her sister was instead of the bookish artist she is in reality. Even after the awful truth is forced upon her--she's Ella, not Maddy--Ella cannot imagine breaking everyone's heart by taking Maddy away from them. In an instant, she decides she must *be* Maddy, to give her dead sister the life she would never have, to give her parents the twin she is sure they would have preferred to live. She will put aside her intellect, her artistic ability, herself, forever, because she cannot overcome her guilt. It doesn't take long for her to realize, however, that being an identical twin might mean that no one can physically see the differences in the sisters, but that doesn't mean their lives were anywhere near similar, and Maddy had secrets all her own.

When you first think of this premise, it seems a bit far-fetched. How could parents not know their own daughter? But a couple of things made me realize it could actually happen. Anyone who knows identical twins--truly identical twins--knows there are moments you have to stop and think...Which one is this? Especially in moments of high stress, it's plausible. The second reason I could believe this was the case a few years ago when unrelated girls were in a van wreck and two entire families did not realize they were wrong about who had survived. So, with a family that is just happy to have one daughter alive, it might be easy to overlook changes in behavior and confusion in actions. Going with this idea, I fell for this story hook, line, and sinker.

There is something about Ella's voice, her struggles and her conscience, that pulled me in from the start. My heart was literally broken for her, especially for thinking her parents would have preferred Maddy to live. In such a traumatic event, Ella only wants to fix what she thinks she can. Of course, her choice leaves her best friend, Josh, utterly devastated, and her torment just increases when she begins to realize that Maddy wasn't who she thought she was in lots of ways. Is it too late to fix things? How can she go on?

I was emotionally wrapped up in this story from the first pages, and the author does such a good job of showing the complex relationship between twins who seem to be polar opposites in everything except looks. I was impressed in how she covered the bases so that it was easy for the paramedics, the medical staff, and the friends and family could believe it was Maddy who survived. Ella is a heartbreaking character; she's a good person who is nearly crippled by guilt and her own expectations. I loved how she came to realize that things might not be what she'd assumed, and that there were layers to her sister she'd never considered. I rarely feel so strongly about a book, but this one just grabbed me with its unusual premise and its heartfelt story. I totally loved it and can highly recommend it.


Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

This picture book on The Beatles is definitely written for kids, and that's not a bad thing at all. It hits all the high points, following the Fab Four individually (but superficially) from just before they meet and form the World's Greatest Band until the break up. There are no big revelations that most adults wouldn't already know, and no references to drug antics or general nastiness. While the drawings are more on the cartoonish side, I could actually see some influence of Lennon's art work in them, and felt they did a good job illustrating the action. It's all very clean and general, and a good guide for anyone wanting to introduce the next generation to the Beatles.

Two things did jump out at me, however. One is the mention, in a small frame about Strawberry Fields Forever, of how Lennon "escaped" to a remembered happy place. But it's the addition of the information that modern therapy techniques urge us all to visit a safe place in our heads when are worrying about something that pulled me totally out of my enjoyment of the reading. It was unnecessary and not a good extension for the story. Secondly--and this is something at which I just have to smile--there is an explanation of what a "single", an LP, and an EP are, including descriptions of the A side and B side. I am officially old.

This is a good picture book that will gently give the outline of the rise of the Beatles, and most adults will enjoy it as much as any child.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge by Rick Atkinson is apparently an adaptation of an adult series, reworked for a much younger audience. I haven't read the adult books, so I have only my reading of this book for reference. I chose this book from Amazon Vine because I like learning about World War II and this is one episode I admit to knowing little about.

What I Learned: A lot. For someone who didn't know much, I now understand Hitler's reasonings for this offensive, and how the Allies reacted to it (sometimes valiantly, sometimes waiting too long). There were some wonderful quotes that put things in perspective, particularly from Eisenhower. There was a lot of detail to show how individual soldiers were lost and how some refused to go down without a fight. I definitely came away with a clearer understanding of the Battle of the Bulge and a deeper respect for those who thwarted Hitler's last major ground offensive.

What I Didn't Get: There is almost no way the average 8-12 year old would find this book interesting, though I know a few might. The details that an older person would love often weigh the narrative down, creating an atmosphere of just too much intricate information. The back and forth of the chapters from either the Allies' or Hitler's points of view is often jarring; maps scattered throughout might help, though I did appreciate the ones that were included. For this book to appeal to this age group, a smaller focus would definitely help keep the reader engaged. After a while, even this interested reader began to let all the names of people and places run together. If I was trying to engage a ten year old in all the wonder, madness, and tragedy of World War II, I don't think jumping from place to place and person to person would be the way.

There is a lot of useful information in this book, and the photos are especially captivating. While I personally liked it, I feel that the targeted audience would most likely find it dull and confusing. I would suggest perhaps a 13-14 year old target is more appropriate, and then mostly for research purposes.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Shadows

I've been a huge fan of the Shadows since they were first introduced into the BDB canon. Mysterious, sexy, and intriguing, Trez and iAm have been gaining a presence over the past few books, so I was very excited when I found out the next book was going to focus on them. And, having finished it, I have to say I did enjoy it immensely and I do feel as though I got to know the brothers well. For that reason, I would've given the book 5 stars.

