Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: At the Edge of the World by Kari Jones

Synopsis: Maddie and Ivan have been friends forever. They go to school together, surf, party, and hang out all the time. But all is not well in Ivan's world, and as control of his life slips further away from him, Maddie must decide what her role in his life really is.

Review: Kari Jones’ At the Edge of the World is a young adult book that centers on the relationship between Maddie and Ivan. Maddie lives with her parents in a house by the sea, somewhere in Canada. Her best friend, Ivan, lives next door. Ivan’s father is an alcoholic, and Ivan works to conceal the extent of his father’s addiction. As the story progresses, Maddie learns all the thing Ivan is concealing and struggles to decide how to support Ivan best – to protect his secrets or the tell for Ivan can get help.
I admire Jones for tackling a subject like how the addictions of the parents can affect the child. And she handles it well.
However this doesn’t really redeem the story from the issues.
The characters have little depth and the issues they face (other than Ivan) seem trite. For example, Maddie gets into a prestigious art school with a scholarship but complains about going. I find this ridiculous and annoying. And this is probably because I haven’t been a teenager for twenty years, and there is a reality to it. Teenagers rarely understand the blessing they have. This is a “big deal” for Maddie, as her parents want her to attend, but she resists.
The story is a slow, aside from a few moments of contrived excitement – like a shed fire and a missing parent and a big party.
One bright point is Maddie’s parents. They are two men, and I appreciate that this isn’t even mentioned as part of the story. In the tale, they are just  her parents.
Kari Jones shows promise as an author, and I expect as she writes more, the issues I have with this book will be corrected. 

Note: I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Review Program, in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-459810-624
Year Published: 2016
Date Finished: 9-8-16
Pages: 243

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh

Synopsis: The Beyond started with the Stations orbiting the stars nearest Earth. The Great Circle the interstellar freighters traveled was long, but not unmanageable, and the early Stations were emotionally and politically dependent on Mother Earth. The Earth Company which ran this immense operation reaped incalculable profits and influenced the affairs of nations. Then came Pell, the first station centered around a newly discovered living planet. The discovery of Pell's World forever altered the power balance of the Beyond. Earth was no longer the anchor which kept this vast empire from coming adrift, the one living mote in a sterile universe. But Pell was just the first living planet. Then came Cyteen, and later others, and a new and frighteningly different society grew in the farther reaches of space. The importance of Earth faded and the Company reaped ever smaller profits as the economic focus of space turned outward. But the powerful Earth Fleet was sitll a presence in the Beyond, and Pell Station was to become the last stronghold in a titanic struggle between the vast, dynamic forces of the rebel Union and those who defended Earth's last, desperate grasp for the stars. (from the back of the book)

Review: After reading my first novel by Cherryh, Foreigner, resulting in mixed thoughts, I wanted to try another. I chose Downbelow Station because it is her most-lauded work. As with Foreigner, it took me at least half way through to get hooked, and even after that, I would set the book down for long stretches of time. This is a conundrum because I enjoyed the book, found the story intricate, intriguing, and well-told, and the characters complex, complete, and tangible. Several scenes even gave me the physical chills. So why did I have a hard time finishing this novel?
Perhaps it is because so much of the story is political maneuvering or the running internal dialogue of the characters? Perhaps because the action doesn’t start until near the end and the first two-thirds of the book is set-up for the bloody last third? Either way, I’m tempted to say it’s a characteristic of Cherryh, but I would need to read at least two more of her novels to really say with certainty. Cherryh’s strength is her characters. They have a complexity rare in fiction, one that as an aspiring writer, I must learn. In particular, her character Signy Mallory, will stay with me as a favorite, not just in Cherryh’s universe, but from any book I’ve read.
As with Foreigner, I finished this book certain that this is a well-told story, one worth the accolades, and one I will recommend. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

1982: Hugo Award for Best Novel:  Winner
1982: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel: shortlist Nominee
1987: Locus Award, All-Time Best SF Novel: Position 41
1998: Locus Award, All-Time Best SF Novel Before 1990: Position 25 

Year Published: 1981
Date Finished: 9-6-2016
Pages: 526

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Hiroshima: A Novella by Laurence Yep

Synopsis: On the morning of August 6, 1945, an American bomber the Enola Gay, roars down the runway of the Pacific island, Tinian. Its target is Hiroshima, Japan. It's cargo is an atom bomb. The same morning, twelve-year-old Sachi and her classmates tear down houses. It is their way of contributing to the war efforts. Suddenly, a teacher yells, "B-29! B-29!" There is a blinding light like the sun a boo like a giant drum. The Enola Gay has dropped an atom bob over Hiroshima. Will Sachi ever see family again? (from the back of the book)

