Review: Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder (Capstone Young Readers)

★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)

Sometimes big things come in small packages.  Such is the case with Monika Schröder’s newest novel, Be Light Like a Bird.

Coming in at only 240 pages, Be Light Like a Bird tells the story of Wren, a twelve-year-old who recently lost her father unexpectedly in a plane crash.  Her mother fails to offer her the support she so desperately needs, and the two of them travel from town to town hoping to start a new life.  They eventually settle in Pyramid, Michigan where Wren must not only deal with her mother’s cold demeanor, but a multitude of other issues as well.

This middle-grade novel tackles many weighty topics such as bullying, peer pressure, nature conservation, the rights of indigenous peoples, death, and the ability to forgive and it does so in a manner that even younger students would be able to process.  The language is simple.  The sentences are short.  But the overall effect will leave a lasting impact.

I will definitely recommend Be Light Like a Bird to my middle-school students and adults as well!

Be Light Like a Bird will be released on September 1, 2016 and can be purchased HERE.

A big thank you goes out to NetGalleyMonika Schröder, and Capstone Young Readers for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

★★★★★ (5 out of 5)

Summary

Ghost Talkers takes place in an alternate version of World War I in which the British are utilizing mediums to communicate with the dead in order to learn military intelligence.  The protagonist is Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress serving as one of these “ghost talkers”  in London with her fiancé, a British military intelligence officer.  The members of this Spirit Corps are being targeted by the Germans and they may even have a traitor hidden amongst them.  After a catastrophic loss, Ginger must set out to save the day — and the war!

(More or less) Spoiler-Free Review

As it happened, I finished reading Mary Robinette Kowal’s wonderful Ghost Talkers the day after what would have been Alfred Hitchcock’s 117th birthday.  I mention this here only because this novel would have made for one hell of a Hitchcock film!  Here are just a few similarities:

  • Like a majority of Hitchcock’s films, Ghost Talkers is, at its heart, a mystery.
  • It is chock-full of red herrings.  For example, I really thought that another one of Ginger’s co-workers was the traitor!
  • Spies!  Hitchcock loved putting spies and counterspies in his films.  There are plenty of them in Ghost Talkers.
  • Ginger and her team work behind the scenes, against the odds, to defeat the Germans.  Like the characters in many Hitchcock films, they are the unsung heroes of the war effort.
  • Lots of snappy dialogue — especially between Ginger and her fiancé, Captain Benjamin Harford.  They form a (cough, cough) solid team that you can’t help but root for.

To be honest, Ghost Talkers took me by surprise.  I have never been a fan of books about war and I find even the idea of mediums to be downright silly.  Regardless, Mary Robinette Kowal makes it all work.  After the opening few pages, I was hooked and quickly made my way through the book.

According to a comment the author left on Goodreads, there is a possibility that Ghost Talkers could wind up being the first in a series of books about Ginger and her team, “if the response to this one is good.”  As far as this reviewer is concerned, the response should be overwhelmingly positive and I hope to read more about this kick-ass heroine in the future!

Many thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal, Netgalley, and Tor Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for this honest review.

Ghost Talkers was released today and can be purchased HERE.

Review: The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (Tim Duggan Books)

★★★★ (4 out of 5)

Thanks to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and Tim Duggan Books, I was able to read Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies ahead of its American release date. Below is my unbiased review:

The Glorious Heresies is a bleak look at the underworld of modern Cork as told through a handful of intertwining storylines. There is murder, drugs, prostitution, rape and somehow, in the end, a little bit of hope.

Despite nearly every character being guilty of despicable acts, the author does a fine job of humanizing each and every one of them. She even interjects a welcome touch of humor from time to time — especially in the character of Maureen, who is guilty of murder AND burning down a church!

I usually don’t like stories in which all of the characters seems inexplicably intertwined (I hated Crash!), but McInerney spins her tale in such a way as to make these interactions seem completely plausible.

All in all, this debut novel is one that I would recommend — especially for fans of gritty, urban dramas — and I look forward to reading more of McInerney’s work.

The Glorious Heresies was released on August 9, 2016.  Order it HERE.

Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire)

★★★1/2 (3.5 out of 5)

Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch has been garnering a lot of online buzz prior to its March 2017 release — and rightly so.  It’s like Memoirs of a Geisha, if only the geisha were magic-wielding warriors who fight evil across the land.  Sounds great, right?  And in principle, it is.  In principle.

