Guest Post at Children’s Book Reviews

Want to know some of the upcoming books I’m looking forward to?


All you need to do is go over to my guest post at Children’s Books Review.

OK, I’ll tell you one — my Frankenstein obsession continues! I’m looking forward to Stephanie Hemphill’s Hideous Love, about Mary Shelley.

Let me know what you think about these five books!


Review: A Moment Comes

A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2013.

The Plot: India. June, 1947. India will soon have independence; part of the process includes dividing the country into two parts, based on religion.

A Moment Comes is about three teenagers: Tariq, a young Muslim who wants to study in Oxford. Anupreet, a young Sikh woman who has already been touched by violence. Margaret, daughter of one of the Englishmen who is mapping the line between India and Pakistan.

Many things divide these three teenagers: religion, race, privilege, economics. What will they do when the moment comes to test who they are? To know what the “right” thing is?

The Good: A Moment Comes uses three separate voices to look at the partition of India and Pakistan.

Tariq doesn’t want to be involved; he just wants to escape to Oxford. The unlikeliness of this happening gradually becomes apparent. It’s not that Tariq doesn’t have the ambition. It’s that his family is, well, average, with neither money nor connections. He takes a job with Margaret’s father, in hopes that will somehow help him get to England. However, the violence is something he cannot escape, especially since some of his school mates are very involved.

Anupreet has already been touched by the escalating religious violence in her country (soon to be two countries). Her face is scarred. Her family is afraid to let her out alone. In truth, as time passes, it’s not even safe for her to be accompanied by her brother. Working in the household of Margaret’s family is a way for her to escape the prison and sadness of her home. As a Sikh, Anupreet’s experience offers a counterpart to Tariq’s. Both teens, and their families, suffer from what is going on.

And then there is Margaret, the outsider. She was involved in a bit of a scandal back home, which explains why she is now in India with her parents. Margaret offers the outsider view, to complement the two insider views of Tariq and Anu. Part of what I appreciated about A Moment Comes is how clearly the privilege of Margaret and her parents is shown, and yet at the same time I could sympathize with Margaret. I could both cringe at her ignorance or privilege, and feel for her own sense of displacement and loneliness.

Another thing I really liked about A Moment Comes? What it did not do. Tariq and Anu are working for Margaret’s family, and that divide is always present, just as the divide between Sikh and Muslim is there. Margaret may have a crush on the handsome Tariq, and be jealous of the beautiful Anu, but it’s not “that type” of book. Sorry to be a bit “spoilery,” but Tariq’s concern is getting into Oxford. While he may think Anu pretty, isn’t being nice to Margaret a better way to achieve his goals? But then — it’s not that type of book. It’s much more subtle, and not a soap opera. Rather, it’s three distinct people whose lives overlap but the don’t really intertwine until the end.

And, when they do intertwine — and this is at the end — it’s as much about putting aside individual ego for what is best for others. It’s about figuring out the right thing to do when there is no one “right” thing.

One more thing: by concentrating on the handful of months leading up to the partition, after violence has already started (and the level of violence stunned me), A Moment Comes is focused. This is not about why partition, because partition is coming. It’s a fact that Anu and Tariq and their friends and families must live with. The violence has already started, so this is also not a book about why that is happening. Instead, as with partition, it’s a fact that had to be lived with.

Other reviews: Bookworm 1858; Rich in Color; McNally Jackson Kids.

Flashback September 2006

A look back at what I reviewed in September 2006!

I’m Going To… Reviews of I’m Going To New York To Visit The Lions illustrated by Tanya Roitman, text copyright by Harriet Ziefert Inc. From my review: “Isn’t it obvious? Road Trip to NYC” and I’m Going To Boston To Visit The Ducks, same, “Road trip to Boston.”

Rash by Pete Hautman. From my review: “It’s the future, and it’s safety first all the way. And no hurt feelings. Well, basically anything that anyone has ever thought could be bad, or is bad, is also illegal. Take Bo’s dad, who is in prison for road rage: yelling and banging his fist on a car. It’s a problem having a parent in jail; but, it’s not uncommon since 24 percent of the population is in jail. Break a rule, go to jail. Bo is falsely accused of spreading a rash at school, loses his temper, and goes to jail. Once there, his assigned work is to make frozen pizzas. But something else is going on; the warden likes football and has started an elite football squad. Bo’s about to find out the real meaning of competition.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. From my review: “Miri lives on Mount Eskel; her family, like the entire village, works in the quarry. All Miri wants to do is take her place as an adult and work in the quarry, but her father has forbidden it. Miri’s world is turned upside down when representatives from the king of Danland announce that the priests have decided that the Prince’s wife will come from Mount Eskel. How to prepare all these village girls for life as a Princess? A Princess Academy! But this is more than a “make over”, more than learning how to use the correct knife and fork. It’s hard work, and the girls are isolated from their families and well aware of the stakes; becoming Princess means they can leave their poverty stricken lives. . . . The prize appears to be marrying the prince and becoming princess; but it’s not. The prize is about education; expanding one’s world views; making and taking opportunities; and recognizing that different people have different yet equally valid views. What makes one person happy may make another miserable.”

