Category Archives: action/adventure

Refugee by Alan Gratz

refugeeWhat would you do if your home country was no longer safe?  If you were persecuted for your religion, if a lack of food in your country was causing violent riots, or if your neighborhood was being bombed?  If you had to take only what you could carry and try to escape to a place you had never even visited before?  If you had to risk death for the possibility of a better life?  The scenarios faced by our narrators varied because they grew up in vastly different times and places — Josef in Nazi Germany (1930s) , Isabel in Communist Cuba (1990s), and Mahmoud in modern-day Syria (2015) — but all three of these children became refugees when their families felt that escaping their homeland was the only tenable solution.

I think that books like this are extremely important, since they often provide a better perspective than news stories.  News stories about refugees tend to focus on the current situation, such as which countries might take them in, but not so much about how the situation escalated to the point that they sought refuge in the first place.  One of the moments that really struck me in this story was when Mahmoud’s family was talking about relocating to Germany.  Someone commented that it would be cold there and his father responded by singing, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”  The inclusion of a song from such a popular/recent movie as Frozen will surely help readers to recognize that refugees are not only people from some time “before.”  By humanizing these narrators and showing how they were normal kids up until they had to run for their lives.  I can only hope that this story will help to cultivate better empathy for the plight of refugees and the realization that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

Happy Reading!

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The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

the last magicianEsta is a talented thief and a powerful Mageus who, though she can travel through time, is stuck in New York City.  Why?  Because the Order, a group that despises Mageus, has manipulated magic to created something called the Brink.  Any Mageus who end up inside the Brink become stuck inside because crossing the Brink essentially drains their powers and kills them.  And because of this Brink, magic is dwindling and dying out.  But Esta is working on a way to take down the Brink.  All she needs to do is travel back in time to steal a particular magical book.  The problem, of course, is that she needs to get that book from 1902, when not only the Order but also powerful gangs and corrupt politicians hold quite a bit of power over the Mageus in New York City.  This book felt almost as if it were the marriage of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Gangs of New York… Fantastic fun!  (I can’t wait until the second book in the series, The Devil’s Thief, is released in October.)

Happy Reading!

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

court of thorns and rosesMy bestie has been telling me to read this book since it first came out, but I stupidly added it to my TBR list and didn’t really follow through.  Even when a coworker and a couple other acquaintances started telling me to read it, I decided that I had a few other things I wanted to read first and put it off a bit longer.  Well…  That was kinda dumb!  Although I will admit that part of me is actually glad I waited — because it means I don’t have to wait for the next couple of the books in the series to be published and can just keep reading!  😉

I am not a huge fan of “epic fantasy” because there always seem to be a million characters and countries to learn, but this book landed safely within my comfort zone.  Sure, there were several kingdoms involved and a handful of characters to track, but it was all very manageable.  I was also relieved to see that Maas avoided the “helpless damsel in distress” trope and went for a strong female lead.  Growing up, I found myself gravitating to Belle rather than any of the other Disney princesses because she spoke her mind and did the saving instead of waiting to be saved.  And though some people might draw comparisons between Feyre and Belle, what with the whole going to live with a beast and sacrificing herself to protect her family thing, she is really quite different.  Feyre was just so amazing.  She was courageous in the face of adversity, smart though she lacked education, and so selfless it hurt to see how poorly her family treated her.  To avoid anything “spoilery,” let’s just suffice it to say that she only got more amazing as her circumstances became more difficult.  So, yeah…  If you don’t like Feyre, we probably can’t be friends.

Between the graphic violence and the steamy sex scenes, many people will likely feel more comfortable with labeling this book as “New Adult” rather than “Young Adult.”  But, no matter how you choose to label it or which section of the library you choose as its home, this book/series is an essential purchase for public libraries!  And, though it is still labeled as “in production” on IMDB.com, the fact that it has been picked up by German producer Constantin Film is very promising… So you may want to get a few extra copies for when the movie news psyches people up and increases demand.

Happy Reading!

I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

I am still aliveBEFORE
Jess hadn’t seen her dad in many years.  She didn’t know much about him, other than the fact that he left her and her mom to go live in the wilderness of Alaska.  She didn’t really care to know him, though, because she and her mom were getting along just fine without him.  But when her mom died in a horrible car crash, she needed someone to look after her and bring her to all of the physical therapy and doctor’s appointments she would need to recover from her own injuries.  Jess had family friends who wanted to care for her, but she ended up with a foster family that had more experience in dealing with medical needs such as hers.  And then, before long, it was decided that Jess would go to live with her dad in Alaska.

AFTER
Now that Jess has lost both of her parents and been stranded in the Canadian wilderness, she isn’t sure how long she can last.  As if being all alone (except for a dog) with hardly any knowledge of survival skills isn’t bad enough, there is only one person who knows exactly where her dad was staying — and Griff isn’t due to come back for months.  Winter is coming on strong and Jess has no shelter or food, but her recovery thus far has helped her to hone her grit and determination like never before.  She knows she might very well die, but Jess is intent on working to keep herself alive until she can be found and rescued.