The Bone Witch tells the story of Tea, an asha.  Think of asha as geisha who not only have to entertain paying guests, but must also learn and use magic for a variety of purposes.  Tea herself is a Dark asha, or Bone Witch, in that she can use necromancy to raise the dead — something she does “accidentally” a couple of times throughout the novel to varying effect.  Sounds pretty interesting so far, right?  And when you add in dangerous mystical creatures, an enemy known as Faceless, a little romance, and plots of revenge, we should be looking at YA Fantasy Book-of-the-Year.  So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, a majority of the novel (at least 90% of it — no joke) focuses on Tea’s training and learning the ways of the asha and it features is A LOT of exposition!  Huge chunks of the book are taken up with people simply explaining things to Tea.  I have to admit that I lost interest multiple times throughout the read and had to step away from it from time to time. Whatever happened to the concept of “show, don’t tell”?  And since 90% of the book is about Tea’s training, the whole thing feels like a like a set-up — with very little actual reward and only the promise of more to come.

And there will be more to come.  In response to a question on Goodreads asking if this will become part of a trilogy, Chupeco stated that she will at least write a sequel.  Good!  Because the world she has created in The Bone Witch universe is an intriguing one that should be revisited.  But I hope that when she does, she puts all of Tea’s training to good use — because I’ve seriously had enough exposition already!

So, if you’re looking for a new YA series with lots of action, look elsewhere.  But if you want a fantasy with some terrific world-building, interesting characters, and the hope of exciting times to come, go ahead and give The Bone Witch a try!

Also, it should be noted that the cover art is absolutely wonderful!

A special thanks goes out to Rin Chupeco, NetGalley, and Sourcebooks Fire for the advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Bone Witch will be released on March 7, 2017.  Pre-order your copy HERE.

Upcoming Book Review Round-Up: ARC Edition

Thanks to both NetGalley and Goodreads, I have quite a number of books waiting for me to read and review.  Here is a list of the next six ARCs that I’ll be writing about on this blog:

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder

Expected release date: September 1, 2016

From the publisher, Capstone Young Readers:

After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she’s ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don’t deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family — and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Expected release date: March, 2017

From the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire:

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Expected release date: November 1, 2016

From the publisher, Simon & Schuster:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithfulis the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart

Expected release date: September 6, 2016

From the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

After besting (and arresting) a ruthless silk factory owner and his gang of thugs in Girl Waits with Gun, Constance Kopp became one of the nation’s first deputy sheriffs. She’s proven that she can’t be deterred, evaded, or outrun. But when the wiles of a German-speaking con man threaten her position and her hopes for this new life, and endanger the honorable Sheriff Heath, Constance may not be able to make things right.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble sets Constance loose on the streets of New York City and New Jersey–tracking down victims, trailing leads, and making friends with girl reporters and lawyers at a hotel for women. Cheering her on, and goading her, are her sisters Norma and Fleurette–that is, when they aren’t training pigeons for the war effort or fanning dreams of a life on the stage.

Based on a true story, Girl Waits with Gun introduced Constance Kopp and her charming and steadfast sisters to an army of enthusiastic readers. Those readers will be thrilled by this second installment–also ripped from the headlines–in the romping, wildly readable life of a woman forging her own path, tackling crime and nefarious criminals along the way.

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

Expected release date: August 9, 2016

From the publisher, Random House:

For readers of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks comes a propulsive, haunting journey into the secret history of brain science by Luke Dittrich, whose grandfather performed the surgery that created the most studied human research subject of all time: the amnesic known as Patient H.M.

“Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King in a piercing study of one of psychiatric medicine’s darker hours. . . . A mesmerizing, maddening story and a model of journalistic investigation.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

In 1953, a twenty-seven-year-old factory worker named Henry Molaison—who suffered from severe epilepsy—received a radical new version of the then-common lobotomy, targeting the most mysterious structures in the brain. The operation failed to eliminate Henry’s seizures, but it did have an unintended effect: Henry was left profoundly amnesic, unable to create long-term memories. Over the next sixty years, Patient H.M., as Henry was known, became the most studied individual in the history of neuroscience, a human guinea pig who would teach us much of what we know about memory today.

Patient H.M. is, at times, a deeply personal journey. Dittrich’s grandfather was the brilliant, morally complex surgeon who operated on Molaison—and thousands of other patients. The author’s investigation into the dark roots of modern memory science ultimately forces him to confront unsettling secrets in his own family history, and to reveal the tragedy that fueled his grandfather’s relentless experimentation—experimentation that would revolutionize our understanding of ourselves.

Dittrich uses the case of Patient H.M. as a starting point for a kaleidoscopic journey, one that moves from the first recorded brain surgeries in ancient Egypt to the cutting-edge laboratories of MIT. He takes readers inside the old asylums and operating theaters where psychosurgeons, as they called themselves, conducted their human experiments, and behind the scenes of a bitter custody battle over the ownership of the most important brain in the world.

Patient H.M. combines the best of biography, memoir, and science journalism to create a haunting, endlessly fascinating story, one that reveals the wondrous and devastating things that can happen when hubris, ambition, and human imperfection collide.