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. From my review: “Hunter, 17, is a professional “cool hunter.” He’s an observer, who looks for what the true Innovators are doing and reports back to the corporations that pay him; and then those corporations can adjust what they make, and how they advertise it. What does he observe and look for? The “next” fashion trend, the people who are making fashion rather than following, whether it’s what cell phone is cool or how you tie your shoes. When Hunter’s friend disappears, he finds out that things aren’t always what they seem. And he discovers the coolest sneakers, ever. . . .  What is “cool”? In SY’s world, people are judged by what they wear and how they wear it; and sometimes it is a natural expression of a person, for another it’s unconscious, and for another it’s a quite purposeful following of the current trend. Cool is about self-expression, manipulation, and being manipulated. It’s about fear, identity, belonging. Being an individual and being part of something. And all that is also reflected in the mystery.”

Mystery At The Club Sandwich by Doug Cushman. From my review: “This is a mystery that is a 

picture book. I love sophisticated picture books; personally, I enjoy them, but I also love options for those kids who are reluctant readers, or who are in ESL, or have a learning issue, or whatever – I love when they have picture books available that aren’t aimed at babies. Also, on a professional level, it’s easier to do a read aloud with a picture book to a whole class.”

London Calling by Edward Bloor. From my review: “Martin Conway is having problems at school, problems his self-sacrificing mother chooses not to see. Martin is burdened by the sacrifices his mother is making to send him to a school he doesn’t want to be at; by the failure of his parent’s marriage; by his poor relationship with his alcoholic father; and by the pressure of living up to his mother’s father, a World War II hero. When Martin’s maternal grandmother dies, he is left her radio; and when he listens to it, he finds himself transported back in time, to London during the Blitz. Back in the modern world, he begins to look into the history of London, the Blitz, and the people he meets when back in time. He begins to discover secrets he didn’t know existed, and finds answers to questions people wanted to keep hidden.

Chicken And Cat by Sara Varon. From my review: “In this wordless picture book, country cat visits city chicken and has city adventures: Cat sees rats and cockroaches and goes on a trip to Coney Island. Cat misses the flowers of the country, so plants some in a nearby lot, bringing a bit of the country to the city.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller. From my review: “Ananka relates how she first met the legendary Kiki Strike six years before, when they were both twelve. She followed the mysterious vigilante Kiki and helped recruit the four other Irregulars, uniquely talented Girl Scouts: DeeDee, scientific genius; Oona, expert forger; Betty, master of disguises; and Luz, inventor. Kiki is the leader; and Ananka is research girl. Their mission: to explore and map the mysterious New York City “Shadow City”, an underground labyrinth of rooms and tunnels and escape hatches. But the girls realize that Kiki isn’t being honest with them, and when the exploration goes tragically wrong, Kiki disappears, the FBI shows up, and the Irregulars drift apart. Two years later, strange robberies take place that only could be done with unique knowledge of the Shadow City. It has to be Kiki Strike; the girls band together one more time, to solve the crimes and find Kiki. But maybe Kiki will find them first . . .

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly. From my review: “The title explains it all, doesn’t it? . . . The amount of filth, refuse, garbage and body wastes that people lived with in the past is staggering. Unimaginable. Best invention ever? indoor plumbing. And the rats! ew. Ew. Ew.”

Mimus by Lilli Thal (translated from German). From my review: “Prince Florin’s father, King Philip, is negotiating a truce between his country, Moltovia, and Vinland. Prince Florin is overjoyed when his father sends for him to join in the celebrations of peace. When Prince Florin arrives at King Theodo’s court, he discovers it’s a trap; his father has been taken prisoner, his knights and nobles either killed or imprisoned, and now Florin is a prisoner, also. King Theodo finds it amusing to humiliate young Florin by turning him into the lowest of the low — a jester. Every day, Florin must learn how to keep the king amused, as Florin’s father rots in the dungeon and Florin’s homeland is attacked. . . . Florin is totally humiliated by his reversal in life: “sooner or later he would go mad with shame.” And isn’t that what most kids are afraid of? Shame. Dreams of being in school naked, fears of people laughing. This is combined with a reality of many children’s lives: a lack of power: Florin is a captive child, and should he misbehave or try to escape, the prisoners in the dungeon will pay the price in the torture chamber. He has no options. He is powerless.”

Review: Dare You To

Dare You To by Katie McGarry. Harlequin Teen. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Ryan Stone is looking forward to his senior year, and why not? He’s the star baseball player, getting scouted by colleges and teams; he has great friends; and an ex-girlfriend that may be more than an ex.

One of his friends dares him to get the phone number of a girl: the girl selected? She’s got black hair, torn clothes, a hardcore Skater Girl.

Needless to say, good boy Ryan doesn’t get the girl’s number. She won’t be played.

The girl is Beth Risk. After an incident with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, her long lost uncle swoops in to save the day, taking Beth back to his perfect little town.

Beth doesn’t want to be saved. She wants to go back to her mother and her friends.

Oh, and guess who else is in this perfect town? That’s right, Ryan.

What starts as a dare turns out to be something more.

The Good: I adored Dare You To. Just loved it.