I am not always a big fan of this back-and-forth style of storytelling, but it worked extremely well for this story.  I found it especially helpful that the before and after were so very different that there was no chance I would get confused. Fans of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet will definitely want to check this one out.

Happy Reading!

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

the-cheerleadersSunnybrook High doesn’t have cheerleaders anymore.  It wasn’t a hazing scandal or a lack of funding that ended the cheerleading program, though.  It was the fact that Sunnybrook was trying to make it easier to move on from the tragic loss of five cheerleaders.  The first two died in a car accident.  The next two were brutally murdered.  And then the final cheerleader died by suicide.  Five years later, Monica is still struggling to come to terms with her sister’s death and to figure out what really happened.  First of all, Monica is convinced that her sister never would have killed herself.  She also finds it extremely troubling that the man who supposedly murdered two girls was killed as the police attempted to apprehend him.  Her stepfather and his partner swore that they were acting in self-defense, but their story doesn’t quite add up when you consider the evidence at the scene.

When Monica discovers a stack of letters in her stepfather’s desk, it becomes very clear that whatever happaned isn’t actually over.  The letters have been coming every year around the anniversary of the cheerleader tragedy, and they insinuate that all the deaths were somehow connected.  There is also the fact that Monica found her sister’s old cellphone hidden in her stepfather’s desk.  Why on earth would he have kept that?!?  Monica decides that something must be up and she becomes determined to figure out what really happened.  It’s pretty clear to her that *somebody* has to know something more, but she doesn’t know who they are or what they know.  How far is she willing to go to find the truth?  And why does she seem to be smack in the middle of whatever it is that happened?!?

Happy Reading!

Price of Duty by Todd Strasser

price-of-dutyEveryone thinks Jake is a hero.  Everyone except Jake, that is.  He doesn’t think he was heroic for his actions during combat — he was just following his instincts, using his training, and doing what he had to do to survive.  He is expecting to receive a Silver Star, nevertheless, which is an even greater honor than the Bronze Star his famous grandfather, The General, received for his valor during the Vietnam War.  Jake would rather get a medical discharge from the Army.  It would be sacrilege to say as much, though, since both sides of his family [and his entire town, in fact] are very pro-military.  How can Jake possibly go through physical therapy only to head back and finish his deployment?  How can he put himself back in danger knowing full well that he might be killed next time?  How can he bear the burden of killing more “enemy” soldiers now that he has seen them up close and recognized that they feel as justified to fight on their side of the war as he does on his? Though he already has difficulty coping with what he has been through and is even starting to question how truly “voluntary” the US military is, Jake isn’t sure how he could ever step away from this path he is expected to take.

By alternating between Jake’s homecoming and his time in training and combat, Strasser does an excellent job juxtaposing the varied conditions under which modern day soldiers must learn to cope.  After living through the explosion of an IED on patrol, for instance, Jake finds it nearly impossible to keep his cool in a military parade during which people shoot off fireworks in complete ignorance of the fact that they are triggering his PTSD.  Night terrors make it difficult to sleep, and depression and anxiety make it difficult to function while awake. Sadly, trends show that many military service members often avoid mental health care due to the stigma and the belief that seeking treatment could affect their military career advancement.  This book did a great job illustrating the variety of factors that play into the military mental health crisis so that civilians might better understand the difficulties faced by those who serve and have served.

My decision to read this book on Memorial Day Weekend was very purposeful, by the way.  First, I wanted another way to recognize and observe the great sacrifice many service members have made for our country.  Secondly, I wanted to have time to review this book by the end of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth.  It is my hope that books like this will help to start and/or keep the conversation going so that we can #EndTheStigma.  For another fantastic book about a young soldier coming back from the “forever war” in the Middle East, I highly recommend Ryan Smithson’s memoir Ghosts of War

Happy Reading!

Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

little-white-liesAlthough Sawyer’s family was both rich and well-known, and although they lived less than an hour away, Sawyer had no experience with high-society.  Why?  Because her mom was kicked out when she got pregnant during her “deb” season.  All Sawyer knew of her family was what her mother told her — and that was only when her mom wasn’t busy running off with one man or another.  During one of her mother’s sudden departures, Sawyer got a surprise visit from none other than her grandmother…  Who came to give Sawyer the offer of a lifetime.  In exchange for going to stay with her grandmother and participating in the debutante season, Sawyer would receive $500,000.  The money sounded good, but the whole deb thing was less than appealing.  And then Sawyer realized this would also afford her the opportunity to try and figure out who her father was.

Despite the appearances they put forth in public, she quickly found out that the debutantes were far from the meek and mild little ladies they pretended to be.  They were vindictive, calculating, manipulative, and wild.  And before she knew it, Sawyer found herself both making friends and discovering all sorts of secrets about their high-society families.  This story goes back and forth in time, alternating between the debs’ landing in jail and how they got there.  (Though the story is not the same, it had much the same feel as Paul Rudnick’s It’s All Your Fault.)  High-paced action, lots of mystery, and humor that had me actually laughing out loud.  I only wish it was coming out this summer because I think it would be a perfect beach read!  (Sadly, it’s not due out until November 6th.)

Happy Reading!