This is Our Story by Ashley Elston

Expected release date: November 15, 2016

From the publisher, Disney-Hyperion:

No one knows what happened that morning at River Point. Five boys went hunting. Four came back. The boys won’t say who fired the shot that killed their friend; the evidence shows it could have been any one of them.

Kate Marino’s senior year internship at the District Attorney’s Office isn’t exactly glamorous—more like an excuse to leave school early that looks good on college applications. Then the DA hands her boss, Mr. Stone, the biggest case her small town of Belle Terre has ever seen. The River Point Boys are all anyone can talk about. Despite their damning toxicology reports the morning of the accident, the DA wants the boys’ case swept under the rug. He owes his political office to their powerful families.

Kate won’t let that happen. Digging up secrets without revealing her own is a dangerous line to walk; Kate has her own reasons for seeking justice for Grant. As she and Stone investigate—the ageing prosecutor relying on Kate to see and hear what he cannot—she realizes that nothing about the case—or the boys—is what it seems. Grant wasn’t who she thought he was, and neither is Stone’s prime suspect. As Kate gets dangerously close to the truth, it becomes clear that the early morning accident might not have been an accident at all—and if Kate doesn’t uncover the true killer, more than one life could be on the line…including her own.

Stay tuned for the reviews, which will be posted closer to the publication dates of each work!

Review: And Then the Sky Exploded by David A. Poulsen

★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)

I recently received an ARC of And Then the Sky Exploded by David A. Poulsen courtesy of NetGalley and Dundurn Press in exchange for an honest review. So, here it is:

And Then the Sky Exploded is the story of Christian Larkin, a ninth-grade student who discovers that his recently-deceased great-grandfather was a member of the Manhattan Project. He travels to Japan in order to make up for what his great-grandfather did in the past.

The first half of the novel features flashbacks to a young girl named Yuko, who survived the attack on Hiroshima and the subsequent years of hardship. These flashbacks offer an unflinching look at the horrors of war.

The rest of the first half focuses on Christian’s life at school leading up to his trip to Japan. And this is where I have some issues.

There are LOTS of subplots here that honestly offer nothing to the larger story. We have Christian’s deaf friend Carson, who only exists to send a website address to the protagonist later in the second-half. We have pages upon pages dedicated to a high school football game. Why is it there? I have no idea. We have Christian’s foil in the character of Lorelei. As far as I can tell, she exists only for a moment of redemption at the very end of the novel that makes very little sense (“swish-swish”).

I briefly thought that the author was purposefully contrasting the horrors of war with the frivolity of Christian’s daily goings-on. But, honestly, the Christian subplots simply seemed frivolous and superfluous. In order to better serve the overall story, they should have been edited out.

The second half of the novel fared far better. The descriptions of Japan made the trip seem exciting and I definitely learned a thing or two about the culture. The eventual meeting between Christian and an elderly Yuko was handled particularly well.

If I were to suggest this novel to my students it would be mainly for the second half and the overall message of redemption. It could also be used to teach empathy as Christian and his friends are all very caring.

Overall, I would give And Then the Sky Exploded ★★★. A nice story with heart that could use a little bit of editing.

Review: Repo Madness by W. Bruce Cameron

★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)

Like the first book in the series, Repo Madness is an enjoyable, comical tale about various mysteries in and around Kalkaska, Michigan. There were, perhaps, a few too many antagonists that muddled the story, but in the end, everything was resolved. Well, almost everything — W. Bruce Cameron clearly leaves enough unanswered questions for another volume somewhere down the line. I can’t wait to read it!

From Amazon.com:

Ruddy McCann is back in “Repo Madness–the “laugh-out-loud, thrilling adventure from bestselling author W. Bruce Cameron!

Ruddy McCann, former college football star, now Kalkaska, Michigan repo man, is finally getting his life back on track. He has a beautiful fiance, Katie Lottner, a somewhat stable job stealing cars, and a lazy, lovable basset hound.

With his job suddenly in jeopardy, his fiance wanting a break, and a new court-ordered psychiatrist insisting he take his medication or violate the terms of his probation, Ruddy finds himself missing the one thing he thought he would be happy to be rid of–the voice of Alan Lottner, dead realtor and Ruddy’s future father-in-law.

When a woman tells Ruddy that the tragedy that defines his life may, in fact, be a lie, Ruddy starts to investigate the disappearances of women in the area and soon discovers that his own redemption may be within reach. Alan’s voice returns, and Ruddy and Alan work together to bring down a corrupt banker, win back Katie’s love, and stop a serial killer before he can strike again.”

Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for the digital ARC.

Repo Madness will be released on August 23, 2016