Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Red Maple Mini Reviews - 4# No Safe Place

by Deborah Ellis

No Safe Place focuses on three teenagers, all from different but troubled pasts, and their journey to England where they hope to finally be safe and free. There is a mystery surrounding the main character, Abdul, who comes from Kurdistan and has a mission, with a purpose yet undisclosed, to reach Penny Lane. The two other characters also add much to the story with their unique personalities -- Rosalia, a gypsy from Czechoslovakia who is forced to go to Germany to become a prostitute, and Cheslav, a musician who ran away from socialist Russia.

In No Safe Place, Deborah Ellis writes in a straightforward way that not only adds tension and suspense, but also enhances the plot and character development.  I like the feeling of urgency in her writing when the tension is high. Overall, compared to her other books such as Looking for X and The Breadwinner Trilogy, this book is more action-packed. Ellis also brings to light social injustices in areas of the world that are not always frequently mentioned in the news, by telling us Cheslav's story. She also makes us take an inward look at possible injustices in our own countries, by telling us Rosalia's story. However, the main character's, Abdul's, story was set in the Middle East, similar to many of her other books. I hope, in future books, that Ellis might consider exploring the stories of teenagers in other parts of the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I Am Number Four

by Pittacus Lore (James Frey and Jobie Hughes)

This is a review for a book I read during the 48-Hour Book Challenge.

I Am Number Four is centered around John Smith, an alien from the planet Lorien. When the Mogadorians, another alien race, came and destroyed the Lorien race, only nine Lorien children managed to survive, along with nine guardian "CĂȘpan" to protect them. They were sent to Earth to one day come back and revive the deserted planet of Lorien. However, the Mogadorians continue trying to eliminate the Lorien race by killing the remaining eighteen Loriens on Earth. Luckily, when the Loriens left, a charm was placed upon the nine children which made it so that they could only be killed in order of their given numbers. In I Am Number Four, One, Two, and Three have all been killed. John Smith is Number Four and is being tracked by the Mogadorians.

This book was highly entertaining and its plot was very captivating. One complaint I had was that the authors tried to squeeze too much action and description into one battle scene which ended up overwhelming and confusing me. I also thought that the characters' personalities seemed typical and unoriginal. However, this was overall a very good book and I would definitely recommend it to any young adult who likes romance, science-fiction, and action.

The second book in the series is The Power of Six and the third book The Rise of Nine will be coming out in August 2012.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Lake Como Girls by E. Y. Chypchar

I'm very excited to review this book, the first of a new young-adult mystery series, as it is written by a friend of mine. The series is about the adventures of 14-year-old Summer, her cousin Francesca, and her friend Arabella. In this story, Summer is spending July and August at Lake Como in Italy, where her mother is restoring a painting. There, the girls encounter a boy who is falsely accused of a crime, and they work together to prove his innocence. In the meantime, Summer has struggles of her own as she deals with bad news from her mother.

The series is reminiscent of the Nancy Drew series that I loved as a child. One difference is that the mystery element is only one aspect of the story. The trials of adolescence and the bonds among families and friends are also explored. The exotic setting is an additional attraction of this book, as are interesting details about scuba diving and Italian art. Another detail I particularly liked are the photographs placed at the beginning of each chapter, as they help the reader visualize each scene.

More information about the series and how to purchase the first book is available at the Lake Como Girls blog.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Final Summary

My update:
Total hours spent on the challenge: 10
Hours of reading: 7.5
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1.5
Hours blogging/reviewing: 1
Books finished: 4
Books started: 1
Pages read: 855

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 9
Books finished: 2
Books started: 1
Pages read: 945

The challenge is over! Kate was not able to do any more reading but I did finish Lake Como Girls, which I will review in a separate post. Together, we participated for a total of 19 hours! As promised, I've donated $40 ($2 per hour, plus a bit to round up) to Reading Is Fundamental.

I did not manage to participate for as many hours as I had in past years, but I was really glad that Kate was able to find so many hours to read and that my sister-in-law Jill spontaneously joined us from Singapore to do some reading of her own with my two nephews. I envy and admire those participants who can read for 20+ hours and hope to achieve that myself one year.

I wish to express my thanks to MotherReader for once again organizing this fun and well-run event! I hope to spend the next couple of days catching up with other participants' blogs and reading their thoughts on the books that they had read over the weekend.

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Update #3

My update:
Hours of reading: 6.5
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1.5
Books finished: 3
Books in progress: 1

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 9
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 1

Kate has had to turn her attention to a homework project so her reading has slowed down, but she is past the halfway point on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I managed a little more reading this morning and finished Storm Thief by Chris Wooding. This young-adult sci-fi/fantasy novel had intriguing characters, a richly described world and thought-provoking ideas such as the probability storms. Yet, somehow this book did not quite live up to its potential for me. It felt as if the author was simply relating one event after another in quick succession. It was a shame, as the setting and the characters seemed to offer so much more. Perhaps Wooding will expand on these ideas in other books, though as far as I know, he has not written a sequel to Storm Thief.

