Book Birthday: Skavenger’s Hunt

“And the one thing that each of those three hunts had in common? Every riddle, every clue…was put together by one mysterious, very secretive man who put his very own name on it.”

Happy Book Birthday to Mike Rich!

I found this one on Net Galley while searching for a book to read with my class. I flew through it but didn’t LOVE it. It is a cute story. I am very hesitant of books that bring in historical characters to this age group. They see the history as fact even if labeled fiction. I wish that wasn’t the case but it affects my review of books in this genre.

Henry is cooped in the house and lacks any sense of adventure since his father’s death. His mother tries to keep him safe at all costs, even going so far as to suggest he wear a coat in the house to prevent a cold. What Henry doesn’t know is that his grandfather is about to bring him an adventure beyond his wildest imagination. His grandfather shares an ancient scroll with him and eager to find out the meaning, he sneaks into his grandfather’s study and is transported to the past. The Skavenger hunt is on! He must solve the clues to find his way back to his mother while keeping an eye on the scroll. If the scroll runs out, he will be locked into the past forever.

It sounds kind of cheesy. I will admit. I did like the story but some of the journey is a bit farfetched. I know times were different back then but I can’t see several children traveling by boat to Paris without a bit more difficulty than they encountered. It plays out like most treasure hunting stories by traveling on a journey to find the prize and ending up finding yourself along the way.  There is some added intrigue with Hiram Doubt and his Four Men of Darkness chasing the kids while they hunt for the clues but not enough to give the element of mystery and suspense. I knew what was going to happen early on but I finished to see what characters from history would appear next.

The entire time I was reading this novel I kept thinking Hunter S. Skavenger is based on Hunter S. Thompson. I need to email the author and ask. I wound up reading Thompson when it clearly stated Skavenger throughout the entire book. I’m always curious where inspiration strikes. On to the next review!

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Book Review Saturday: Ghost

“The other kids were looking at me like most kids did. Like I was something else. Like I wasn’t one of them.”

Many of my close friends have recommended this book. I kept putting it off because I usually do not like books with a lot of hype. I try to read a few from my student’s reading lists, but my time is limited and I tend to pick my favorite genre instead of challenging myself. (Bad reader right?) I finished the entire book in one sitting and immediately wanted to share with my class. I brought the book on Monday and began reading a single chapter, or eight pages here and eight pages there. They love it! They look forward to this reading time and what is going to happen next. It is a fantastic book to hook reluctant readers.

Jason Reynolds writes in a way that kids can relate. The story unfolds as if he is right next to you telling what happened. Ghost had a rough childhood; he does not feel like he belongs anywhere and carries a heavy burden from his past. He sees some kids practicing track one day and decides to race a boy from the other side of the fence. He is fast and the coach convinces his mother to allow him to join. His only requirement is to do well in school, which he manages to mess up the very first day. I enjoyed his journey but the ending! I will definitely be reading the next book in the series and hopefully more titles by Reynolds.

As an adult, you may be able to look back on your middle school years and experiences but this book appeals to a younger audience. If you do your research on Reynolds, you will find that his main goal is to write books for boys who do not like to read. He did not like boring books and neither do kids today, especially with technology to keep them occupied. The mindset is shifting to book choice and allowing diversity. This is a definite must in classrooms across the country.

Book Review Saturday: Love & Gelato

“Once I read that last entry, it was over. I’d never hear anything new from her again.”

Often, I forget how nice it is to step away from all my heavy reading and just enjoy a young adult novel. I can wrap up in a blanket, brew a cup of coffee and become completely lost in a story for hours. I was hoping to make a trip to meet with Jenna Evans Welch but due to a flat tire (why must I be an adult?), that trip was postponed. As fate would have it, I already finished the book and was packed and ready to go. Luckily, this book was just what I needed to kickstart my month of long October reads and I am planning new book trips for the upcoming year.

Love & Gelato starts off with Lina finding out about her mother’s illness. When she passes away, she requests that Lina travel to Italy to stay with an old friend, Howard. Her mother has sent a journal from her time spent in Italy to the cemetery where Howard lives. Lina becomes immersed in her journey and wishes to experience Italy in the same way as her mother once did. She quickly makes friends and even finds herself falling in love. The story bounces back and forth between Lina and her mother, but in an almost flawless way. The dual experience allows Lina to understand her mother and why she made certain life choices. I think this is a topic that is missed in most literature. The element of generations perception of one another. Most of us believe we “know” our parents, but do we really? Do we take the time to ask them questions and understand who they are? I long for my own journal from my mother so that I could share her experiences. It’s a missed opportunity for so many of us.

