Monday, November 30, 2020

Fable - Adrienne Young

Summary: For seventeen-year-old Fable, the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home she has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one, and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father, and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him, and Fable soon finds that West isn't who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they're going to stay alive.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men. Fable takes you on a spectacular journey filled with romance, intrigue, and adventure. ( Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Oh how I love a good YA fic adventure story! There are a lot of things I love about YA literature, not the least of which is that they’re just easy and fun to read. Yes, I do enjoy my heavier books, and I really appreciate having a mix of reading available to me. I’m not always in the mood for a certain type of book, which is why I like to read several books at a time. Because they’re almost always really different from each other, I don’t usually get confused. This book fulfilled my I-need-to-escape-from-real-life-and-heavy-topics genre. Those are always good to have, especially in these Covid Times, right?

First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this book is swashbuckling! I feel that for a book of this ilk, if you don’t say it, it’s a huge hole in the review. This book isn’t about pirates, per se, but it is about seafaring people, some who are searching for treasure, some who are taking treasure, some who are buying various treasures, and the communities surrounding it. I’ve read quite a few books over the years, and several quite recently, actually that take place on the sea and involve seafaring communities and those that are particularly dependent on the sea. If you’re looking for more like this, check out Vanishing Point and also House of Salt and Sorrows.

I really enjoy reading about different cultures, and a seafaring culture is very different from my always-been-landlocked life. I live in the Rocky Mountains, and have for my whole life, and so I appreciate a book that can take me away and immerse me in a land and people that are unfamiliar. I liked the strong culture in this book. It had a Caraval meets Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows that I liked. It was mysterious and exciting, dangerous and enticing. The people were interesting and the secrets they hold were vast. I especially liked the interplay between Fable and the other main characters in the book (I won’t divulge what happens here).

Sometimes with YA I have the problem of it being too cheezy for me to handle. I purposely used a “z” there because I understand some cheesiness is just part of younger writing, and I’m okay with it. However, if it crosses over into cheezy wherein things are too stupid and the romance is just Too Much, my positive feelings start to go down. That wasn’t really the case with this book. There is some drama, of course, and we would be sorrowful without a whole bucketful of youthful lust, but I felt like although this book walked the line, it was okay and I wasn’t eye rolling too hard.

Fable is a diver, and she is a good one. However, after having just read Shadow Diver: The (I LOVED this book and highly recommend), I can assure you that Fable is indeed a fable in that no diver can do what she does, let alone do it without specialized diving equipment. It takes a whole oceanful of suspended belief to believe the kind of diving that Fable was able to do, but since it’s YA Fic I’m going to let it slide a little bit. But seriously? Come on, people.

If you like YA Fic adventures, especially pirate-y-typed YA, I think you might really enjoy this book. It’s a fast read and was a nice diversion from Reality.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is a little bit of mild language here and there, and there is a love scene that is not graphic but definitely implied.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Freeform Friday: The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer - Lamar Giles

Summary: Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good. (picture and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: First off, what a fun and wacky adventure!  The county of Logan reminded me almost immediately of places like the Wayside School books, and the Nightvale podcast--a zany place where crazy things happen and it's just seen as normal.  And I love that.  Big monsters? Eh, that happened last week.  Time looping river?  Well, just make sure you don't fall in.

The characters in this book were a lot of fun, and the situations they are thrown into are hilarious.  I loved the idea of Clock Watchers, these interdimensional characters that control time and its different aspects (think Game Time, Bed Time, Crunch Time, and Witching Hour as actual people).  Mr. Flux is a pretty creepy villain, and it was fun to learn his backstory, along with the mysterious TimeStar.

Otto and Sheen's relationship was great too, the dynamic the two cousins had as they raced through town to try and fix the time-stopping mistake they made.  You can tell they love each other, but also can easily get annoyed by how the other chooses to handle things.  I love the way they would shout maneuvers at each other (codes for how they will handle a certain situation), and their recollections of past adventures, as well as their rivalry with the other adventurers in town.

Overall, this was a goofy, clever adventure, with a lot of heart and silliness.  Also, the art interspersed throughout was cute and added to the fun feel of the story.

(Just a note, I couldn't quite tell if I'd actually picked up a sequel of a series, as the way it was written almost made it sound like it was filling us in on previous books, so I had to pause a few pages in to do a search and make sure.  But as far as I've been able to pinpoint, this is indeed the first book, and it's just establishing that these boys have a lot of crazy adventures and that's just how it is.)

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: nothing really, it's just filled with zany misadventures and boys getting into mischief to sort it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

One for the Murphys - Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Summary: Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot.  Growing up in Law Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she's learned to be tough.  But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in foster care. When she's placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she's blindsided.  Mrs. Murphy makes her feel seen and heard for the first time.  Then, just when she starts to believe she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt's moving story will stay with readers long after they finish it.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Carley Connors lands in the foster care system after a violent altercation with her stepfather sends both she and her mother to the hospital.  Once she is released, Carley goes to live with the Murphys, a family that seems too good to be true, which makes her guarded and suspicious.  Will she ever really belong?

One for the Murphys has fairly short chapters (just a few pages each) and simple, clean writing, making for an easy read.  That having been said, this book wasn't really an easy read at all..  I'm not overly familiar with the foster care system, but I have a good friend who has adopted several children after fostering and have often heard her speak of the emotional toll that fostering can take on both foster child and foster parent.   Carley's time in foster care triggers all sorts of complex issues and just when she is feeling like she might have a handle on things, life throws another curveball her way.  In this way, the book felt authentic and I didn't see the curveball coming either.

One for the Murphys is a good book (I promise) but make sure you read it on a day when you can handle the message.  I felt Carley's personal insecurities and impulsive outbursts, her trust issues and mood swings. I was right there for her feelings of guilt, doubt, divided loyalties, and acts of self-sabotage.  As a mother, it was hard to take and left me with a bone-deep ache for all the kiddos really live this story -- who feel unwanted, unloved, and abandoned.  I was already having a crap day when I sat down to finish the book; and was not even remotely emotionally prepared for how it would end, which meant I pretty much ugly cried my way through the last few chapters.  It wasn't pretty.

