Monday, November 12, 2018

Maiden Voyage by Sarah Jane, 2018

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Isabella is shocked when her parents book her passage on the incredible Titanic and inform her that she'll be sailing by herself. She is given an envelope and told the contents will explain everything, but she is forbidden from opening it until the boat reaches the U.S.

Lucille is worried over her mother's poor health, and her father is always distracted, never around. Left to her own devices, Lucille discovers some dangerous secrets that could tear her family apart.

Abby is desperate. She's all her little brother has in the world, and her only hope is start a new life in New York. But the only way to do that is to smuggle her little brother aboard the Titanic and hope they can last the week without him getting caught.

Three girls, three different classes on the ship, yet their pasts and futures are more intertwined than they know--and their lives are about to be forever changed over the course of the Titanic's maiden voyage. That is, if they don't all drown in secrets first.
(256 pages)

I think at this point most regular readers of this blog know that I used to be obsessed with the Titanic.

The Titanic Museum in Belfast
By "used to be" I mean "not-so-secretly still am." Over winter break, I travelled (basically pilgrimaged) to Belfast, Northern Ireland to check out their Titanic museum on the ground where it was constructed.

I have to be perfectly honest and say that it's been a fair while since I actually read Maiden Voyage (I snapped it up as soon as I got it, but haven't neeed to review it for quite a while), and I don't have my copy here in college so I can't thumb back through it. I've actually forgotten a fair bit of the story, which I suppose in itself says something about the book.

Anyway, this is the third fictional novel I've reviewed on here set on board the Titanic. Of those, I do know that it's definitely my favorite. I actually cared about the characters and their stories, and I found the representation of the atmosphere onboard the Titanic in all three classes to be pretty authentic. I liked that there were a couple different storylines going on, and I found all of them to be pretty interesting (if quite melodramatic at times, even before they hit the iceberg).

My main complaint is that I kept getting the girls confused, especially Isabella and Lucille. It's strange, because their names are nothing alike, but I think they were just such generic names of similar "poshness" (and let's be honest, Isabella actually sounds more highbrow than Lucille does) that I couldn't keep track of which name went to which character. I had to stop and recalibrate a few times while reading, but other than that it wasn't really a huge problem. Just a nuisance.

Anyway, Maiden Voyage is a nice read both as a "chick-flick" type drama novel and as a pretty authentic historical fiction set onboard the Titanic. I quite enjoyed it, and I hope you do, too.

Comment below and tell us what really nerdy place you would travel to visit!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 9, 2018

From You To Me by K.A. Holt, 2018

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Amelia Peabody lives in a small town where nothing changes. And that's just fine by her. After losing her big sister, Clara, a few years ago, Amelia can't handle any more change. But when she starts eighth grade, she accidentally receives a letter that Clara had written to herself. In it, there's a list of things she'd wanted to do before the end of middle school and never finished, like get on the softball team and throw an awesome birthday party on the lake.

Amelia wonders if it's a sign from Clara. Maybe if she completed the list, her heart would stop hurting so much, and she could go back to being her old self. But as she makes her way through, Amelia finds that there's no going back, only forward. And she realizes she'll have to put her own spin on Clara's list to grow and change in the ways she needs to.

K. A. Holt's beautiful new novel is about grieving and growing up, and the ripples loss creates for a girl, a family, and a community.
(208 pages)

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but I read a lot of books about death and grief this summer. Whereas both Planet Grief and Speechless tackle the aftermath of death through a setting which forces the characters to deal with their feelings (a group counselling session and a wake, respectively), From You To Me shows Amelia's struggles to cope with her overwhelming grief long after the dust has settled and the rest of the world has moved on.

It's a sad angle, and I thought Holt's representation of Amelia's grief was well done (though I'm lucky enough not to have first-hand experience in this field). However, at times I got really frustrated with Amelia. Her best friend really is a wonderful friend, putting up with way more crap than I would probably have been able to handle in her shoes. Amelia's parents are less great, but that's to be expected since they're coping with their own grief. I did kind of hate how hard her father was pushing to get his wife and daughter to come back to the lake with him (in their shoes, I don't think I'd ever go near large bodies of water ever again!).

I liked the book, but somehow it didn't hit me quite as well as the other two grief books I've read this summer. I don't know why exactly that is, but I suspect part of it is because I got pretty frustrated with Amelia at times, and perhaps partly because as a Christian I was a little uncomfortable about Amelia's thoughts on the afterlife. On the whole, though, it's a pretty good book.

If you're on a kick looking for stories about girls coping with the death of their older sister, I recommend Riding the Flume by Patricia Curtis Pfitch. That's been one of my favorite books for over a decade!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt, 2018

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How do you give a eulogy when you can't think of one good thing to say? A poignant, funny, and candid look at grief, family secrets, difficult people, and learning to look behind the facade.

As if being stuffed into last year's dress pants at his cousin's wake weren't uncomfortable enough, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can't recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn't result in injury or destruction. As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it's not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it's not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.

(304 pages)

You'd think a book set at a young boy's wake would be way too morbid to be entertaining.

