“City of Women” was a disappointment

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City of Women

author : david r. gillham

pages : [hardcover] 392

summary :

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women.

On the surface, Sigrid Schröder is the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.

But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two…

review :

I was really excited to read this book because I have a fascination with reading books that take place during the WWII time period. This was much different from most other books that I’ve read because it was set in Berlin and barely had any mention of any battles or fighting apart from the occasional bombing coming from English planes overhead. Instead, most of the action is fixated on those who have been left behind in the city as every able man has been sent to fight. Most are in Russia, either never coming back to their families or returning as broken men physically and/or mentally. Citizens are starving. The Gestapo is everywhere. Sigrid learns, repeatedly, that there is nothing else more important in this version of Berlin than being a good German woman.

The book’s characters are those apart from the war. The women and children, mostly, as well as men either too old or injured to fight. And, worse than those left behind are those that are hunted. Any Jewish person, as well as anyone who fights to protect them or who speaks against Germany or the Gestapo. Sigrid, in the very beginning of the novel, is only concerned with herself. Her life is very boring. She doesn’t seem to even mildly like her husband and now she’s forced to live alone with his cranky elderly mother. Still, I always felt detached from her, never very sympathetic. Perhaps it was because I never got an explanation as to why she decided to marry her husband. Social pressure? Real love? I had no inkling of what her true feelings were like throughout most of this book.

That was made even more complex when she constantly dreams for the passion and love she holds for the lover she had taken years before, who is Jewish and has disappeared from her life. The things he does and says makes him everything but romantic to me. I felt pity for Sigrid because of her romantic options. There were no good options. But she kept pining after this man who was more terrible to her than her actual husband was.

I feel like this book had some interesting concepts, but the meandering way in which it was told made it seem much longer than it is–and it’s already a huge book. There were some very interesting details about how people would smuggle their friends or even strangers who were on the run and trying to get out of Germany. I liked the intrigue there, the danger. But there was little build-up to the conclusion of this book, which seemed to come out of nowhere. All of a sudden Sigrid was a completely different character, whereas in the hundreds of pages beforehand her character development had been much slower.

I feel like fans of historical fiction will like this book, particularly if you like the historical period like me. I know this is a book that some others will enjoy much more than I did but, for me, it wasn’t good enough.

3/5 stars

 

The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass: A Disappointing Read

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The Cresswell Plot

author : eliza wass

pages : [hardcover] 272

summary :

The woods were insane in the dark, terrifying and magical at the same time. But best of all were the stars, which trumpeted their light into the misty dark.

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.

Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice.

Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

review :

Although I dove right into The Cresswell Plot and it kept me interested until the very end, I couldn’t help but feel like it was missing some spark that would have made me love it.

This book was very predictable. The plot revolves around a cult-ish family called the Cresswells, who live in the woods next to a small town who doesn’t seem to care whether or not they’d all drop off of the face of the earth. The patriarch of the family believes they’re all too good for the world, that they’re the only ones going to heaven, and that he’s a chosen prophet of God. All of the basic cult-ish elements are here, including a home environment of fear and abuse. Castella and her fellow siblings have only been attending public school for a few years, after they failed their homeschooling tests. This is basically the only contact they receive from the world outside of the woods and their father. Unfortunately most of the town is pretty hostile toward them because they consider all of the Cresswells freaks.

The plot seemed to meander toward the final, big scene which I’d known was coming from the very start. Little subplots would start up–small rebellions by the children, pushing the boundaries of their world–and seem to go nowhere. It was difficult to follow Castella’s narration at times, but I think some of that stemmed from the unhealthy mentality she had from her childhood and ongoing abuse. It was interesting to see how she and the rest of the family could make anything her father did seem rational, because that was how he’d taught his children. And, of course, there was the threat that if she disobeyed, it was really God that she was disobeying, and she’d be barred from heaven like the rest of the world. That’s a pretty heavy threat.

Unfortunately, I feel like even though the Cresswell household was pretty well fleshed out, none of the townspeople were very believable to me. They all seemed like empty stereotypes, there just to make Castella feel or act a certain way at parts of the book. None really felt like their own person.

Overall, I was just really disappointed with The Cresswell Plot. I feel like it had the chance to really be something interesting and unique, but the flat characters and predictable plot bored me.

3/5 stars

 

Amulet: The Stonekeeper is a very strange but beautiful graphic novel

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Amulet, Volume 1: The Stonekeeper

author : kazu kibuishi

pages : [hardcover] 192

summary :

Graphic novel star Kazu Kibuishi creates a world of terrible, man-eating demons, a mechanical rabbit, a giant robot—and two ordinary children on a life-or-death mission.