Why? Because Beth. Her voice is terrific: she’s tough on the outside, yes, because life has made her tough. She’s the child of teenage parents who didn’t get their act together when they had a kid. Drug and alcohol abuse and neglect means that often Beth is the caretaker in the family. Because she has been let down, over and over, she has defenses up. Trusting anyone, getting close to anyone, is a risk she doesn’t take. Also? Beth is funny and wry and smart in her observations. So many times reading this, I started laughing out loud, because of what Beth said.

Ryan — Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. Yes, the popular jock, but his life isn’t quite as perfect as it looks. Being from a good family in a small town means that the family lives it’s life by “what will the neighbors think.” They practice what they preach; and think a lot about whether their neighbors are doing the right thing.

Take Beth’s family. People like Ryan’s parents hold her background against her. It’s all judgment based on her parents’ actions, not her own. Bonus to that, it’s shown it’s mighty hard to overcome that. Beth’s uncle is Mr Respectable, but only because he’s spent the last ten or so years working hard to make something of himself. Do Ryan’s parents care about the fine home he now has? The nice wife he has? The over ten years playing professional baseball? No, because what matters is who his parents were, who is brother was.

Luckily, not everyone is like Ryan’s parents. As for Ryan himself, part of his growth in Dare You To is realizing that his parents’ attitudes are wrong and even hurtful. Yes, it’s in part because he starts to fall for Beth and his parents are “no no no.” But even more important is Ryan’s older brother, Mark. When Mark, now in college, came out to his family they reacted in full “but the neighbors” mode and cut Mark out of their lives. Even Ryan has, thinking “if Mark cared about us, he wouldn’t be doing this. He’d keep it a secret.” (Another reason I like Dare You To? Because the treatment of Mark, and Ryan’s reactions, is all too real for some teens. It’s still tough out there for GLBT teens. Dare You To is being honest in showing what happens for some teens.)

While Beth was my favorite, I also liked Ryan. Good thing, because for a romance you want to root for both! Ryan is a jock, yes, and I love how Dare You To showed the work that goes into playing baseball, as well as the love of the sport, and what it means to practice. Ryan is also a senior and is torn between turning professional or going to college. It turns out, Ryan has a talent for writing. His father is bewildered why there is any choice to be made: turn professional, right? But it’s not that easy.

Beth views her uncle leaving to play baseball as an abandonment. It makes sense; her father also left. But here’s the thing: Scott left to play professional ball right out of high school. Yes, high school. So his leaving her, to her neglectful parents? Was something an eighteen year old kid did.  I understood how he needed to take care of himself before being able to return to help Beth. I’m not saying Scott is always right; he comes across a bit too controlling, a bit to “do everything my way right now,” wanting to be the hero and not listening to what Beth really needs or wants. Even with that, though, keep in mind: Scott is not yet thirty. Not yet thirty, with a teenage niece he loves, who he knows needs help, and he’s not quite sure what to do.

See that complexity in the family and friendships? Delicious!

I hope this next bit is not too spoilery for you. Beth is tough because she has had a tough life. Abandonment, neglect, abuse. But, that does not include sexual assault. Dare You To was refreshing to me because of that, because I’ve read one too many stories where childhood sexual assault is used more to create a backstory than to address such assault. Also, Ryan’s own family secrets did not include physical abuse. Yes, his parents are controlling but they aren’t abusive. Again, refreshing, because I’ve read one too many stories where to illustrate a person’s family problems the issues are heaped up, one after the other. It is, indeed, enough to have a father who drives his son too hard on the baseball field; and for that “too hard” to include the father’s own dreams rather than the son’s.

This is the part where I have to stop myself, because I find myself wanting to say “and what was great was…. and what was terrific was…. and I laughed when….”

After I finished Dare You To, I realized that this is part of a series. And, not even the first book in the series. So, no, they don’t have to be read in order. I’d say more than series, they are books with overlapping characters but no overlapping plot. The other two books, Pushing the Limits (2012) and Crash Into You (2014) are about two of Beth’s friends.

One funny thing. Let me say, I loved Dare You To, loved Beth, and yes, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2013. That said? I have never seen the appeal of the “dare you’ games that Ryan and his friends play. Why? Because it’s playing with people’s feelings. From the start, with the dare being about getting girl’s phone numbers, I thought “this isn’t cute or funny, it’s mean to these girls who have no idea.” I loved that Beth had Ryan’s number on this from the start, figuring out what was going on, and how then this fear (is it just a dare?) appeared every now and then even after the dares had ended. I just wanted to point out that I loved this book, even with the dares! Probably because Beth figures it out early on; and, at least one other character also is all “don’t play with people like that.”

Other reviews: Fikt Shun; Dear Author; plus, an interesting analysis from Romance Novels for Feminists.



Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown. 2013. Review from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: An email sent to the wrong person results in an email friendship between two teens. They talk about everything — except their names and who they are. Oh, some stray details are mentioned, like where they live. He lives in California, she lives in Maine.

“He” happens to be teenage actor Graham Larkin. And he’s fallen hard for the girl he knows only through emails. From a few details in her emails, he figures out what small town in Maine she lives in and has managed to arrange for his latest movie to be filmed there. An entire summer with the girl of his dreams.

Ellie doesn’t realize she’s been sharing so much with a movie star. All she knows is the summer is going to be even more crowded, with the combination of tourists and a movie filming. She hates the crowds and the photographers.