Somehow, Speechless isn't. It's sad, of course, but Schmitt straddles that line between sorrowful and funny very carefully. Little details, like Jimmy's aunt who is an "expert wake-goer" and Jimmy's ongoing struggles with the dress pants he's outgrown, add a morbid sort of humor to the present-day scenes.

The flashbacks to memories with Patrick start out as comedic interludes as well, but they grow increasingly sadder as the book progresses, painting a picture of Patrick's struggles with what was probably undiagnosed ADHD, or something similar. I got so mad at his parents, because they did such an awful job helping him.

The narrative jumps around a lot, as Jimmy flashes back to all these different memories of Patrick, but since the flashbacks go roughly in order it never becomes too confusing. I thought it was very well done, and by the end of the book I felt like I knew all the members of both Jimmy's and Patrick's families quite well. I got very mad at some of the parents at times (especially Patrick's father and Jimmy's mother!), but it was clear that they were all doing the best that they could and I appreciated that level of realism–no one was ever turned into a stereotype, for good or bad.

Speechless takes material that would normally be overwhelmingly depressing and manages to make it entertaining. It's still sad, of course–Patrick's death was a colossal tragedy. But the tragedy is handled near perfectly, and it's wonderful. Don't read this book if you're dealing with death in your own life, of course, but I think most other readers could definitely get something out of Speechless.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Imposters by Scott Westerfield, 2018

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Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . but very few people have ever seen them together. This is because Frey is Rafi’s double, raised in the shadow’s of their rich father’s fortress. While Rafi has been taught to charm, Frey has been taught to kill. Frey only exists to protect her sister. There is no other part of her life. Frey has never been out in the world on her own – until her father sends her in Rafi’s place to act as collateral for a dangerous deal. Everyone thinks she’s her sister – but Col, the son of a rival leader, is starting to get close enough to tell the difference. As the stakes grow higher and higher, Frey must decide whether she can trust him – or anyone in her life.
(416 pages)

Okay, is this not just the coolest premise ever? I used to desperately wish I were an identical twin because I wanted to trick people by trading places with my sister. In Imposters, this idea is taken to the ultimate extreme and we get to explore the consequences on the "bodyguard" sister's psyche.

Before I go any further, I should mention that though this book is the first Scott Westerfield novel I've ever read, it's actually the fifth book in the Uglies series. I have no idea what might be spoilers for the first four books, so please proceed with caution if you're afraid of spoilers.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I have to say that I find the worldbuilding fascinating. It seems that the main characters in the original Uglies books won some sort of fight against a dystopian government, which was seen as a triumph at the time, but now in Imposters we see how a triumph of good didn't magically fix everyone's problems: men like Frey's father leapt into the power void and molded the leftover society any way they chose. It's cool to see how varied the cities are, depending on what sort of family rules over them.

Frey's story itself is a cool one, as I touched upon in my opening paragraph, and I loved watching her explore the world outside her secluded warrior upbringing. Her relationship with her sister is the most important thing in the world to her, but she is suddenly thrust into a world full of other people to interact with. I wasn't a huge fan of her relationship with Col at first, since it felt kind of forced, but they grew on me over time.

My main gripe with the book is that while it's pretty violent (I definitely wouldn't recommend it for younger or sensitive readers), the plot meanders a bit. There's a fair amount of wandering around, when the characters don't know exactly what's going on. There are also some groups of characters who are presented like I'm already supposed to know about them, but I don't–holdovers from the earlier books, I suppose.

All in all, though, it was a grabbing read that kept me turning the pages. And that ending was killer! I can't wait for the next book now.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo, 2018

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From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

(240 pages)

I've been enjoying Kate DiCamillo's books for many years now, ever since we did Because of Winn-Dixie as a read-aloud in second grade. From her picture books to her novels, she always crafts a story that is accessible to younger readers, enjoyable, and still somehow meaningful.

She has definitely continued this trend with Louisiana's Way Home. The book may skate dangerously close in parts to the "Southern quirky charm" cliche that I've grown really sick of, but it never crosses that line to become annoying. DiCamillo does a wonderful job of blending quirky-funny characters with situations (and even other characters) which are legitimately frustrating/challenging, rather than just playing off their charms. Louisiana meets many adults over the course of her attempts to return home, some of whom try to help her and others who look down their noses and suspect her of ulterior motives.

I should talk briefly about Granny's role in the book. She's one of those "quirky" characters whose actions become quite questionable, and I appreciated that DiCamillo had Louisiana struggle with her problematic behavior. I would have liked even more discussion of how some of Granny's actions were completely irresonsible and dangerous, but I suppose that would have been too much of a drag for a book ultimately written for children.

Honestly, my main complaint is that the book is too short. This is a common issue I have with books written for younger readers, and I think my frustration with the book's length just serves as evidence that it was good enough that I wanted to read more! Fans of Because of Winn-Dixie will definitely enjoy this newest novel from DiCamillo.

Have you read any books by Kate DiCamillo? If so, comment below which is your favorite!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.