Review: The uncomplicated prose and vocabulary of this book belies the impact of the story and the emotion that it stirs. Yep uses simple words to describe this horrific event in World History. He doesn’t avoid the hard truths. He explains radiation and its effect on the human body. He speaks of the flames that consumed the acid rain that fell, the piled bodies of the dead, the loss, the horror, the death. The story starts with a fictional girl, Sachi, who is pulled from the real experience of several women.  The reader walks with her, through her day, through the fire, the burning rain, the loss of her father and sister, and her eventual travel to the US as one of the Hiroshima Maidens.
This is not a book for a faint-hearted child, but it is intended to child. The language is directed at elementary-age reader. This is a profound work, and worth reading. It is a necessary addition to a home-school library, and excellent as an introduction to this event in history. 

Bookmarks: 9 of 10

Awards: An ALA Booklist Editors' Choice; A Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies.

ISBN: 0-590-20833-0
Year Published: 1995
Date Finished: 9-4-2016
Pages: 56

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: Biography of Water by Carrie Bennett

Synopsis: Carrie Bennett is an award-wining poet, and this is one of her most lauded work.

Review: I can see why modern poetry critics would laud Bennett's work. But it seems pretentious and overly vague. Even the structures of the poem seem to be trying too hard. Despite the praise, there was little passion or depth to the prose. Just mumbo jumbo, as if she tossed scrabble letters onto the floor and wrote down the works. There was no story to her work. Other may find more in her work than I. But this was not for me.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: Washington Prize Winner, 2004

ISBN: 0-915380-58-7
Year Published: 2005
Date Finished: 9-3-2016
Pages: 71

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: Growing Up In: Ancient China by Ken Teague (Growing Up In Series)

Synopsis: Who ere the ancient Chinese? What was everyday life like for young people in a Chinese town? How did farming families live in the country? What was it like inside a Chinese house? Did boys and girls go to school? What happened at the New Year Festival? In the book, you will find the answers to these and many more fascinating questions. (from the back of the book)

Review: Written in clear prose, this book takes the reader through Ancient China. The illustrations are lively and colorful, designed to engage young readers. The book explores the culture and people of ancient China in such a way that children will understand and enjoy. This would an excellent addition to any home or school children's library. I hope to collect all the books in this series.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-8167-2716-3
Year Published: 1994
Date Finished: 9-3-2016
Pages: 32

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deobrah Hopkinson, ill. by James Ransome

Synopsis: Clara is a seamstress in the Big House on Home Plantation. Slavery has separated her from her mother, and she dreams that one day they will be reunited. Walking home from the Big House one evening, Clara's Aunt Rachel points to the North Star and tells her about Canada, the free land in the north. She also tells her about the Underground Railroad - a group of people who help slaves escape to freedom. When Clara learns about the route to Canada she begins working on a special quilt - one with a secret map. But will Clara's quilt be enough to guide her and other slaves to freedom. (From the back of the book)

Review: With colorful illustrations and simple prose, this book tells the story of a young girl who dreams of freedom. But no slave leaves because they don't know the way - until Clara figures out a way to make a map. She salvages scraps from sewing, and slowly builds a map from the fabric. Other slaves gather information about the land between them and the Ohio river - the place where the Underground Railway begins. Full of courage and imagination, Clara opens the way to freedom, for herself and others. Worth reading, and excellent for children.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: Reading Rainbow

ISBN: 0-590-42485-8
Year Published: 1993
Date Finished: 9-3-2016
Pages: 32

Review: Collecting with Vision: Treasures from the Chrysler Museum of Art ed. by Jefferson C. Harrison, Gary E Baker, and Brooks Johnson

Synopsis: A review of the collection in the Chrysler Museum of Art, located in Norfolk, Virginia. This book includes the history of the museum and the source of it's extensive and comprehensive collection.

Review: I had hoped this would be focused on the collection but it read more like a very expensive thank-you to donors. Not that I resent thanking donors, but the Chrysler holdings is a brilliant collection and deserve a more comprehensive survey. To it's credit, the book is lovely - glossy and colorful. But I wanted more pictures of the artifacts and arts, and less words about the donors.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-940744-72-1
Year Published: 2007
Date Finished: 8-31-2016
Pages: 160