Review for Sky without Stars

Sky without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

Genre – Science fiction, Teen, Les Miserables retelling

Series – System Divine Book 1

Synopsis –

To start this is a retelling of Les Miserables that is set in the future. There are three young adults whose lives are about to intersect though they don’t know it yet. Chantine, Marcellus, and Alouette all live in different parts on Vallonay. As a revolution begins, the truth comes out and no one is who they thought they were.

My Thoughts –

In my opinion writing a story based of a classic sounds hard. First, you have to keep the basic main points from the original, but also keeping your story fresh and vibrant.

Although this book is set in the future, not much has changed. Yes, our phones are now on our arms and the police have turned into droids, but people are still they same. Segregating themselves onto a rainy planet and warring over resources. I liked this updated feel.

You can tell who the main characters are based off, but here we only have three main characters with Epinine being the one with most page time. I honestly did not care for Chatine as her attitude struck me as arrogant. Took a large chunk for her to even feel sorry for someone other then her self. Marcellus’s character was relatable. Confusion over lies he had been told. Despite his flaws, he truly wanted to do what was right and I liked that. Alouette was OK. I really wanted more about her dad.

The plot felt a little slow at times, but I think that it was preparing for the next book. We spent a lot of time getting to know the characters and their environment. Despite its slowness, I had a hard time putting it down.

Language – Pretty mild, only 5 d words

Innuendo –

A mention of flashing a tette for money. Later on two characters kiss/embrace.

Violence –

Multiple mentions of blood bordels which suck blood out of young girls in exchange for money. We don’t see it actually done, only talk of its existence. Characters view this as awful. Also, a innocent character is put to beheaded. (Characters look away before it occurs). Lots of shooting lasers.

Conclusion –

Les Miserables is such a great story about redemption and forgiveness; and I was honestly surprised someone was retelling it. I think the author did a great job drawing the reader into the story while also giving us descriptions of scenery. Despite the flaws, this series definitely has potential. The book is geared toward young adults.

Have you read Les Miserables? or seen the musical? What are your thoughts?

Review for Offworld

Offworld by Robin Parrish

Series – Book 1 in Dangerous Times

Genre – Christian fiction, science fiction, Dystopian

Rating – PG-13 for perilous situations and violence

Synopsis –

Four astronauts return from a 2 year mission on mars to find no one on earth. Odd things start happening on their voyage through the atmosphere. To make matters worse, Commander Burke starts having visions of a shifting void. Will they figure out where everyone went before its too late?

My Thoughts –

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres as there is an unlimited supply of possibilities and who doesn’t love space travel? Plus the author makes this mission feel fresh and different. It like if you throw Interstellar and War Games into a blender with a dash of end of the world situations.

On the whole I would say this is a plot driven novel. It’s action packed, but leaves a little bit wanting in the character background department. Giving an astronaut Fibromyalgia was interesting and I wish we could have had more detail describing how it affected her. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be left on earth without your family. It would be devastating. The author does a great job exploring how it affects the astronauts differently.

Although the book was classified as Christian fiction, there were only a few mentions of God. A couple brief discussions on whether God exists and a few prayers. There is mention of a divine rift in time and a piece from the heavenly realm has somehow fallen on earth and wreaked havoc. That felt a little bit implausible as God is omniscient, but its science fiction.

Language – A couple references to living in hell.

Innuendo – Some mild talk about how the astronauts would have to repopulate the earth. Later on a character professes his love via a phone call.

Violence – Several of the astronauts get injured during their landing. A character dislocates his arm and has to wear it in a sling. Another character gets buried under a building during its collapse. Several characters die due to getting shot. A few shootouts between characters (not much detail). During an explosion, a character dies self-sacrificially to save the world.

Conclusion –

This book was hard to put down as questions keep building until the end. A perfect science fiction thriller for an afternoon read. I wish there was a sequel as there are unanswered questions. Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It had some interesting points on the lengths we would go to get answers.

Do you have any favorite science fiction novels? What are your thoughts on Offworld?