After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her deceased great-grandfather, but the strange house proves to be dangerous. Before long, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Em and Navin, desperate not to lose her, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals.

Eventually, they enlist the help of a small mechanical rabbit named Miskit. Together with Miskit, they face the most terrifying monster of all, and Em finally has the chance to save someone she loves.

review :

Amulet: The Stonekeeper is a really interesting graphic novel that sets up an intriguing world, but doesn’t stand well on its own.

This graphic novel is filled with gorgeous illustrations that really stand out more than the text, mostly because the fantastical creatures and world that Emily and Navin accidentally fall into comes into play very quickly in the novel. Besides, it felt like half of the panels had no text to them at all, so you need the illustrations to keep the story moving onward.

Most of the creatures in this other world are terrifying–I’m not sure of the age range to recommend this book to because of how frightening these things are to look at. Plus, they’re intent on either kidnapping or killing these kids–I’m not certain which is truer–and mange to take away their mother in a very gross and horrific way.

Still, one of their closest allies is an adorable robot bunny, so I’m not sure of what angle the author is going for here. So many characters are introduced, and all set up to do . . Something. The plot remains a little mysterious even when this book concludes. I know that there are several more books, and here was enough to interest me just from this first installment, but I feel like the series could have been condensed if we’d just been offered more information here. I have no idea of why the amulet is important or does what it does. Why Emily and Navin are involved. What this world is. What these creatures are that are working against them. There are so many questions that, despite the gorgeous visual world-building, I needed more physical answers to keep me rooted in the story.

While I’d recommend this book, I’d say try to hunt down the first few of the series at the library, so you can read them all at once and see if the story really is for you.

3/5 stars

 

Forget Me by K. A. Harrington

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Forget Me

author : k. a. harrington

pages : [hardcover] 288

favorite character : evan

summary :

An edge-of-your seat psychological thriller with a romantic twist

On the three-month anniversary of her boyfriend Flynn’s death, Morgan uploads her only photo of him to FriendShare to get some closure—but she’s shocked when the facial recognition software suggests she tag him as “Evan Murphy.” She’s never heard of Evan, but a quick search tells her that he lives in a nearby town and looks exactly like Flynn. Only this boy is very much alive.

Digging through layers of secrets and lies, Morgan is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her boyfriend, her town, and even her parents’ involvement in this massive web of lies.

review :

I’ve picked up a few different young adult mysteries lately and have been really interested in getting more into the mystery/thriller genre. I think it’s interesting to see how stories like these can really grip you, shock you, and pull you into the narrative. Unfortunately, though Forget Me had a great start, it ended up being a big disappointment.

Morgan’s boyfriend, Flynn, was killed in a hit-and-run. Worse, she witnessed the accident. But when she uploads a picture of him as a memorial to a website and is asked to tag his picture with some other boy’s name, a boy who looks exactly like Flynn, she wonders if he’s really dead at all. Or if the accident wasn’t what it seemed.

Throughout the book, there are all of these hints at some bigger picture story happening and the pieces don’t fall into place until the finish. Which, y’know, is expected in the mystery. But Morgan’s town has been run into the ground because the big company that used to employ so many townspeople has shut down. I thought that there was going to be a whole conspiracy surrounding that, because it seemed like most of the people working there were scientists. I figured there was some genetic testing going on there or a crazy answer like that would be found in the mystery. What the plot really builds up to, though, is less satisfying.

I won’t give away the ending. But I will say that Forget Me really fell when it came to pacing. So much of the middle of the book fell flat while Morgan was navigating the mystery. And then, in the last 20 or so pages, so much information was randomly packed into them. Pieces that had no build-up to them whatsoever and seemed much too convenient, and unsatisfying, an answer to all of the intrigue and quirky clues we’d been getting throughout the novel.

I’m going to keep on reading mysteries, but won’t be recommending this one.

3/5 stars

Reign of Shadows was a Rapunzel retelling that’s both amazing & disappointing

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Reign of Shadows

Reign of Shadows #1

author : sophie jordan

pages :  [hardcover] 304

memorable quote :

Life is full of regrets.
They’ll cripple you if you let them.

favorite character : luna

summary :

Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

With lush writing and a star–crossed romance, Reign of Shadowsis Sophie Jordan at her best.

review :

There were some parts of this story that I loved so much. Parts where I wanted to toss the book in the air while I celebrated how wickedly awesome that new detail or plot point was. And then something would happen that would be utterly predictable, or just a little cringe-worthy, so, slowly, my enthusiasm waned.

So. Rapunzel is my favorite fairy tale, hands down. From the creepy old versions right up to Tangled, it’s my thing. I’m kind of even working on my own version of it.