I'm not going to waste words on recounting the plot, because chances are, if you are this far into the series, you know in general what happens in this book. Instead, I feel a list of pros and cons is more suitable for this review. Spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned.

Pro: The love story between Selena and Trez. Making the most of the time you've got, no matter how small, is something we should all strive to live by. I loved their connection and I loved how Trez called her "my queen." We should all be so lucky.

Pro: iAm's devotion to his brother. This relationship was almost as good as that between Selena and Trez.

Pro: The appearance of several of the characters we've grown to know and love. It was nice to and hear from V, Rhage, Tohr, and the rest, even in small doses.

Pro: Good set up for the spin-off series debuting this fall. I *like* Paradise.

Pro: Layla is coming into her own, but she's gonna have to "man up" for the situation she's created.

Pro: Any and every sighting of Lassiter is wonderful, and his helping iAm was spectacular.

And now for the BIG problems, which really should knock two stars off but I'm feeling generous:

Con: Ward dropped the ball BIG TIME by leaving Xhex out of the equation when both Trez and iAm were having personal crises. They've always been there for her in the past and it would have been natural for her to be involved. I'm bitterly disappointed in this aspect.

Con: Ward needs to follow her own rules. If Selena indicated she was ready to go (through Morse code eye blinking--when did she and Trez come up with that if he refused to talk about her condition?), is that suicide? Even if administered by another, it's a bit on the questionable side. That would mean she couldn't go into the Fade.

Con: So Trez is just lost for the next hundred years or so? She's brought everyone else back...why not Selena?

Con: iAm's relationship with maichen was very quick and very fortuitous. I love iAm but I don't feel the connection.

Con: Don't think we didn't notice how Ward evaded the issue of the color of Selena's skin. It went from white in one book to cafe au lait in the next, and in this book, it's just "lighter than Trez's." Ward should be aware that her fans notice these things. We make mistakes, but please own them.

Con: The Rhage story. It doesn't feel right to me. Panic attacks? Okay, well, I get the reason. I just don't feel it.

Con: What the heck is the deal with the question marks? Within the same paragraph, Ward uses them for some questions but not for others. It pulled me out of the story every. single. time. Where is the editor?

I'm still a fan of the series, and overall, I enjoyed this entry. The story between Trez an Selena was well done, if a bit tedious at times. I did finish it feeling the loss, and I suppose not everyone gets a HEA. Realistically, I'd give this one a 3.5 but my enjoyment overrides my issues and I will go with four stars.


Charlie, Presumed Dead

The title for this review is NOT a spoiler, btw. It's just a fact you need to keep in mind as you read this superbly twisting novel by Anne Heltzel. There's a lot going on and not much of it is what you think it is. This, indeed, is a very good thing. Complex, possibly far-fetched, definitely engrossing, Charlie, Presumed Dead is all that and more.

Aubrey's boyfriend, Charlie, has perished in a small airplane crash and his funeral is being held in Paris, so Aubrey-from-the-small-town strikes out in order to attend. Once there, however, shock and disbelief smack her in the face when another girl gets up to speak at the funeral and identifies herself as Charlie's long term girlfriend. Determined to discover just what the heck is going on, Aubrey follows the girl and demands answers. It turns out, the one both girls should be demanding answers from is Charlie--but of course he's not talking. Lena reveals that she has been dating Charlie for three years; both of their sets of parents are international travelers with a hands-off policy in raising children and bank accounts that allow them to come and go as they please. Aubrey, on the other hand, has always been fairly sheltered and on a more traditional path in life. As they begin talking, it is obvious that the Charlie each knew was someone entirely different with both, deceptive with each and keeping critical secrets of his own. In fact, Lena is convinced that Charlie is not dead at all, and she is determined to prove it. Though highly skeptical, Aubrey agrees to tag along with this other girlfriend in order to find Charlie--and more importantly, to keep her own secrets from seeing the light of day. But Lena has secrets, too.

Told in chapters of alternating viewpoints, we don't have any great inside information from either girl because both are determined to keep others, and the reader, in the dark as much as possible. We follow these teens as they move first to London, then to Mumbai, and on to Bangkok, following leads and encountering shady characters who also may or may not be hiding something. Slowly the pieces come together, and the results are horrifying and thoroughly devastating in ways neither girl imagined.

This is a highly creative story, and while both Lena and Aubrey have annoying habits and behave in immature, reckless ways, they worm themselves into your subconscious so that you have to keep reading. While I was very suspicious of certain characters from the get-go, the stage is well set so that you can understand the hows and whys of the girls' interactions and behaviors even while silently screaming at them to think things through. My biggest problem with the novel is that I would find it hard to believe, in real life, that events could play out as they did, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is one excellent story. The reveals of what's going on are strategically placed and I'm left thinking about the plot and the characters, wondering what's happening even now. There's a good set up for a sequel, and I want it sooner rather than later.