Review for Will’s Red Coat

Will’s Red Coat by Tom Ryan

Genre – Nonfiction, memoir

Rating – PG-13 for brief strong language

Synopsis –

The author tells the story of an elderly dog named William who had a rough live before being put up for adoption. After hearing about William, Tom Ryan decides to adopt him. Little does he know of the hardships and baggage that Will brings with him. William goes on a journey that transforms him.

My Thoughts –

I had previously listened to the audio book Following Atticus last summer, and it came as a complete surprise when I received Will’s Red Coat for Christmas.

I enjoy the author writing style! It is laid back and personal. We get a glimpse into the wilderness of the New Hampshire mountains. Anytime I read a book like this, it inspires me to go hiking and spend time in nature.

I love Will’s redemptive story. With a little patience and understanding, we can plant seeds that may later lead to a change in person’s life (or an animal in this case). Reminds me how patient Jesus is with us and how he is always ready for when we turn to him.

The chapter about Will’s last days had me in tears. Will’s transformation affected so many lives. I was astounded at how the Facebook group reached out and filled the home with flowers.

Now, the author has an interesting theology and I cannot say that I agree with everything he says especially were salvation is concerned. I also believe the Holy Spirit is the one that does the transformation in our lives. I just wanted to mention that it is there.

Language – There wasn’t a ton, but the F-bomb was used three times. As well as some other uses of colorful language.

Violence – None

Innuendo – None

Conclusion –

Looking for a book that combines picturesque descriptions of landscapes with a dog’s friendship, then this is the book for you! This is a thought provoking novel about dogs impact on our lives. Aimed at adults, but nothing that a mature teen couldn’t handle.

Do you love dogs? Have any favorite dog books? Look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Anna

Review for War and Peace

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Genre – Historical fiction, Russian war

Rating – PG-13 for some mild references to marital affairs and violence in war sections

Synopsis – Note- I am going to take a quote from the introduction of the book to summarize this.

“The book is set in the period of the Napoleonic wars (1805 -1812) and tells of the interweaving of historical events with the private lives of two very different families of the Russian nobility – the severe Bolkonskys and the easygoing Rostovs and of a singular man, reminiscent of the author himself -Count Pierre Bezukhov.”

Pevear, Richard. (2007) Introduction. War and Peace. P. vii.

My Thoughts –

This is such a tough book to review as there was so much that happened in the 1215 pages. This was one of the largest books I have ever read and it takes a while to actually get going. It is a slow, thoughtful novel that reflects the lives of the Russian people during a chaotic time in their history.

On one of the first pages we are given a long list of characters that I thought for sure I would never remember. I think roughly half-way through I stopped looking at the character list as by then you kinda know who everyone was.

Some characters have a big developmental arc as there was plenty of time to have them grow especially Natasha and Pierre. I actually really enjoyed Natasha’s character despite her being a little self-centered. She just felt very realistic, and I loved her with Andrei.

Now the whole set up can be very bothersome at times. Basically you get a volume or section about the character’s social life then it will jump to a section about the war. Some of the war bits got to be pretty dull as Tolstoy would insert his opinion about who the real culprit was for the wars or now Napoleon was or wasn’t great etc.

There was a character’s death that was very tearful and poignant. I wished Tolstoy had not killed that particular character. I so wanted him to make amends with another character. We do get to see a change in him though.

Lastly, I do want to mention that there are some interesting and thought provoking discussions on religion that surprised me. One character does convert to Mormonism, but does turn around from that. A couple characters believe in God (hard to tell whether they are Christian or Catholic). Forgiveness was a minor theme as well.

Innuendo –

Not much, a couple rumors about a wife being unfaithful (We don’t really find out if this was true) One character wore revealing dresses. At one point a character hatches a plan to elope with someone despite the fact that he was already married. (Thankfully, the plan is stopped before it happens).

Language –

There were a couple missuses of the Lord’s name and couple mild uses of language. Also note one word is used a couple times, but refereed to a female dog. Just how the word was used back then.