Will Graham and Ellie connect in real life, the way they have in email?

The Good: Smith’s earlier book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, was one of my favorite books from last year so I was looking forward to this one. I won’t keep you in suspense — This is What Happy Looks Like does not disappoint!

This Is What Happy Looks Like is a romance, and (to me at least) the key to romance is a watching the couple fall in love. Of course, it can’t be too easy — that would be boring! So what creates the tension, the “will they or won’t be”? Again, it has to be real, not artificial, and it can’t be something that makes either person look bad.

Graham and Ellie are in two different places in life, and it’s not just that Graham is a Famous! Movie! Star! It’s that, even though at seventeen he is only a year older than Ellie, he’s independent. He’s in a career he loves, he’s finished his schooling, he’s living on his own. Ellie, meanwhile, is going into his senior year at high school. She lives at home, with her mother — her father is out of the picture. Money is tight and her dream is to attend an August program at Harvard so she’s working two jobs.

When Graham shows up at the ice cream place where Ellie works, he asks out the cute girl with the name “Ellie” embroidered on her work shirt. Problem is? It’s Ellie’s shirt, yes, but the person wearing it is Ellie’s’ best friend.

Aha, you may think! This is the tension. He’s asked out Ellie’s friend.

No! One reason I love Smith as an author is she doesn’t do the expected, the easy. So, here, yes there is a mix up but (spoilers) it’s resolved rather easily. The tension that keeps the two apart is that Ellie is a bit overwhelmed by Graham’s celebrity. Remember, he has had time to prepare to meet her in real life. She has not. It also turns out that Ellie is camera-shy and very private, for some very personal reasons. Her secrets don’t just create a problem with Graham. They also end up creating problems with her best friend, Quinn. The intense email correspondence? Something she hadn’t shared with Quinn, and Quinn is hurt by that.

And as for Graham, while he appears to have everything he could ever want, it turns out that he’s lonely. His super fast rise to fame means he is a bit isolated from those around him.

Yes, this is a romance, Ellie’s and Graham’s romance. But it’s also the story of friendship and trust. Graham has to learn to be a friend to Ellie, and Ellie has to learn to trust Graham.

Also — I had so much fun reading all the movie details! Graham’s fame came from playing the second lead in a popular teen trilogy, and I laughed at the parallels to certain current big movie franchises. What I also liked is that those in the industry, those who Graham is working with, are all rather decent people. This is not about learning that making movies isn’t a life to have; it’s not about the people in the industry being shallow or back-stabbing. Rather, they are real: so, yes, one of the movie stars isn’t happy being stuck in a small Maine town all summer. Because it’s a job, some of the people are demanding of Graham, treating him like the adult he is.

Other reviews:  Alexa Reviews Books; Forever Young Adult; A Backwards Story.


Flashback September 2008

What was I reading in September 2008?

The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff. From my review: “Phaedrus looks exactly like the missing Midir. Why not put him on the throne instead, and remove Liadhan from power? So Phaedrus pretends to be Midir — pretends to be King — and gets more than he bargained for as he begins to realize what it means to be a King. Non stop action. Chapter One, we get a mother’s suicide, gladiator fights, freedom; Chapter Two, a drunk night on the town resulting in fights, stabbings, and fire; Chapter Three is prison and the Midir plan. There’s barely a place for Phaedrus or the reader to breathe. Yet, within all that action, Sutcliff includes many details about the second century Britain. Once Phaedrus agrees to the plan, there’s a lot he has to learn. And he keeps finding out that that there is even more involved than he thought.” And the ending! The ending! I’m still haunted by it.

Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky. From my review: “On the surface, this is a “my first boyfriend” book. As this, it is good — Dom and Wes meet cute, there are semi dates, miscommunication, finally dating! And then the sex, and then college starts. This book is deeper than “first boyfriend,” and while it’s told in first person by Dom, there is a lot that isn’t told and is up to the reader to realize, figure out, or conclude. Some of it is stuff that Dom herself never quite realizes.”


Review: Just One Day

Just One Day by Gayle Forman. Dutton Books, a member of Penguin Books. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Allyson Healey is on a trip to Europe, a special present from her parents for having done so well in high school. She, along with her best friend, are on a Teen Tour, speeding from one place to another.

A chance meeting with a young Dutch actor leads to an uncharacterstic for Allyson whirlwind day in Paris. When he disappears after they spend the night together, she is heartbroken, returning home to college.

College is not what Allyson had hoped it would be; or, rather, it’s more what her parents had planned than what Allyson wants.

What does Allyson want? As Allyson tries to figure that out, she realizes she needs to go back to her worst, and best, day ever and find out what really happened.

The Good: Allyson! Oh, Allyson. I cannot tell you how much I adored Allyson.

Why? Because she is so real: she is young, and immature, and unsure, and doesn’t realize it. As I read this, and saw just how distanced Allyson was from herself, it almost hurt in it’s truth and rawness.

Allyson may be a high school graduate, but she is one with parents so controlling that Allyson doesn’t realize she has never had the opportunity to be herself. To figure out who she is or what she wants. Part of it is because Allyson is an only child; part of it is because she has the ultimate helicopter parents; and part of it is because Allyson has always been the good daughter and doesn’t realize that this type of “good” isn’t doing anyone, including herself, any good.