Short of reading other reviews (which I try not to do before writing my own), I have no way of knowing whether this book would be cathartic and helpful for someone familiar with the foster care system, or traumatic and triggering.  My guess is that it could be a little bit of both, so parents might want to pre-read it if they are concerned how this book might fly with their child. It won't take long.  For those who are less familiar with the foster care system, this book will certainly help them gain a sense of perspective and empathy.  It also serves as an important reminder that everyone has issues and that we can't always tell what a person is going through if we do not take the time to get to know them.  

Over the course of the book, Carley comes to some life-changing realizations about herself, her mother, her foster family, and her future.  So, although the book is a hard read, the ultimate take away is worth it.  Just read it on a good day with a box of tissues handy.

A Personal Note: The one part of the story that really set my teeth on edge is when Carley is callously interrogated by a police officer about her abuse.  My husband spent 11+ years as a child abuse investigator and there is no way that a police officer properly trained in child forensic interviewing would ever speak to a victim that way, especially a child.  At least, it would go against all current training to do so.  I understand why it was played that way in the story, but also feel that it might make a child reading the story afraid to speak to the police about their abuse, which is why I feel the need to mention it here.

My Rating: 4 Stars.

For the Sensitive Reader: A few OMG's. Some discussion of abuse, neglect, and the foster care system.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Illness Lesson - Clare Beams


Summary: 
A mysterious flock of red birds has descended over Birch Hill. Recently reinvented, it is now home to an elite and progressive school designed to shape the minds of young women. But Eliza Bell – the most inscrutable and defiant of the students – has been overwhelmed by an inexplicable illness.

One by one, the other girls begin to experience the same peculiar symptoms: rashes, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. Soon Caroline – the only woman teaching – begins to suffer too. She tries desperately to hide her symptoms but, with the birds behaving strangely and the girls’ condition worsening, the powers-that-be turn to a sinister physician with grave and dubious methods.

Caroline alone can speak on behalf of the students, but only if she summons the confidence to question everything she’s ever learnt. Does she have the strength to confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world and protect the young women in her care?

Distinctive, haunting, irresistible, The Illness Lesson is an intensely vivid debut about women's minds and bodies, and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This was an interesting little book, and one that I think might be off of your immediate radar. First off, the cover is gorgeous and super interesting. I love cool cover art. Also, the story itself actually fits in really well with the cover art, which is cool. You know how when you look at it and read the description it’s a little bit creepy? A tad mysterious? And maybe just slightly off? Well, my friends, you’ll be happy to know that the book is like this, too!

The writing in this book is so interesting. It’s really well-written. Beams is a master at her craft. I wouldn’t go as far to say that the writing is sparse, but am instead settling on “measured.” The writing is very measured. The writing itself—the way it is spaced on the page, the words that are chosen, the cadence of the dialogue—all sets an interesting tone. It is somewhat creepy (and I like creepy!) and feels really mysterious, like there is something going on that we aren’t privy to; that these characters are maybe hiding something that we should know about but don’t. I liked it. It set a really great atmosphere and was, in fact, very apropos to the story.

The time period of the story also lends itself to creepiness. It’s after the Civil War, in the 1870’s, and the protagonists set up a school in which they can teach their progressive ways to women. (I appreciated this, by the way). What follows can only be described as a foreboding set of events from many angles, and these events turn into an “illness” that is never really determined, and this all leads to what I feel is an extremely disturbing resolution. What is even more disturbing about this resolution is I know that this kind of thing actually happened (I’m trying to be vague here), and sometimes that is even creepier. The whole book itself was super interesting and really moody but also really weird in a lot of ways. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I look back at a book and reflect on reading it, I have feelings and senses of what I thought. Even if I don’t recollect exactly what was going on or the minute details, I can remember how it made me feel or the general gist. Looking back at this book, I feel strangeness and mystery and a very strong sense of time and place. This doesn’t always happen. It’s a credit to the author that I feel this way. It stands out to me as a book that was different from anything else I’ve ever read.

If you like atmospheric stories, and ones that are really interesting and different, I think you should check this out.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some light language and some incidents of sexual abuse by a trusted individual that I found to be disturbing. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Freeform Friday: The 'Ember in the Ashes' series (Including An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night, and A Reaper at the Gates) - Sabaa Tahir

Today we're talking about the first three books from the Ember in the Ashes Series (An Ember in the Ashes #1, A Torch Against the Night #2, and A Reaper at the Gates #3).  Feel free to scroll your way to the review that most interests you, but beware of spoilers in the later reviews.

Summary: Laia is a slave.  Elias is a solider.  Neither is free.  Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death.  Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destructuion of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother.  The family ekes out an existence in the Empire's impoverished backstreets.  They do not challenge the Empire.  They've seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia's brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire's greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school's finest soldier -- and secretly, it's most unwilling.  Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he's been trained to enforce.  He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined -- and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I picked up An Ember in the Ashes back in June, desperate to wash away the nightmare that is juggling three months of 'distance learning' for four kids and hoping for a little light summer, escapist reading.  Thankfully, that is what I got.  By page 100, I was already looking up quarantine- friendly ways to acquire the next book.  The plot was well-paced, intriguing, and totally hit the spot while at the same time leaving room for growth in subsequent books.  I was pretty absorbed in the story and didn't take many notes while reading so you'll have to excuse me while I stumble through (the rest of) this review.

Seventeen-year-old Laia is a wonderful heroine who learns to face her own fears and gains strength over the course of the story. I loved that the Pakistani-American author created a heroine who is not only principled, determined, and loyal, but also a woman of color.  It was nice to see that representation in the fantasy genre, particularly in a central character. Although there was a definite chemistry between Laia and another character (ZING!), they each had their own pressing problems to worry about and other options to consider in the relationship department, which I felt added an extra layer of action and suspense to the story.  Occasionally, the characters were forced to make impossible decisions, which kept things interesting, and I couldn't always divine everyone's allegiances or motivations, which gave the characters room to develop.