Kate will be playing in another recital this afternoon, so we will have just a couple of hours of reading time left. I'll be reading from Lake Como Girls, the first book in a new YA mystery series by Yvonne Chypchar and also continuing to listen to Holes by Louis Sachar on audiobook.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Update #2

My update:
Hours of reading: 5
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1.5
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 1

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 8
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 1

We've had a busy day, as Kate had several musical activities (a concert, a volunteer performance and a lesson) and I was, as usual, the chauffeur.  However, as it was my birthday today, my wonderful husband prepared an exceptional dinner while I got to relax on the couch and read.

Despite all the activities, Kate managed to finish The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore and has now started on the classic Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I finished I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder and am halfway through Storm Thief by Chris Wooding.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me is a novel written entirely in verse. For that reason, it is a very short book and quick to read, but the author packs a lot in her carefully chosen words. The verses convey the thoughts of a 15-year-old girl whose boyfriend has recently died, partly as a result of a foolish dare that she had proposed. The boyfriend's ghost then returns to haunt her, as she tries to cope with her grief and feelings of guilt. The novel is quite touching and is worth reading if only for its interesting format.

Friday, June 8, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Update #1

My update:
Hours of reading: 2
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 4
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Kate had said she would not have much time for the reading challenge this weekend, but I knew better. Once she started I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, she read mostly non-stop for 3.5 hours and has now started the sequel, The Power of Six. I forced her to take a break for supper, as the library would not have wanted its book back with spaghetti sauce splattered on the pages. As you can guess, she enjoyed the book very much and promises to write more about it herself later on.

I did pretty well myself, having finished Puppet by Eva Wiseman. This is a young-adult historical novel about a teenage girl Julie living in Hungary in 1882. When a number of Jews in her village are falsely accused of murdering her friend Esther, she realizes that she cannot turn a blind eye to the injustices perpetrated by those around her. This was a well-paced, gripping read but one that was quite bleak and disturbing.

I also spent an hour listening to Holes by Louis Sachar on audiobook while doing the unavoidable household chores. All in all, it was a good evening of reading. I am also thrilled that my sister-in-law Jill and my nephews will be reading along with us!

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Starting Line

Kate and I have our books chosen and we are ready to go ahead with the 48-hour book challenge! It's not too late to join here. She is starting with I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and I'm starting with Puppet by Eva Wiseman.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge

Once again, Kate and I have decided to participate in MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge, which takes place this coming weekend June 8-10. The goal is to read as much as possible over a 48-hour period. Related activities include writing reviews on one's blog and visiting other participants' blogs to read their reviews.

Last year, Kate and I each read for 15 hours. There's no way we'll be able to repeat that this year, as we already have a number of commitments this weekend, but we'll try to put in at least a couple of hours each day. Because this particular challenge attracts a good number of book bloggers specializing in the young-adult genre, I'll use it as a opportunity to get through a number of YA books I've got in the queue.

This year, MotherReader has urged all participants to contribute to the literacy program Reading is Fundamental, so I will pledge $2 for each hour that Kate and I read. If you want a good excuse for ignoring all your weekend chores and you'd rather spend the time with a great book in your hands, then please join us!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mennonites Don't Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is another new author that I’ve discovered through the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen list. I don’t read short-story collections nearly as often as I should, but I enjoyed greatly this one, which gives us glimpses into the lives of Mennonites living on Canada’s prairies. I was impressed by how much Hossack drew me into each story after only a few paragraphs.

These are not particularly happy stories. A number of the characters suffer from depression or anxiety, and several stories deal with the tension between the older generation attempting to maintain the traditional way of life and the younger members trying to find their place in a modern society. At the same time, the stories celebrate the simple joys in life, like the smell of freshly baked bread. Hossack describes lovingly the everyday foods of the Mennonites, and it came to me as no surprise that Hossack has worked many years as a newspaper food writer.

Even though the stories are set in the prairies, they seem closer to home as we live near a fairly large Mennonite community here in Ontario. Hossack’s stories give us insight into Mennonite customs and traditions but they also show that their conflicts and concerns are not all that different from those of other Canadians.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

In this young-adult novel by Canadian writer Eva Wiseman, the main character Isabel lives in Spain during the time of the Inquisition. Troubles start when it is revealed that Isabel’s parents have Jewish roots. To protect her from the dangers associated with her family’s past, her parents betroth her to a man from a respectable family, even though she finds him despicable and cruel. When her father is arrested, Isabel realizes she must act quickly to save his life.

Kate had also read this book, and we both enjoyed it. However, parts of the novel read very much like a history lesson, albeit a worthwhile one, and other parts seemed rushed. This novel is very short, which makes it an excellent read for middle-school or older reluctant readers, but I can’t help thinking that a fuller treatment of the characters and plot would have turned this from a good book into a great book.

Thanks to Tundra for this review copy, which I received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.