Some examples: the unasked for gift of a trip to Europe. Allyson is grateful, of course; but it’s not anything she asked for, or said she wanted, or had any input in. Her parents have decided Allyson wants to be a doctor, so her college courses are selected by them to make that happen. Her mother sees clothes she thinks are perfect for Allyson and buys them for her.

And yes, Allyson is lucky and fortunate to have the opportunities, to have the things, but the one thing she doesn’t have? Is herself. The last day of her trip, that spontaneous day with Willem, was the first time she began to think of herself, of what she wants to do or likes.

When Allyson gets to college, it doesn’t go well. She doesn’t really make friends, she doesn’t do well in her classes, she doesn’t decorate her dorm room. Part of it is depression, part of it is being lonely, part of it is starting to realize that how her parents have defined her is not who she is — and for that last part, she doesn’t know it. She doesn’t know that is why she doesn’t decorate her dorm room with the things they have selected, why she cannot bring herself to care about the classes they have selected. Part of it is Willem’s rejection of her has hurt her deeply. Now at college, she doesn’t quite know how to connect or make a friend.

Thanks to a college counselor, who has seen other students like Allyson, Allyson begins to figure out who she is, what she likes, what she wants. I love this — a true “coming of age” book. It’s not crisp and clean and easy. Sometimes, when I’ve read one too many young adult books in a row, I wonder at just how many of these teen characters have their acts together when in “real life” the process of becoming oneself takes much longer. Just One Day takes a clearer, more honest, true look at that process.

Willem’s role in Allyson’s journey is important because his disappearance is part of what pushes her. It’s a puzzle to be solved; it’s a mystery to be answered; and, yes, it’s a person she wants to find because their connection was real and true. Or, at least, it was to her.

If you’re wondering why, in the age of Google, it was easy for Willem to disappear from Allyson’s life. She didn’t have a cell phone (or, rather, hers wasn’t working properly in Europe.) Willem early on gave Allyson a nickname, Lulu, and didn’t know her real name. Allyson didn’t know his last name. Allyson at first was too hurt and embarrassed by his leaving her to look for him. (I’m sure other reviews will go on and on about the love story here, but to me, the more fascinating story is Allyson’s own personal growth.)

What else? Allyson’s high school best friend, Mel, is similar to Allyson, except Mel is more deliberate and knowing in her own journey to figuring out who she is. It’s interesting to see Mel pop up every few months, to see what Mel is “trying on” in terms of hair and clothes and music. I also think most adults know, from the first time that Mel is introduced, that this is the type of high school friendship that probably won’t survive college.

Allyson’s mother. I tried really, really hard not to hate Allyson’s mother. It’s her mother, more than her father, who dictates Allyson’s choices. She’s doing it out of love, yes, but it turns out there is more than that. Enough for my hate to be softened with pity. Allyson’s grandmother — her mother’s mother — also shows up, during a holiday, and WOWZA. There are some real family dynamics here, and by “real” I mean people pushing each other’s buttons.

Because it’s a realistic look at how some teens experience their first year of college. Because, even when it was the Teen Tour, but more so when it was not,  I loved the parts where Allyson traveled. Because of who Allyson is becoming and her bravery in picking something other than the safe path of her parents’ expectations. For the friends she meets along the way. Because I love Allyson, in all her awkwardness and innocence, this is a Best Book Read in 2013.

I am also eager to read the sequel/companion book, Just One Year, which will be from Willem’s point of view. Since I view Willem as more of a necessary catalyst to Allyson’s growth than a love interest, I’m eager to see what that book will be like and how it may change my perception of Allyson.

Other reviews: Alexa Loves Books; Smash Attack Reads; Queen Ella Bee Reads; Stacked.





Review: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. Hyperion. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Companion to Code Name Verity.

The Plot: It’s summer of 1944 and Rose Moyer Justice is in England, a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary.

She’s a pilot, and she’s an American, and she’s only 18, but she’s in the ATA because she’s been flying since she was 12 and her Uncle Roger, “high up in the Royal Engineers,” helped get her a place.

Rose thinks she’s seen the horrors of war. Her friend Celia Forester’s plan crashed, and she grieves. Her other friend Maddy has a war time wedding. Then there are the bombings and the destruction and the fear.

Thanks to Uncle Roger, Rose is flying in France, ferrying a plane back to England. That is when Rose is forced down by the Luftwaffe, captured by the Nazis, and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Rose is about to discover what real horror is.

The Good: First things first: you don’t have to have read Code Name Verity to read Rose Under Fire. Rose’s friend Maddy is the Maddy from Code Name Verity, and a couple of other people appear, but in terms of plot, there is no connection. Since Rose Under Fire takes place after Code Name Verity, readers will be happy to see Maddy and find out how she’s doing, but the non-Code Name Verity reader won’t be confused.

Rose Under Fire is primarily told by Rose herself. First, in some journal entries from the summer of 1944. Then, there is a handful of correspondence from others that show that Rose is missing, presumed dead. Next, entries beginning in April 1945, with Rose in Paris, having escaped Ravensbruck. The jacket copy tells that Rose is sent to Ravensbruck – no spoiler there – and Rose Under Fire shows how Rose ended up in the concentration camp, what happened to her there, how she survived — and what she does to put her life together after.