Structurally, the author alternates perspectives between the two main characters which kept the story moving at a fast clip.  She routinely 'switched' perspectives at pivotal moments in the story, so that I simply had to keep reading to find out what would happen next.  It was like a series of mini-cliffhangers and deliciously thrilling.  Overall, An Ember in the Ashes was an entertaining summer read about loyalty, courage, strength, and drawing a line in the sand.  Thankfully, it is only the beginning of a much larger story that I plan to continue reading in the sequel, A Torch Against the Night.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some innuendo and sensual language (making out with bodies pressed closely together, and all that), no sex, minimal swearing (less than a handful), some violence, threats of rape, and an attempted rape.
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Summary:  Elias and Laia are running for their lives.  After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf -- the Empire's most secure and dangerous prison -- to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholar's survival.  And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias.  The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene -- Elias's former friend and the Empire's newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus's will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own -- on that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape...and kill them both.  (Summary from book - Image from barnesandnoble.com)

My Review:  A Torch in the Night is the second book in the Ember in the Ashes series and it picks up in the catacombs, as Blackcliff burns.  Laia and Elias are determined to rescue Darin, Laia's brother, from a hellish prison, but first they must escape the city.  While they manage to evade immediate capture, it comes with unforeseen consequences.  What follows is a harrowing adventure across the Empire, into the Tribal lands, and other unexpected realms.  As the duo gather allies, they are also being hunted...by the one person Elias cannot bear to kill.

Laia and Elias have both come a long way since the beginning of the series and I loved seeing them both in a different light.  While the first book alternates between Laia and Elias points-of-view, the second book offers a third perspective -- Helene's.  I liked the development of her character and am thrilled she took on a more central role, which allowed me to get inside her head, understand her background, and offered the opportunity to see her familial interactions.  I was glad for the addition of her perspective and felt it enriched the story.

Like its predecessor, A Torch Against the Night has a light magical element that weaves its way through the story in the form of wraiths, jinn, efrit, ghuls, a living ghost, and a strange, hooded figure with blazing eyes.  While I could have lived without the some of the darker aspects of the story, I did like Laia and Helene emerging powers.  I was intrigued by their unexplained abilities, delighted when they had the opportunity to use them, and look forward to hearing more about the whole concept in future books. 

Have you ever been reading a book and you get the sense that something is definitely up plot-wise, but you can't quite put your finger on it and it sort of drives you crazy in all the good ways?  That's how I felt while reading this book.  A Torch Against the Night is not without a series of enigmatic secondary characters *ahemKeenanHarperShaevaCook*.  Even the antagonists, namely Marcus, Keris, and the icky icky Warden each have their own set of secrets.  While there was obviously more to their stories than the author was ready to reveal up front, the suspense kept things lively and maddeningly mysterious. I may have had an inkling or two about what might happen but was not expecting the Big Reveal, In fact, there are a few Big Reveals, and I was not expecting any of them.  After each one, the story ramped up the intensity so that by the end, I was straight up invested.

I enjoyed my time with this book and only wish I had been able to read it all in one sitting.    Thankfully, the book ends with enough closure that I didn't keel over and die, but it left enough threads untied and questions left unanswered that I'll definitely be reading the next book, A Reaper at the Gates, which *oh, look* I happen to have sitting right next to me.  If you'll excuse me...

On an unrelated note:  I should have known that Sabaa Tahir and Reneé Ahdieh (author of The Wrath & the Dawn duology and The Beautiful) were friends.  It makes sense and in hindsight, I don't know how I missed it.  I love both of their writing styles.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some violence (executions/torture) and biblical swearing (H & D variety) is sprinkled throughout with the most popular being variations of the exclamation "ten h*lls!".  Around three uses of the B word.  Some making out (and unbuttoning) that fades to black (implied sex).
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Summary: Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike, is desperate to protect her sister's life and the lives of everyone in the Empire.  Yet danger lurks on all sides.  Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable and violent, while Keris Veturia, the ruthless Commandant, capitalizes on the Emperor's volatility to grow her own power -- regardless of the carnage she leaves in her path.

Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows that the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer.  During the hunt to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would help her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she'd have to fight.  

And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher.  However, in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that demands his complete surrender -- even if that means abandoning the woman he loves.  (Summary from book cover - Image from www.barnesandnoble.com)

My Review:  A Reaper at the Gates begins two months after the events of its predecessor, The Torch Against the Night.  As the story opens, the main characters are separated, forced apart by the different roles they have to play in fighting the Nightbringer and those who work for him.  The story is told from four perspectives, most often alternating between Elias, Laia, and the Blood Shrike (Helene) with occasional appearances of the Nightbringer.  Although his perspective is given infrequently, I appreciated the layers it lent his character and the insight into his motivations.

A Reaper at the Gates brims with heart-pounding action, gut-wrenching twists, and some much anticipated answers to some of the questions readers have been dying to know.  Things don't always go well for any of the characters.  In fact, in the third installment, things go terribly terribly wrong more often than not. I loved Tahir's ability to continually surprise me.  Although I may have had the sneaking suspicious that there is more to so-and-so's story, I was never able to pin down specifics until WHAM she hit me in the face with them.  Tahir also doesn't shy away from letting her protagonists fail (and fail hard), which is both a sickening gut-punch and a refreshing change from the all-I-do-is-win-win-win characters that often plague YA fiction.

One of the overarching themes of this book is sacrifice, specifically what people are willing to sacrifice for something or someone that they love.  This theme appears throughout the book, emerging in protagonists and antagonists alike, in often heartbreaking ways.  I loved that most of Tahir's characters were multidimensional -- neither patently good or definitively evil -- and that even those most loathable characters could become strangely sympathetic in a matter of minutes.  I also loved everything about Helene's character arc, her increased use of magic, and her evolving motivations; the simmering romantic tension between her and a certain soldier didn't hurt either. 