After reading this I need to a) try gelato and b) visit Italy…the author managed to describe both in wonderful detail and now it’s a must. The story has some secrets that come to light that will hold your attention, and who doesn’t love a good teen romance unfolding? Any of my fellow book lovers that have traveled to Italy, what is your favorite part? Are there secret bakeries scattered around cities with the good desserts? If so, I need to visit ALL of them. Happy Reading!

Book Review Saturday: Cinders & Sapphires

“Looking up into the depth of the night and the countless stars, she felt somehow as if she were standing on the brink of a precipice, and that if she had the courage to step forward, she might find that she could fly.”

This book is definitely marketed for the Downton Abbey fan club that needs something to console them for their loss. I wanted so badly to love it, but the story line has been done before. These upstairs, downstairs books are supposed to leave us daydreaming of tea time and fighting for women’s independence. I just felt that I’d been there, done that.

Ada is expected to marry someone that will ensure her family’s fortune and keep her in luxury. She has other plans that include attending Oxford University and learning to support herself. On a return trip from India due to her father’s disgrace of his position (there is much talk and gossip as to what actually occurred), Ada meets Ravi and their kiss seems to open up a world of new possibilities for her. Act One occurs in Somerton where the family is returning home. Her father is quickly married to secure the estate from financial ruin. Ada longs to see Ravi and rejects a marriage proposal from an acceptable suitor because of her mixed emotions. Act Two moves us to London where Ada’s stepmother is determined to get invitations from all the right people to secure marriages for her own daughter and Ada. Ada convinces her father to allow her to attend a political dinner party by faking interest in Lord Fintan, who she shares many meaningful conversations with, to see Ravi again. This ends in an argument as Ravi believes her flirting to be true feelings. They part ways only to be brought back together as Ada returns to Somerset. Ravi is offered a position to act as a go between for the British and Indian Congress and although he wants to marry Ada he knows it isn’t the best path for her. Act Three shares yet another marriage proposal for Ada from Lord Fintan who will allow her to attend Oxford once they are engaged. There are several side stories caring on alongside Ada, my favorite being her ladies maid Rose. Rose was promoted from a downstairs maid to waiting on Ada. She is a wonderful piano player and writes her own music. Her story follows alongside with her struggle to want more and see her compositions on stage. She ties in the elements of the downstairs while assisting Ada with passing letters between her and Ravi.

The whole thing reads as more of a fairy tale than real life. First off, three marriage proposals just doesn’t read well to me. I know they help tie the story together but it felt like something else should be happening. It was expected and therefore disappointing as a reader. Second, I feel that the relationship between Sebastian and Oliver is forced. If you want to throw in a relationship between two men then it shouldn’t feel like the exact relationship in every other story line. Man loves man, man is blackmailed by man, and new man stands up against blackmailer. It has been done too many times. Lastly, there is SO much love in this story. Everyone is in love with someone. Can someone just be content with themselves? I needed a love break once it ended. I will say that I was intrigued with the insight into the British occupation of India. This has always been one of my favorite research topics and this element alone kept me reading. Overall it wasn’t a waste of time, but I don’t have a desire to continue the series. 

Who shares my love for Downton Abbey? Do you have any books that have helped fill the void? I’d love to hear from you!

Book Review Saturday: The Great Trouble

“We don’t know enough to stop the course of the disease. I can only hope to save those who have not fallen ill.”