Rose is eighteen, young, and prisoned in a place where she doesn’t even really know the language. She heard rumors about Nazi atrocities and dismissed them as propaganda. And, as she puts it, “I hadn’t seen evil. Or, if I had, I didn’t recognize it.” Another thing to know about Rose, in addition to being young, and an American. She gets angry. “I wasn’t upset. I was angry, as mad as I was about everything else.” She also loves poetry and writes some herself. Probably, the last important thing to know about Rose and how she survives: she’s lucky.

Rose is lucky, because she makes friends and connections that will help her survive. First is Elodie, a member of the French Resistance. Later, after Rose is brutally beaten, the “Rabbits” — the Polish women subjected to Nazi “medical” experimentation — befriend her. The reason? To learn English. To learn the poetry she recites. One, Roza, is even younger than Rose. Then there is Irina, a pilot in the Soviet Army, who gets paired up with Rose during a work detail because both are tall.

The Rabbits. I had been aware, in a vague words on paper way, of the Nazi medical experiments. When Rose gets to Ravensbruck, the experiments are over and scarred, mutilated women remain. They live, because in an odd way the current commander is afraid to kill them. It is after D-Day, and while the war in Europe is bloody and not yet over there is a vague fear that they may lose and will have to answer for their crimes. I say vague, because brutality and killings do continue.

Elodie, Roza, Irina. It is because of them that Rose lives. Rose doesn’t just take: no, she also gives, and there are people who live because of Rose’s own actions. When I talk about the friendships; or how other prisoners also tried to help the Rabbits, because of just how badly they were treated; I don’t want to make it sound the wrong way. Like it’s all selflessness and jolly good comradery. No. There is also harshness and cruelty, blood and death, mud and hunger, fear and desperation. For Rose and the others there are two types of survival: physical survival and mental survival. What does it mean, to be in a place like Ravensbruck?

What does it mean, to survive Ravensbruck? To live, after?

I don’t want to give too much away, because while this doesn’t have the type of twists and turns like Code Name Verity, I think that certain plot points are best discovered by the reader than told in a review.

I will say this: Rose Under Fire is as much about the time after Rose’s imprisonment as it is about the imprisonment itself. The final third of the story takes place in 1946 and is called Nuremberg.

Is this a Favorite Book Read in 2013? Yes! Because of how the story is told: Rose, safe in Paris, telling what happened to her. Rose, trying to figure out what “safe” is. Because of Rose. And Roza. And Irina. And the other women in Ravensbruck. And because while it didn’t break my heart in the way that Code Name Verity did, Rose under Fire was just as heartbreaking in its own way.

A brief P.S.: remember my post in January about characters in books getting their periods? Well, yes, Rose has to figure out what to do when in a concentration camp.

Other reviews: Dear Author; Good Books and Good Wine; See Michelle Read (a great discussion, but spoilers! Many spoilers!); The Book Smugglers.

Flashback September 2009

And now, a look back at what I reviewed in September 2009:

The Squirrel’s Birthday by Toon Tellegen. Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. From my review: “Simple stories with the logic of childhood. Squirrel has a birthday; he invites people by writing invitations on beech bark. The wind delivers the invitations and the acceptances.”

Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen. Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. From my review: “Animals write letters to each other. And to tables. And to themselves. And the sun. The short, semi-intertwined stories continue. The stories and language are magical: “But the squirrel and letter noticed nothing of that. They slept and dreamed of words and sweet ink.“”

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino From my review: Neil Armstrong begins and for just a moment, you think, this is going to be an old fashioned type of book, set in a nicer, calmer time. Before working parents and structured playdates. Oh, a sweeter and gentler time, when a sad day was when your best friend moved away. And in a way, Neil Armstrong is that. Those parents who want that type of book will be satisfied with the old-school tone. But Neil Armstrong is so much more than just an old fashioned read about friendship among ten year olds. First, the casual mention of Kebsie being a foster child who has now moved back to live with her mother. Suddenly, the story shifts; a hint that the past was not so perfect. Kebsie was the foster child on the street; and Muscle Man and his older brother are the two new foster children. Tamara, our narrator, never over explains — never explains beyond how a ten year old would see the world — but suddenly we know, we know why the neighborhood indulges Muscle Man’s lies.”

The Betsy-Tacy Companion by Sharla Scannell Whalen. From my review: “Oh, fans, I love you. Especially when you create labors of love that almost defy common sense. It’s tough enough explaining blogging to other people — imagine years spent on researching the “truth” behind a (then out of print) series of children’s books? What does a fan who loves BetsyTacy do? They know its based on Maud Hart Lovelace’s real life; but they know it’s also fiction. Don’t you want to know what is real? What isn’t? What happened to the real life Betsy (Maud Hart Lovelace), Tacy (Frances “Bick” Kenney Kirch), and Tib (Marjorie “Midge” Gerlach Harris)? Whalen did more than wonder; she put together what is obviously a labor of love, best read with a Betsy-Tacy book in front of you.”