While I did enjoy the book as a whole, I struggled with a few minor details.  In this book, Helene's perspective is labeled 'The Blood Shrike'.  Even in Elias' perspective, he frequently refers to his old friend using the same terminology.  While I understand Helene's desire to distance herself from the the person she was before, it makes no sense for Elias to have adopted this kind of distancing language, especially in his own head.  In fact, it would make more sense that he would insist on referring to her as Helene instead of the Blood Shrike.  That having been said, Elias also has plenty of his own issues to deal with in this book, so perhaps his mind was just elsewhere.  I didn't particularly care for his arc this time around (as it firmly headed down a frustrating path), nor did I like where things were left at the end of this book, but that is pretty common for the book preceding the finale.  I have my fingers and toes crossed that things will veer dramatically in the next book. 

The scope of A Reaper at the Gates encompasses a larger geographic area, with more characters, a more plot complications than previous books.  I read the first half of this book in spurts (because KIDS), barely managing more than a few pages or a short chapter at a time, which made it hard to keep track of certain details. HOWEVER, right around the halfway mark my beloved husband took my four girls backpacking for a week and you can bet your pretty little book binding I sat myself down and finished this book in one shot.  My ability to read without interruption helped me finally connect to the story and holy cannoli it was INTENSE!  My chest hurt and my stomach was in knots for most of the rest of the book, leading up to a cliffhanger that had me reaching for A Sky Beyond the Storm, the final bo....WHAT DO YOU MEAN, IT's NOT OUT YET?  Well, crap. 

(Psssttt.. I wrote this review in August.  The book comes out next week)

My Rating: 4 Stars.

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some fairly minimal swearing (a few instances of the B and H words).  Some sensual dialogue, making out, and some almost-but-not-quite sex.
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The final installment of this series is coming....

December 1, 2020

Ugh.  I hate waiting.


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today - Anssi Ruusuvuori

Summary:  For a Finn, the puukko is the most important tool and at the same time the most feared weapon.  You could almost say the puukko has the same importance for a Finn as the samurai sword has for the Japanese.  It is a 2,000-year-old mystical weapon that has been used for centuries with the same conviction and dexterity during times of peace and war.  This comprehensive resource on the Finnish puukko is the only one available and covers the history and the various types by using extensive photos of examples.  Anssi Ruusuvuori has reprocessed the history of this remarkable knife type in a form unique up to now.  He deals with technical and design aspects of the puukko and guides the reader through the history of this legendry tool and weapon from the Viking era up to the present.  He reports about the great master smiths of industrialization in the late 19th century and about rediscovering the puukko in the recent past.  This book's initial focus is on the puukko's technology and history.  In the second section, the author introduces the different puukko types according to their materials and construction.  Thereafter are presented the multiples regional types and special puukkos, which are essential to know about as a collector and knife enthusiast.  This book provides a comprehensive overview with respect to the topic "puukko" and transfers a rich treasure of knowledge.  During its long history, the puukko was used for a great diversity of tasks, such as the production of ladles and other household tools; the carving of ornaments: scratching ice off cart wheels; cutting food; gutting and skinning of game, fish, or livestock; climbing out of an ice hole back to firm ground; and magic rituals (to protect children from evil spirits, to pray for a good harvest, and so on).  It was used for self-defense and for duels.  The main source of material for this book is the puukko collections of Finnish museums and private collectors.  The greater part of researched knives is from the National Museum of Finland.  Additional material was gathered from the Kauhava Puukko Museum, the Peura Museum, the Turku Regional Museum, the Aboa Vetus et Ars Nova Museum, the Ostrobothnian Museum, the Museum of Crime, and various private collections.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  When I married my husband, I also married into his Finnish heritage and his love of Finnish knives.  So, when I saw The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today while flipping through the Schiffer book catalog, I knew he would kill mame knock over the elderly love to get his hands on it.  When he finally did, he parked himself on the couch and poured over it, mesmerized for a solid hour before coming up for air, eating some dinner, and diving back in.  Honestly, I can't say that I blame him.  The Puukko is a hefty volume, full of a wealth of historical information and a vast collection of puukko photographs.  All that having been said, I'm really not the best person to review any book on the subject -- so I'll just let him tell you:

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, immigrants from Finland settled in the small communities near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. The Finn's were drawn to the logging and fishing industries; and the similarities to the homes they left behind. At that time, several of my ancestors emigrated from western Finland. They brought with them their language and heritage, which has been passed down and celebrated. I remember many trips out to the old family homestead to visit my great Aunt Alice. It was always fascinating to look at all of the old family heirlooms that decorated her walls and shelves.  Among the items were two very old Finnish puukko, or knives, in worn leather sheaths, that had belonged to my great-great grandfather, Able.  My great-aunt still lives on that homestead and the knives are still displayed on one of her shelves.  

My family has always celebrated our heritage throughout the year, but never quite as much as during the third weekend in June when local Scandinavians in Astoria, Oregon host an annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, a three-day event is filled with crafts and food, music and dancing.  I remember with fondness wandering through all the different booths, but my favorite by far was the booth with the large display cases of  Finnish knives.  Year after year, I would return to admire the ornate knives.  There were all manner of knives with carved brass pommels, birch bark handles and brightly polished carbon steel blades.  There were larger hunting-style leuku, the smaller puukko, and other combinations with a large knife and small knife sharing the same sheath.  There were the more practical knives, similar those of my great-great grandfather and even fancy, ornate knives for special occasions.  I longed for one of these knives.

I finally got my first Finnish puukko in early adolescence, when my parents bought me a knife to go with my Finnish dance costume.  It was a special edition Iisakki Jarvenpaa puuko with brass horsehead pommel and a black handle (seen above) and was worn clipped to a leather belt, adorned with dangling brass hearts. I wore the knife for many years, dancing at the festival.  On more than one occasion, the knife would work its way out of the sheath during one of the dance numbers, much to the chagrin of the dance instructor, but I always felt that a Finnish puukko stuck point-down into the stage made the dancing a little more exciting.  Not only was my puukko a thing of beauty, it was sharp as hell (Finns are quite finicky about the sharpness of their blades).  Although my dancing days are behind me, my fascination with Finnish knives has remained and in recent years I have started experimenting with making my own puukkos. 
My wife surprised me with The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today when I got home from work and I was immediately engrossed in what I can only describe as the foremost authoritative compilation of the puukko I have ever seen.  It became quickly evident that I barely understood the historical and cultural significance of the puukko.  The author begins by laying out the history of the knife, identifying some of the earliest puukko that have been discovered, detailing the knife style in the time of the Viking and early European eras and on to the development of the knife in modern day. 