The Great Trouble is a young adult novel about the Cholera Epidemic of 1854 in London. It is narrated through the eyes of Eel, an orphan mudlark who is on the run from Fisheye Bill Tyler. Eel has to find odd jobs to keep him and his brother fed and sheltered because his mother has passed away. His luck seems to be turning around because he is working at Lion Brewery which provides a roof over his head, money in his pocket and the opportunity to work other side jobs as well. He manages to hide from Fisheye and continue paying for his brothers boarding until he is accused of stealing from the Lion by a bratty nephew of the owner. On his way to prove himself by locating one of his side employers he discovers that cholera has begun to pass through the neighborhood. The first victim appears to be the tailor that can vouch for him and save his job at the Lion. With the tailor on his deathbed he must turn to Dr. Snow, but the doctor is busy and his case seems hopeless to prove. Once he locates the doctor, he decides to ask him to help the neighborhood with its current cholera epidemic instead and they embark on a journey of discovery to find the root cause behind the disease. The reader can’t forget Fisheye because he makes his appearance at the most inopportune time. Will they be able to make the discovery and save lives? Will the girl he likes fall victim to cholera and survive? The story has no gaps for action and keeps the reader entertained throughout.

This book is a fantastic work of historical fiction for younger audiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Dr. Snow and Eel’s discoveries. The book is well researched and blends fictional and historical characters together with ease. I think the narration from a younger perspective allows kids to relate to a time long ago when things were hard and children were often forced to fend for themselves. I could picture myself drinking from the Broad Street Pump or breathing in the foul air that hung over London. The descriptions and story line show a mastery of writing. I enjoyed the opening to each part containing a quote from the past, and the author’s note containing real information about the epidemic and characters. I would have done the research on my own and this saved me from another round with Google.

What is your favorite young adult book? I have been looking for more historical fiction for this age group but the choices seem to be narrow. I enjoy a book that takes me back in time and allows me to experience something on a large scale. I would never have known about the Cholera Epidemic that plagued London without this story, and that is why I read. To know everything. Maybe one day right?

April TBR

I am always nervous to post a monthly TBR. If I get a whim to read about a certain topic then I’m on a mission and can’t be stopped. I challenged myself to stick with my list this month and it’s already paying off. My list included:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: I am a few chapters in and loving it! I am a fan of classics, and this one has many lessons to be learned. I read this back in middle school and must admit that I have completely forgotten everything but the whitewashing scene. I had to break out the highlighter already for some good quotes. A quick sneak peek: “He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it- namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

Bared to You: I finished this one in two days. I must admit that I was not prepared for the sex in this. I was thinking Fifty Shades of Grey, but this takes it to a whole new level. I really struggled through the relationship aspect of this book because their utter reliance on each other is almost sickening. The jealousy, and abusive backgrounds might really piss some readers off. I do want to read the next one in the series, but I hope the relationship improves.

Eclipse: I rarely read a series twice. I had to make an exception for Twilight and I’m so glad I did. The maturity level when I first read this to now is immediately apparent. Why didn’t she pick Jacob?? Why do we have to always choose the harder route when it comes to love? I have officially switched teams. I can’t wait to finish Breaking Dawn.

Double Shot: This one is next up on the list. It looks like an easy, happy read. I’m trying to grab a few random reads off the library shelves to spice up my reading list. I like finding new authors and sharing their work.

Settling Accounts- Return Engagement: This is my break into the world of alternate history. I love the concept and I’m excited to jump in!

What is on your TBR list? Are you excited about any April releases?

Blood, Ink & Fire

Blood, Ink & Fire

“Because readers and books hold a dangerous power. Her eyes light up as she says it. The power to imagine.”

There was so much hype surrounding this book. I thought it had the potential to be the next Hunger Games, or Divergent series with a movie soon to follow. I must admit that it took me a tremendous amount of time to finish reading, and I kept asking myself “I know I enjoy this concept, but is it ever going to end?” Noelle is born into Fell society, but never quite fits in. (Sound familiar?) Before she is stuck in Fell forever, she decides to meet her friend John in another sovereign. Her decision ends up leading to her parent’s death, but sets her on a journey to her future. Noelle is the last reader on Earth. All books have been destroyed, except for the volumes that have been spread across the sovereigns. She must find them all to find the hidden books. She falls in love with Ledger, who has taken over John’s body, and eventually ends up getting into several scares and adventures along the way. After you stick with the story, the ending is a major letdown.

I love the concept of the loss of books. We take knowledge and the ease of access to books for granted. What would happen if they all were burned and we were forbidden, even trained not to read? There are several good quotes throughout the story about the importance of reading and the imagination. I think even the quotes were overdone though, and if I read the line blood, ink or fire one more time I thought I might scream. Overall, I can appreciate an author’s first book and wish her the best on future endeavors but I wanted so much more from this book.