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. From my review: “Prince Aleksander, 15, is the only child of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. He is awaken in the middle of the night and flees the palace; his parents have been murdered and, while he is not a direct heir, his life is in danger. Alek is a “clanker” — part of the world that is all about machines. Deryn Sharp, also 15, is pretending to be a boy named Dylan to get a chance to fly with the British Air Service. But she’s not learning how to fly machines. Deryn is a “Darwinist” — the part of the world that has created living creatures to fly, to use for messages, as pets. The assassination of Alek’s parents starts a World War. As Alek runs for his life, and Deryn finds danger and adventure on the flying living ship Leviathan, their paths grow closer and closer.”

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. From my review: “Nora Grey’s entire life shifts when her biology teacher switches the seating chart, moving her best friend Vee to the other side of the room and instead putting new student, Patch Cipriano, in the seat next to her. From that moment on, nothing is the same; nothing can be trusted. Not Patch, that’s for sure. Not her best friend, Vee, who is hanging out with two boys, Elliot and Jules, that Nora doesn’t trust no matter how cute (and rich) they are. Nora cannot even trust her own feelings or memories. Is what she is feeling for Patch real? Why are so many odd things happening in her life? Why does Vee see nothing wrong in Elliot and Jules’ odd behavior? And who is Patch?

Malice by Chris Wooding. From my review: “”Tall Jake, take me away.” Combine the right things in the right type of bowl. Set them afire. Say the right words six times. And Tall Jake comes to take you away — away to Malice. A place of nightmares seen only in a secret comic book. Rumors, urban legend, whispered about, believed in, not believed in. Luke says it. And disappears. His friends Seth and Kady decide to investigate. How far will they go to find out whether Malice is real? “Tall Jake, take me away.” . . . Why would anyone want to take the risk of going to Malice? One look at the comic book — and pages of the comic book in black and white are incorporated into this book — shows a nightmare landscape with hellish mechanical creatures that attack, kill, tearing teens limb from limb. Seth wants to save Luke. But what is the lure for other teens? To go to Malice… to stay… to escape. Malice offers something to them; something Tall Jake gives. A chance at something… something else. Something different. Remember, nightmares are still dreams. By the time you realize the dream isn’t what you wanted it to be, it’s too late.”

Ash by Malinda Lo. From my review: “A Cinderella retelling. Aisling, nickname Ash. Mother dies, father remarries to woman with two daughters, father dies, stepmother turns Ash into a servant, the Prince is looking for a wife, there’s a ball, with fairy help Ash attends the ball. You know the rest. Or do you? This retelling unfolds slowly, deliciously. It’s an internal story; a story about Ash grieving the loss of her parents, shutting down from it, and eventually choosing life and love. This is a tale about recovering from grief and unbearable loss.”

Lips Touch by Laini Taylor. From my review: “Three stories that hinge on a kiss. In Goblin Fruit, Kizzy wants to be someone different, somewhere different, she wants to be kissed; In Spicy Little Curses Such As These, Ana wants to be loved and accepted; and in Hatchling, Esme is haunted by memories that are not her own. . . . I love the twists to tales that Taylor gives; taking Goblin Market to modern times. Creating a Sleeping Beauty who can kill with a whisper — or a shout. And lastly, a story that seems to be about Esme — until we find out there is more to Esme than meets the eye.

thirtysomething. From my review: “Episode 1 does a brilliant job of setting up this series. Hope and Michael, the thirtysomething couple with a baby and their circle of family and friends. Ellyn, Hope’s best friend from childhood. Gary, Michael’s best friend from college. Melissa, Michael’s cousin. Elliot, Michael’s business partner, and Elliot’s wife, Nancy. A created family, revolving around the orbit of Hope and Michael. thirtysomething was a show about, well, nothing. And everything. It was about life — friendships, career, children. Small choices, big events. Running a business; losing and finding love; figuring out how to have balance in life. And doing so not with family.”

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles. From my review: “Four friends. Ellie, Corinne, Caleb, Josh. High School Juniors. Ellie and Josh “hook up.” Three months later, she’s late. One person’s choices impact all their lives. . . . Different chapters tell the different point of views — Ellie, believing the boys, wanting the love, being left with nothing. Corinne, the best friend who doesn’t know what to say or do. Caleb, their friend who has a crush on Ellie and doesn’t want to believe the rumors about her. Josh, who did believe the rumors and now is embarrassed by what he did and didn’t do.”

My Life In France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme. From my review: “Julia Child’s memoir (with great nephew Alex Prud’homme) of how she became, well, Julia Child. . . . Child describes her life in France as a newlywed. Child and her husband, Paul (who met and wooed during World War II) travel to France for Paul’s job shortly after their marriage. The Childs’ married when Julia was in her mid 30s, Paul ten years older. Oh, to be in post-World War II France. Reading this is not just traveling through someone else’s experiences; it is doing so to a time long past. Paris, sixty years ago. I adored all the details of living in France, traveling, and, of course, eating.”