It was actually rather difficult to read the first part of this book, because it is chock-full of full-color photographs of fascinating knives (see examples below).  After covering the history of the puukko, the book becomes more showcasing and describing the individual knives.  Each page thereafter displays a few examples of similar puukko, with additional photos and descriptions that are significant to the knives shown.   The pages identify the maker of the knife, size, materials and other interesting facts.   The writing pulls you in as it describes the unique features of the different kinds of knives, sheaths or knife makers.  

The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today would be a great coffee table book. These knives are more than just practical tools; they are pieces of art.  Even someone who has never heard of the puukko, will get pulled into this book by the beauty and intricacy of the various knives and sheaths.  Any serious puukko enthusiast or collector will appreciate the beautiful photographs, historical background, and references.  By the end of the book, both the casual observer and the avid collector will be able to say that the Finns really know how to make knives!

Okay, back to me now.   As you can see, my husband straight-up loved this book and I scored some major brownie points by giving it to him (with the caveat that he review it here...I am not above bribery).  In case his review didn't make it incredibly clear,  The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today would be a great gift for any collector, knife maker, or knife enthusiast in your life, especially if they happen to be Finnish.  

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  All clear

Monday, November 16, 2020

Sharks in the Time of Saviors - Kawai Strong Washburn


 Summary: "Sharks in the Time of Saviors is the story of a family, a people, and a legend, all wrapped in one. Faith and grief, rage and love, this book pulses with all of it. Kawai Strong Washburn makes his debut with a wealth of talent and a true artist's eye." --Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling

In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.

Nainoa's family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods--a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family's legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai'i--with tragic consequences--they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book. First of all, I loved the immersion in Hawaiian culture. I just reviewed Fire and Vengeance, and that also took place in Hawaii, and I find that sometimes my reading goes in spurts like that and it’s really enjoyable. I’m all about a deep dive into different cultures or people. I think it’s fascinating, especially if it’s a topic I don’t know a lot about. Although I have been to Hawaii exactly once, and that was 30 years ago (I was a child, and yet it seems strange to be able to say 30 years ago and not be exaggerating), I’ve always felt a pull by it. I’ve been to many tropical locations since (well , not many, but some) and they are beautiful and paradise, but Hawaii remains the mysterious, volcanic, lush, laid back and yet tempestuous exotic place. It’s part of the United States and yet it’s completely different—geographically and culturally, in a lot of ways. I loved the way Kawai Strong Washburn fostered this in this book. The culture is familiar and yet foreign, and it is so rich and varied because of the cultural backgrounds of the people. I appreciated Washburn addressing the different races of the people in Hawaii, and it was interesting to see how those cultural interactions have come to a cohesive whole over the years.

I really enjoyed the magical realism in this book. It was the best kind of magical realism, I think, wherein it is almost excusable as just a person with extraordinary talents and abilities, and barely crosses the line where actual magic is performed. I like books about real magic, too, but it is fun to think that there are some things in the world that really are magical; that there are enough unexplained things that the world still holds some mystery and discovery yet to be had.

Washburn was not afraid to take on some difficult family relationships and issues. Even the most functional family still has issues to work through, right? Everyone has experienced some sort of trauma or difficulties, and this family certainly had its fair share. Washburn is able to help us understand each person’s troubles with the rotating narrator viewpoint, which I usually really enjoy. This was no exception. I like seeing what different characters are thinking and feeling, and this works especially well when the characters are in different geographical places.

This book had an interesting and powerful ending. I liked that it came full circle and resolved all the loose ends. Although it didn’t necessarily have the perfect happy ending, it definitely felt satisfying. This book was well-written. Washburn takes on a lot and delivers in the end.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and some discussion of sex, including same-sex relationships.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Freeform Friday: Another Bill Peet Trio (Including Bill Peet: An Autobiography, Kermit the Hermit, and Hubert's Hair Raising Adventure)

I am ashamed to say I didn't discover the complete and utter awesomeness that is Bill Peet, until just this year.  It may very well be the only good thing that I get out of 2020.  I've already reviewed three of this books, but here are three more...

  • Bill Peet: An Autobiography
  • Kermit the Hermit
  • Hubert's Hair Raising Adventure

...because, clearly, I can't get enough of them.  

Summary: Bill Peet tells his life story, including his years with Disney, with illustrations on every page.  (Summary from goodreads.com - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I wish I could own the entire Bill Peet collection, but as the collection is quite large and I am not independently wealthy, I am resigned to reading as many as I can and hoping to own my favorites.  In my quest for the best, I was surprised to find this autobiography mixed in with all the children's fiction on some of the internet's "Best of Bill Peet" lists.  When I found out it was both a Caldecott Honor Book and an ALA Notable book, I knew I had to read it and I am so glad I did.

Bill Peet: An Autobiography is an absolutely charming memoir that tells the author's life story with a beautiful balance of text and illustrations.  I followed the ups and downs of Peet's life with rapt attention and reveled in its nostalgic feel.  His somewhat idyllic childhood spent on the farm, gamboling about the countryside, dreaming of African safaris, and sketching his heart out, was tempered by Peet's rocky relationship with his father, the death of his grandmother, the Great Depression, and his struggles with school and employment. Eventually landing a job at Disney, Peet worked on animated classics like Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Peter Pan, Song of the South, Cinderella, numerous short films, and even helped produce wartime propaganda.  It was fascinating to read about Peet's projects, the early animation processes, and the idiosyncrasies of Disney's oh-so-famous founder.  Armed with this history, it was to see how Peet's interests and experiences -- his love of trains, animals, cars, dragons, the circus, the farm, and even some of life's harder knocks -- informed and influenced his artwork throughout his career.  