Luna is awesome as a Rapunzel heroine. She can handle her own in any situation, even though she’s barely left her tower throughout her life. Basically, if I had to be stuck in this terrible world filled with a perpetual night, I’d want her as an ally because I’d probably get out of it alive. Unfortunately, as soon as tall and brooding Fowler showed up, there was insta-love all over the place. The kind where Fowler, in his half of the chapters, gets very angst-y about how he’s never going to even care for someone again, much less love them. You’ll see how well that turns out.

However, I did enjoy the dual narration. They each had their different life experiences in this horrible world so it was interesting to get a more complete view of it by cobbling together their thoughts and memories. But there were a few plot twists dealing with them that were so heavily foreshadowed, I was not surprised in the least. I was actually kind of surprised that I was right about what was going to happen because I was hoping I was being tricked, in some way.

The thing I have most of a problem with, I think, is that this is supposed to be a duology and it could all be one book. I reached the ending and feel like I didn’t get to the meat of Reign of Shadows yet. It still felt like an introduction to only the superficial problems this kingdom is facing. It makes me worried that too much is going to be packed into book two. The cliffhanger ending here is frustrating because it reads more like a chapter ending with a cliffhanger than an actual conclusion to a book.

I’m definitely going to read the sequel, just to see where things go, but I won’t be purchasing it for myself.

3/5 stars

A Wind in the Door is a confusing sequel to A Wrinkle in Time

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A Wind in the Door

Time Quintet #2
Book 1: A Wrinkle in Time

author : madeleine l’engle

pages : [hardcover] 224

summary :

It is November. When Meg comes home from school, Charles Wallace tells her he saw dragons in the twin’s vegetable garden. That night Meg, Calvin and C.W. go to the vegetable garden to meet the Teacher (Blajeny) who explains that what they are seeing isn’t a dragon at all, but a cherubim named Proginoskes. It turns out that C.W. is ill and that Blajeny and Proginoskes are there to make him well – by making him well, they will keep the balance of the universe in check and save it from the evil Echthros.

Meg, Calvin and Mr. Jenkins (grade school principal) must travel inside C.W. to have this battle and save Charles’ life as well as the balance of the universe.

review :

When I recently read A Wrinkle in Time because my friend suggested it to me, I was shocked to reach the end of the book and realize that there were four more companion books created after that original story. Unfortunately, A Wind in the Door is a little too slow and uneventful for my taste.

This companion book captures the same whimsical tone present in its predecessor but tries, perhaps a little too hard, to be as deep and meaningful as A Wrinkle in Time can be. The themes and morals were overtly obvious in this story, to the point where I’m not sure a child would enjoy reading it without thinking they were being preached to.

New, mystical characters joined the children on their journey, as well as surprising allies, like their principal Mr. Jenkins. Maybe to teach children that principals aren’t so bad, after all?

Although the events of the story moved sluggishly, as Meg and Calvin team up with the others to try to save Charles Wallace, the ending was incredibly rushed. Meg needs to complete three tasks to save Charles Wallace and after the second one I think the third is packed into just two pages, not the dozens the other two were afforded. We barely get a glimpse at the aftermath and the book is already over.

I’m not sure, really, what the other companion novels will be about, but I might give them a try. These aren’t my favorite books but their whimsical adventurous nature might appeal to some readers.

3/5 stars

 

 

Children’s Book Chat: The Pied Piper’s Magic

6334420Lately I’ve needed to read several children’s picture books for school. Here I’ll jot down my thoughts about them, whether I’d recommend them or not, and if I’d have liked to see it in a classroom or as something for kids I know to read.

The Pied Piper’s Magic by Steven Kellogg.

-This is a retelling of the Pied Piper like you’ve never seen it before, and not only because the main character and piper is an elf named Peterkin.

-The story was a little odder than expected. The pipe doesn’t play music; it plays words into the air, which can sometimes be flipped around to magically transform things into something other than what they originally were.

-The illustrations are very vivid, with wonderful colors and words piped by Peterkin woven into the backgrounds in very interesting and cool ways.

-Reading this aloud to a child would be a chore because of all of the words spelled out in the books (like r-a-t-s which can’t be read as rats) though it would teach younger kids more about spelling and how different words can look and sound similar.

-Because the story focuses so much on words and not real “magic” like might be anticipated from the cover, it’s less magical than grammatical.

I think this book could be useful when children are beginning to learn to spell and write, though it wasn’t a favorite of mine. I wouldn’t want to have to read it aloud (some of the words spelled out are quite long, when they’re repeated several times!) and kids might be confused when trying to read it themselves. Still, the pictures are really captivating, and of course there’s a happy ending to look forward to.