Betsy: Twentysomething: Betsy and the Great World (1952) and Betsy’s Wedding; A Betsy-Tacy Story (1955) by Maud Hart Lovelace. Illustrations by Vera Neville. From my review: “For the first time, I’m glad that I didn’t read the Betsy-Tacy books sooner. Because with these two books, Betsy is firmly in the grown-up world, and for children or young teen readers, that would have presented a barrier. . . . Betsy is like the present day backpacker through Europe, except with a heck of a lot more luggage. Instead of hostels, she stays at a pensions and boarding homes. While her parents have arranged for some chaperoning, just as often Betsy is on her own to explore Munich, Germany, Venice, London. And as for her parents — Betsy has dropped out of college. While her father isn’t necessarily pleased with her college career to date, he does not give her grief. He talks to her about it matter of factly — and offers to take the money that would have been spent on college tuition and expenses and use that to support her visit to Europe, agreeing that the life experiences she will get will be as valuable an education as college.

We Were Here by Matt De La Pena. From my review: “Miguel’s tenth grade ends with being sentenced to one year in a group home. Plus he has to write a journal. Considering what he did, he’s surprised, and tells his mother, “Yo, Ma, this isn’t so bad, right? I thought those people would lock me up and throw away the key.” His mother says nothing. “She didn’t say anything back, though.. Didn’t look at me either. Matter of fact, she didn’t look at me all the way up till the day she had to drive me to Juvenile Hall.” Miguel wants to do his time. Doesn’t want to make friends. But somehow, he finds himself running away to Mexico with Rondell and Mong. Miguel, half-Mexican who doesn’t speak Spanish; Rondell, big, black, strong, and slow; and Mong, Asian American with a scarred face, who is… well, let’s just say he greeted Miguel by spitting on him. And before Miguel got to the group home? Broke someone’s arm.

Hannah’s Winter by Kierin Meehan. From my review: “Hannah, 12, is staying with friends of her mother in Kanazawa, Japan. It’s supposed to be an opportunity for Hannah to polish her Japanese language skills. Instead, it turns into an adventure to help a ghost.”

Liar by Justine Larbalestier. From my review: “Micah is a senior in high school. She lies. She knows she has to stop; and on page one of Liar, she promises to tell you her whole story with no lies. Micah tells you about herself, her school, Zach (the senior who just went missing), her family. And she tells you the truth. Except when she is lying. She cannot help herself; it’s not just a bad habit, it’s something she inherited. Her father, she tells us, is also a liar. And with the family illness that got passed down to her, she is almost forced to lie. But reader… she’ll tell you the truth. Or, at least, admit when she’s lied. Or when she lies about the lie. What is true? When can you believe a liar? And what happened to Zach?”

Review: The Bitter Kingdom

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2013. Conclusion of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy: The Girl of Fire and Thorns (book one) and  The Crown of Embers (book two).

The Plot: Elisa, Godstone Bearer and Queen of Joya d’Arena, is running into the hand of her greatest enemy, the Invierne.

In Joya d’Arena, people have taken advantage of having a teeange Queen by seizing the country from her.

The Invierno, the enemy of Joya d’Arena, want Elisa — or, rather, her Godstone — and to make her come to them, they have taken Hector, Captain of the Royal Guard and the man Elisa loves.

Elisa travels with a small, trusted group: Belen, Mara, Storm (or, as Elisa describes them, “an assassin, a lady-in-waiting, and a failed sorcerer“).

All they have to do is rescue Hector; stop a war with Invierno; reclaim her throne; achieve peace for her country; and, oh, yeah — complete the act of service required by her Godstone, whatever that is.

It may be difficult; it may require sacrifice and tough choices; but this Elisa we’re talking about.

The Good: As I began The Bitter Kingdom I wondered, just how was Rae Carson going to wrap this up?

The thing to remember, of course, that this trilogy is about Elisa. It is about her journey, from protected child to strong queen. And what a journey! It is both physical — learning to fight, chasing down her enemies, running from others — and emotional. Learning to make the hard choices, including what is best for her country. And learning to find joy and happiness where she can get it.

Take Hector, her late husband’s good friend. Elisa was married to the king, a political alliance. She fell in love with a young man, and he was murdered. And now she has Hector. At the end of The Crown of Embers, Elisa had realized that marrying Hector would be a smart political move. Which means that The Bitter Kingdom includes their romance, which just gave me lots of smiles and happy.

Of course, it’s not all smiles and happy. But what is constant, for me, is the wonder that is Elisa. How strong she is, and brave. How much she has grown in three books.

As I said, this is Elisa’s story, so it is her adventure. She rescues and is rescued. She pushes herself as hard as she pushes anyone else, expects more from herself than others. She is also full of faith, and who wouldn’t be if they had evidence of God in the form of a godstone?

It is also the story of Invierno and Joya d’Arena, and their respective, battling origin myths that have led to centuries of hatred. Without giving too much away, I’ll say, I am still left with questions but in a good way. The “good way” being, I hope that Carson revisits this world, either in Elisa’s past or the future.

And, if like me, you want more, more, more now that the trilogy is over, semi-good news. There are two short e-novellas set in this world: The King’s Guard and The Shadow Cats. It’s only “semi” because that is “more” and “more” but not “more, more, more.” Yes, we readers ARE demanding.

Because The Bitter Kingdom is full of adventure. Because it has realistic politics. Because it’s about ages-old hurts that are hard to forgive and forget. Because I want to know more about the scientific and magical origins of this world. And because of Elisa. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Other reviews: Books With Bite; Magical Urban Fantasy Reads; Bookshelvers Anonymous.