I would recommend this book to anyone who loves Bill Peet or simply loves children's literature.  Although Peet's story is quite engaging, with cross-generational appeal, the undeniable star of the book is -- surprise, surprise -- his illustrations, which both enhance the story and showcase Peet's unique abilities, iconic style, and delightful characters.  Those illustrations made me want to look up every book he'd ever written and watch every short film he'd ever animated.  My only complaint is that the book ended rather abruptly.  One minute he was talking about his projects post-Disney and then BAM. End of book.  I suppose the mark of a good book is that you don't want it to finish, and I definitely closed the book wanting more. 

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: One of the sketches has the vaguest suggestion of a bare bum jumping into a swimming hole.  Super shaded.  Not detailed.  

_______________________________________________


Summary:  A little boy saves Kermit from disaster, and the once cranky crab works hard to repay him. 

In Monterey Bay there's a jumble of rock
Stacked up like a castle across from the dock.
The king of his castle, an old crab called Kermit,
Lived all by himself in his cave like a hermit.
There was never a crab who was one half as selfish
Or one tenth as mean as this crusty old shellfish....

(Summary from goodreads.com and billpeet.net  - Image from barnesandnoble.com)

My Review:  I'm not one of those people that judges a book by its cover (#YesIAm) but just look at that cantankerous crustacean!  Isn't he adorable?!  His crabby little face really appealed to my inner hermit and I knew I had to give this book a chance.  I am so glad I did!

Kermit the hermit crab lives in a cave down by the docks where he has to fight seagulls and other crabs for every scrap of food.  Kermit soon becomes greedy for other things and starts hoarding all sorts of junk he doesn't even need, crowding it all in to his home in the rocks.  There Kermit lived, alone with his stuff, until one day he spotted something shiny on the beach and left his lair to investigate.  The shiny something turns out to be nothing more than an old can, but Kermit runs afoul of an old dog who tries to bury him in the sand.  A raggedy young boy saves the cranky old crab from the dog and sends him back into the ocean.  Kermit is overcome with gratitude wants to find a way to reward the youth for his good deed.  In one such attempt, Kermit is whisked out to sea and into the middle of a fabulous adventure, where he finds a very special way to show his gratitude. I won't spoil it for you, but it involves a pelican and a flying crab, so you definitely won't want to miss it.  

As previously stated, Kermit is stinking cute.  Even cranky, it's impossible not to love his moody mug.  Children will thoroughly enjoy reading about Kermit's adventures on both land, sea, and in the air, accompanied by classic Peet illustrations.  Personally, I loved the eloquent and clever rhyming verse -- kids books always seem so much more fun to read when they rhyme -- and how the story shows that people can change, the importance of gratitude, and that small actions can have enormous, transformative consequences.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has kids, or reads to kids, or knows kids, or just likes Bill Peet books in general.  Kermit the Hermit is one of my favorites.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  All good.  

___________________________ _____________________

Summary: Hubert the Lion was haughty and vain and especially proud of his elegant mane. Then one day, a terrible accident occurred and his mane was burned, leaving him with a "head full of stubble." So begins Hubert's story... (Summary from billpeet.net - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure was the first picture book ever published by Bill Peet.  Since then, he has written more than 30 beloved children's books as well as an award-winning illustrated autobiography (reviewed above).  While I haven't been able to read all of his books yet (#goals), this one is high up my list of "favorites".

In Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventures a young prideful lion loses his mane in a dreadful fire.  Ashamed and embarrassed, he hides from the other animals, until one nosy bird discovers his secret and shares it with the other animals.  Soon a veritable menagerie gathers to gawk at the lion's misfortune and brainstorm of a solution.  Many of the animals offer ideas, but only Elephant is willing to venture into the swamp to collect the necessary ingredients to help Hubert's hairlessness -- crocodile tears.  When Elephant returns, the animals gather to see if the tear tonic will work and, boy, does it ever!  Hairy hijinks ensue, a Baboon with scissors takes center-stage, and Hubert's ends up with thoroughly unique coiffure that will leave young ones giggling.

As with Kermit the Hermit (see above), Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure is written in rhyming verse. Not all of Peet's books rhyme, and they are great either way, but I find that I prefer it when his words have the gentle lilt that comes with certain kinds of poetry.  I also loved the book's subtle messages regarding friendship, self-acceptance, helping others, and embracing one's individuality.  Sadly, this is probably the last Bill Peet book I will review because at this point I feel like I am repeating myself in these reviews (a la  Peet's books are charming, clever, and well-illustrated with a subtle moral message). Simply put, they are all the things that I think a good children's book should be.  If you haven't read Bill Peet, your life is not complete (see what I did there?), so get to it!

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Baldness is presented as something undesirable and embarrassing, which could be problematic for a portion of the population.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Among the Ten Thousand Things - Julia Pierpont

Summary: Jack Shanley is a well-known New York artist, charming and vain, who doesn't mean to plunge his family into crisis.  His wife, Deb, gladly left behind a difficult career as a dancer to raise the two children she adores.  In the ensuing years, she has mostly avoided coming face-to-face with the weaknesses of the man she married.  But then an anonymously sent package arrives in the mail: a cardboard box containing sheaves of printed emails chronicling Jack's secret life.  The package is addressed to Deb, but it's delivered into the wrong hands: her children's.  

(Summary from back of book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Among the Ten Thousand Things has been described as "a luscious, smart summer novel," "obsessively compelling," and "emotionally sophisticated."  Clearly, there are people in the world who read this book, finished, and loved it.   Alas, I am not one of them.

Initially, this story is about a mysterious box left for a woman that gives evidence of her husband's secret life.  I was hopeful it would contain all the details of his secret spy life, but it did not.  Instead it held printed copies of all the text messages between said man and his mistress, some of which were very explicit.  I hoped the book would focus more on the repercussions of the box than its contents and continued to read, but as the text messages made their way onto the page, I decided to call it quits.  I just couldn't stomach the profanity and sexually graphic text.  It's entirely possible that the novel improves after a few chapters and never touches on the subject again, but ultimately, I decided it wasn't for me. 

