From looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel. I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix. And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off. Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life. While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!
Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace. Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide. Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit. After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy. Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.
When this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it. It just sounded too depressing. Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it. I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp. (We share a parking lot with the Y!) This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit. So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.
Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny. The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light. My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball. You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?” Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course! ;-) He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals. The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan. I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.
Just as it took me WAY too long to get around to listening to this audiobook, it has taken me WAY too long to post my review… Not cool, Chrissie. Not cool! (Especially since it won a Printz Honor and that should have been excuse enough to post about it.) I need to do something about my back log of books to be reviewed, and some of my readers are on February break this week, so I need to get down to business and start pumping out some extra book reviews. Enjoy!
Eleanor & Park takes place in 1986, so it is technically “historical fiction” to the teens I serve today… I mean, they weren’t even BORN yet! (Wow, that makes me feel old!) Though it was fun to reminisce about big hair, bold makeup, “Walkman” tape players, and phones on a cord, this story was not a fluffy look back on the 80s. It was a touching story about how one person can make all the difference when the whole world seems to be against you. About how halting conversations about shared interests, like comic books and music, can open the door to friendship. And about how a barely-there friendship can blossom and turn into love. Park’s family is “Leave it to Beaver” perfect, and he is relatively popular at school. Eleanor’s home life is horrid and the kids at school take great pleasure in bullying her about her clothes, weight, and unruly red hair. And yet, Park can’t help himself. He doesn’t care what everyone else thinks about “his” Eleanor. He only knows he will do whatever it takes to try and make her happy.
To be completely honest, there was only one thing I didn’t like about this book… It ended! Seriously, though, I *really* hope that the ending was not just a “form your own opinion about what happened” thing but, instead, left it open for a sequel. A girl can hope, right?!? ;-)
I absolutely LOVED Code Name Verity, so I had a feeling that I would enjoy this book too. Enjoy feels like a wrong word to use, though, considering all the terrible things that happen. The story is narrated by young Rose Justice, an American ATA pilot who got lost, landed in the wrong airfield, and ended up a Nazi prisoner in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Though there was so much more to the Holocaust than Rose ever could have seen or experienced in her abbreviated stay in the one small portion of that one particular women’s camp, the horrors still added up rather quickly. I was especially sickened to hear the details behind the medical experiments that were done on the “Ravensbrück Rabbits.” I think readers who haven’t yet learned about the Nazi doctors and the Nuremburg Trials may find these details especially disturbing, since I found it hard to listen to even though I already knew a lot of what had been done. Despite the darkness she revealed, though, I found it heartening that Wein managed to shine a spotlight on the friendship, generosity, and hope that helped so many people survive against the odds.
It’s evident that Elizabeth Wein was very thorough in her research, and the author’s note at the end of the story was a lovely added bonus. I especially liked hearing about how Wein’s stay at European Summer School at the Ravensbrück Memorial site affected her. (You can read journal entries about this stay on her website — http://www.elizabethwein.com/my-visit-ravensbr%C3%BCck-august-2012.) There were only two things that I honestly didn’t like about listening to the audiobook. One was that I had to pull over to cry a couple of times. (That happened with Code Name Verity, too, so I came into the story expecting it would happen again.) The other was when the narrator jarred me out of the story by saying “skuh-lee-tle” as she described the survivors of the concentration camps. I re-played that sentence probably 4 or 5 times before I realized she had mispronounced the word “skeletal”… All of Wein’s tireless research to get the story right, and everyone involved in the audiobook production missed this egregious mispronunciation — and not just once, but twice! /sigh
I was very resistant to use an e-reader for quite some time, but recently got a Kindle Fire so my nearly-4-year-old daughter could have a tablet to play with while her older brother plays video games. (She doesn’t quite get how to play yet and always gets frustrated. But, I digress.) The main point is that I still didn’t really anticipate that I would actually use my tablet to read ebooks. Until, that is, my director told me the first chapter of Cress was available on NetGalley! (For those of you who don’t know, Cress is book three in the Lunar Chronicles — which began with Cinder and Scarlett.) It was amazing… but it was only one chapter. So, I decided to see what else was available. As I was browsing through titles to request, I found this book. Talk about kismet! I was anxiously awaiting the new season of Downton Abbey and just *knew* this would give me a quick fix. I was not disappointed!
Charlotte Edmonds is expected to be a perfect lady. After all, how will she land the perfect husband if she doesn’t dress, speak, and act exactly as society expects? She seems to be a constant disappointment to her mother, Lady Diana, who has her sights set on a marriage proposal from Lord Andrew Broadhurst before Charlotte even makes it to her first season. Even though her best friend, Fran, seems content to play by the rules and to hope for a marriage proposal from a suitable man, Charlotte longs for more — for fun, spontaneity, and a career as a writer. When Charlotte spies a scullery maid, Janie, sneaking away from a garden party to wade in the lake on a hot summer day, she decides to try it too. Thus begins an unlikely friendship between the girls. Secret rendezvous and rule-breaking abound as Charlotte and Janie try to find a way to live the lives they want instead of the lives they’ve been pigeonholed into, and all of The Manor’s secrets come spilling out. The ending is tidy enough, but just begs for a sequel.
I know I am always telling people not to judge books by their covers, but I am certainly guilty of this infraction from time to time. Somehow, I saw the cover of this book and thought it would be more fantastic than it was. Maybe it was the banner that says “Believe in the unbelievable…” Maybe it was the castle in the background. But, somehow, I had my mind set that those kids would be involved in mystical time travel. Yeah… Not so much! Although, there were chapters that took readers back to the early 1900s to discover the history of the Water Castle and the ancestors of the main characters, those main characters most definitely did not travel through time themselves. And that was OK. Even though this story wasn’t what I thought it would be, I still thought it was extremely cool.
Ephraim Appledore-Smith’s family relocated to Crystal Springs, Maine, after his father had a stroke. Though his mother had inherited the house quite some time ago, Ephraim and his siblings had never been there before. His mother decided to move to Crystal Springs because she had hopes that a specialist who lived in that area would be able to help her husband with his recovery. After their arrival, though, Ephraim became obsessed with the possibility that the local water had special, mystical properties and that he could use it to cure his father. After all, that was how the “Water Castle” came to be in the first place; his ancestor, Orlando Appledore, built the house because he was convinced that the Fountain of Youth was in Crystal Springs. After floundering to find his niche in the new town/school, Ephraim became part of an unlikely trio — with Mallory Green, whose family has always worked as caretakers of the Appledore property, and Will Wylie, whose family has long feuded with the Appledores. First brought together by a polar explorers research project, the three banded together with a determination to find the fountain of youth themselves.