My Rating: 1 Star.  Did not finish.

For the sensitive reader:  This book is not for those sensitive to profanity or sexually explicit text.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Fire and Vengeance - Robert B. McCaw

Summary: Having killed his father’s nemesis and gotten away with it, Hilo, Hawai`i Chief Detective Koa Kane, is not your ordinary cop. Estranged from his younger brother who has been convicted of multiple crimes, he is not from a typical law enforcement family. Yet, Koa’s secret demons fuel his unwavering drive to pursue justice. Never has Koa’s motivation been greater than when he learns that an elementary school was placed atop a volcanic vent, which has now exploded. The subsequent murders of the school’s contractor and architect only add urgency to his search for the truth. As Koa’s investigation heats up, his brother collapses in jail from a previously undiagnosed brain tumor. Using his connections, Koa devises a risky plan to win his brother’s freedom. As Koa gradually unravels the obscure connections between multiple suspects, he uncovers a 40 year-old conspiracy. When he is about to apprehend the perpetrators, his investigation suddenly becomes entwined with his brother’s future, forcing Koa to choose between justice for the victims and his brother’s freedom. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I really like crime novels. They’re a lot of fun. I’m not sure what the psychology is behind all of this love of murder and crime and such, but I can tell from the long list of crime authors let alone the offerings on all streaming services that I’m not the only one. It’s comforting to be a disturbed individual when you’re not the only disturbed individual, right?

This book had an interesting premise. I always enjoy reading about different places, and I consider Hawaii to be an interesting and culturally different place from many other places I’ve read about. Coincidentally enough, I just read Sharks in the Times of Saviors that takes place in Hawaii and has lots of interesting discussion of Hawaiian culture and such, and I'll be reviewing that soon!

To be honest, I would have liked more cultural immersion in this book. I appreciate that the author is not Hawaiian and has talked to other sources in order to get more cultural information, and I would have liked more of that. I know that it is a careful balance between accurately representing a culture from secondhand information and actually being a part of that culture. I think that McCaws’ interest in being authentic and representing Hawaiian culture accurately showed through here, and I appreciated that because it is pretty lame when a culture is represented inaccurately by an outsider, but I would have liked even more cultural information to better add to the feeling of the Hawaiianness of the book and the story, especially as to how it related to the story and the story’s resolution.

I had a somewhat difficult time buying the premise of this story. Maybe I’m just a person who thinks too highly of people in general, which is entirely possible, but I would like to think that a whole bunch of people would not collude together to let an elementary school be built on top of a volcano mouth. I mean, that is pretty stupid and dangerous and seems like a complete recipe for disaster. I also had a similar difficulty in buying the way everything was tied up at the end. I don’t want to give anything away, but I do feel like some pretty drastic things had to line up in order to have the ending it did. I like it when endings feel more organic, even if it makes them messier than I would have liked.

I did like the characters. There were a lot to choose from that had some interesting back stories and a wide cast of interesting peripheral characters gave the book lots of flavor and interest. There were some connections between some of the characters I would have liked to have explored more, and there were a few times I was somewhat confused, but all in all I thought that the story moved along quickly and had strong characterization.

If you’re into crime mysteries, especially those that take place in exotic locations with interesting characters and interesting back stories, you should check this out.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and also a gang rape scene that is not too explicit but definitely discussed.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Freeform Friday: One Crazy Summer - Rita Williams-Garcia

Summary: Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history Onw Crazy Summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 in search of the mother who abandoned them.  It's an unforgettable story told by a distinguised author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review: I am going to be painfully honest right now.  In the past, I haven't been in the habit of searching out books that tell stories from a black perspective.  It's not that I have anything against the BIPOC genre, I just haven't put a lot of thought into my selections or tried to push myself to expand my reading repertoire.  However, I am trying to be more intentional in my choice of reading material. One Crazy Summer is one of the first books that I chose to start this journey.  And, yes, it's a children's historical fiction book and not an epic manifesto.  Baby steps, okay?  It's award-winning*.  See all those shiny circles on the cover!

One Crazy Summer is the bittersweet tale of three young black sisters who are sent across the country to visit their estranged mother during the summer of 1968.  Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern don't have much say in the matter when they are shipped off to see Cecile, the woman who abandoned them when Fern was just a baby.  They aren't sure what to expect, but what they get is a woman who is far more interested in her own poetry than she is in their existence.  As the eldest, Delphine takes it upon herself to care for her sisters while they navigate the murky waters that surround their mother and her indifference. During their stay in Oakland, the sisters have their own adventures, discovering a life quite different from the one they had in Brooklyn, rubbing elbows with Black Panthers, participating in a movement, making new friends, and seeing the sights.

I loved the personality differences between each sister -- the responsible and pragmatic Delphine, outgoing and attention-seeking Vonetta, and determined little Fern.  As the mother of four young girls, I can attest that their different personalities and sisterly interaction (re: mostly bickering) felt incredibly genuine.  Delphine is an emotionally complex narrator; she has all the feelings you would expect her to feel about her mother.  She's angry, hurt, and (though she tries to hide it) hungry for acknowledgment, or, at the very least, an explanation for her abandonment.  At times, her perspective laid bare certain racist attitudes and inequalities of the 1960s that made me incredibly uncomfortable, primarily because it has become increasingly clear that they still exist today.  It's not a criticism of the text. However discomfiting, I think that those moments have value and pave the way for important conversations.

Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to read One Crazy SummerEnjoyable and entertaining, don't seem to be quite the right descriptors, but I do feel edified by the experience.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some topics regarding racism and maternal abandonment might be difficult to read.

*One Crazy Summer has received numerous accolades.  It earned the Coretta Scott King Award and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, is a 2011 Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award finalist, and was named Book of the Year by no less than seven major publications.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Max's Box - Brian Wray (Illus. Shiloh Penfield)

Max's Box: Letting Go of Negative Feelings: Wray, Brian, Penfield ...
Summary: Max's parents give him a very special gift; a tiny box that will hold everything.  After putting in his beloved firetruck and fluffy stuffed dog, Max discovers that the Box grows after each item is added.  But that's not all -- Max's box also holds his feelings.  When Max is angry, the anger goes straight into the box.  With each feeling it stores, the larger it grows, and the larger the Box grows, the harder it is for Max to do anything.  Before long, Max's Box is so big, it holds him back from enjoying regular kid activities, like riding his bike or climbing trees.  Eventually, with some very special help and a lot of imagination, Max is able to turn the Box into something beautiful and let it go.

(Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  Max has a box.  In it, he puts his favorite ball, his pirate ship, his stuffed dog, and his lucky red truck and with each toy his box grows in size.  However, the box doesn't only hold toys; it holds his emotions too.  Max's anger, hurt, frustration, embarrassment, sadness and worry all go inside and the box continues to expand.  When the Box too big, Max insists he can still carry it on his own, but eventually it becomes harder and harder to enjoy everyday activities.  After all, you can't climb a tree or go swimming with a giant box tied to your back.  One day a beautiful red ladybug lands on his box and it gives Max hope -- and an idea.  He draws a balloon on his box and invites others to do the same.  With each balloon, the box feels a little bit lighter until it begins to float.  Eventually Max is able to acknowledge his negative emotions and let them go.

I loved the visual image of a box getting bigger and heavier as we pack stuff in it, and it would certainly help a child imagine how we might feel inside when we hold on to negative emotions.  That part of the book is exceptional.  I am slightly less clear on how Max went from ooh-a-ladybug, to let-me-draw-a-balloon, to the concept of releasing negative emotions.  As an adult, I can see the connection if I mentally squint a bit, but I wonder if a kid will make the mental leap.  However, I do love one line in particular that really sums up the whole book: "It's ok to have all kinds of feelings," Father whispered. "But once you feel them, their job is done."  That's a message worth hearing.

Ultimately, Max's Box is a useful tool for the parental toolbox, especially for parents who want to talk to their child about what to do with BIG feelings.  The final pages of the book are informational and designed to help parents react to a child's emotion in healthy and helpful ways.  Most of Penfield's illustrations are black and white with small pops of blue (like the cover above); however, as Max learns to let go of his feelings the illustrations become more vividly hued, culminating in several full-color pages, which I thought was a nice touch.  I'd recommend this book to a parent whose child often feels overwhelmed by BIG feelings, especially negative ones.  It might not alleviate their burden entirely, but it might help shrink their box a bit.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Nothing to worry about

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Vanishing Deep - Astrid Scholte

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Tempe was born into a world of water. When the Great Waves destroyed her planet, its people had to learn to survive living on the water, but the ruins of the cities below still called. Tempe dives daily, scavenging the ruins of a bygone era, searching for anything of value to trade for Notes. It isn't food or clothing that she wants to buy, but her dead sister's life. For a price, the research facility on the island of Palindromena will revive the dearly departed for twenty-four hours before returning them to death. It isn't a heartfelt reunion that Tempe is after; she wants answers. Elysea died keeping a terrible secret, one that has ignited an unquenchable fury in Tempe: Her beloved sister was responsible for the death of their parents. Tempe wants to know why.

But once revived, Elysea has other plans. She doesn't want to spend her last day in a cold room accounting for a crime she insists she didn't commit. Elysea wants her freedom and one final glimpse at the life that was stolen from her. She persuades Tempe to break her out of the facility, and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents' death and mend their broken bond. But they're pursued every step of the way by two Palindromena employees desperate to find them before Elysea's time is up--and before the secret behind the revival process and the true cost of restored life is revealed.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Sometimes when I’m going along and living in a pandemic and my kids have school online and that sucks and ya know, the normal 2020 stuff, I just decide that I want to check out and read some good ole dystopian YA fic. I don’t know about you, but I feel like if the book is decently written and the premise is somewhat interesting and fun, I can tear through that book like it’s no big thang and be grateful for the distraction. Because I read several books at a time, sometimes I like to have a little dystopian YA fic to give me a break from more serious reading. It’s also a good stop gap when I’m feeling a reading struggle—like the book I’m reading isn’t really grasping my attention and I’m having to force myself to read. A dystopian fic can snap me out of that.

So let’s get to Vanishing Deep, shall we? The premise of this book was spooky—a world covered in water because of the Great Waves, and in some ways I liked this. While of course the oceans really are rising due to global warming, and there is a very real possibility that some land will no longer exist because of it, the idea of Great Waves coming to take over almost all land on earth is not as possible as other things and therefore not as scary. As it’s 2020 and we’ve already lived/are living through some pretty scary things, I’m okay with something that isn’t completely imminent feeling. Dystopia with just enough reality to be interesting and applicable, but not enough reality to be actually frighteningly scary. That’s my kind of dystopia at this point.

I liked the story and the characters in the book. The characters weren’t as fleshed out as some I’ve read, but they were real enough that I felt like I could relate to them. They had some really interesting back stories, which I think were addressed well enough that I felt like we cared about what happened to them. There was also room for adjacent or companion books, which is always nice. I feel like characters should be interesting enough that they could have their own book in the world as well. The story was a fun adventure as well, and tragic in its own right. It had enough pirates, peril, and adventure to keep me reading right to the end! I read this book quickly—in just a few days, and enjoyed it.

I don’t know how much reality and feasibility you expect, but I just read Shadow Divers and these girls are divers as well (which makes sense since they live in a world of water), but obviously Scholte hadn’t taken any deep dives (har har) into diving because there was barely surface level (har har) knowledge of it and what it would take to actually dive like they were doing, some of which was impossible anyway. That’s okay, though. I wasn’t reading it for the reality of the diving.

If you’re into dystopian fiction and looking for a fun quick read and a good diversion from All Things 2020, you should check this out.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are a few swear words, mostly for shock value, and really no discussion of sex. There is some light teen romance and kissing. 

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