Violence –

There are sections were we get a look at what battles were like. Several characters were shot, bled, and cut. We are also told that there were many dead bodies laying on the battlefield. At one point a character gets hurt due to a cannonball exploding. Horses are killed for food. Also there was a gun duel where a character was grazed by a bullet. We are also told about an amputation.

Conclusion –

All that, to say that this is a classic, and it should be read at some point in your life. I had wanted to tackle this novel for awhile now. After reading a bunch of fluff, I wanted something that I could sink my teeth into and really dig in. This definitely fit the bill. I’m glad I read it, but also totally done with it. There are some great sections that would make for some good discussions about religion, where power comes from, and who controls history. Was kinda cool to see what Russian life was like during that time. Probably more aimed at adults just due to subject matter and size.

So, have you tackled any classics recently? What is your favorite classic? Thoughts on War and Peace?

Anna

Review for Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Genre – Historical fiction, YA

Rating – PG-13 for maritime disaster and violence

Synopsis –

For this book, I’m going to quote the book’s description

“Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four Secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war. As Thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.”

My thoughts –

This book … I just cannot get it out of my head!!! I finished it the other day and read the ending twice! This is a deep look at a tragedy that occured at the end of WWII.

Ok, let’s start with the characters. They are well drawn out and the author made them very relatable. I had to pause at a point in the book where a character sacrificed themselves. Ugh! So sad, but lifelike. There are four main characters that you get to know. Its written from the view of four young adults. I grew to love three of the main. The fourth character you are not supposed to like. I don’t know how the author did it. The chapters are so short, yet I felt like I was going through everything that the characters went through.

The plot was quick paced and yet, well developed. This was a book I could not put down!! I loved that the author started us midway through the refugees escape to the sea. The secrets came out slowly; we learned about their past bit by bit. Which honestly worked for me. I wished we could have had more time on the ship, actually I wish we could have had more time after the wreck. The book felt too short. I wanted more!!

Some characters stuck out to me more then others. Florian, Joana, and Ingrid. These were my top three, but the wondering boy and the shoe poet were great as well! The way it was written reminded me of The Book Thief which I loved!

This story is a sad, heartbreaking tale of survival and escape.

Language – There were a few choice words used, but mostly stuff you would hear in a PG TV show.

Innuendo – Two or three kisses. Also at the start of the book, Emilia is pregnant. Now, we do find out how it happens. The author gives us enough detail that we can read between the lines. It is sad and awful, but probably happened a lot during this time in history. Note- It is very brief and not at all the character’s fault.

Violence – One characters shoots a Russian soldier to safe another character. Women shoots a German. We hear about dead bodies that they on the road due to frostbite. A character has shrapnel in his side. Many people die during the boat sinking. Characters try to save others who are swimming the ocean, but some die due to hypothermia. A person tries to get off the sinking ship by jumping into ocean and land on part of the ship. Most of it not graphic, but is mentioned.

I should mention that some characters lie about their identity. One character steals an identity paper off of a dead person. Another character sole an artifact from the Germans.

Conclusion –

Something about this book just drew me in. The characters were flawed and lifelike that I felt like I was there with them. This story is a sad, heartbreaking tale of survival and escape. I wonder why it is labeled YA? I feel like adults would get a lot out of this. If you don’t mind sad historical fiction, I would highly recommend this!

What are your thoughts? Have you read any WWII fiction? If so, what are some of your favorites? Did you like/dislike this book?

Anna

Review for The Girl who Said Goodbye

The Girl who Said Goodbye by Heather Allen

Genre – A Memoir

Rating – PG-13 for descriptions of atrocities committed and violence

Synopsis –

This book tells the story of a young women named Siv Eng who survived the Khmer Rouge takeover in Cambodia. It goes back and forth between when she was little and during the take over. The author walks through the what Siv Eng went through from the years 1963-1980.

My Thoughts –

Before reading this book, I had never heard of the Khmer Rouge takeover. They were basically a communist group that was able to completely over throw the previous government and separate families to dehumanize them by taking away everything from religion to language. I was surprised at how effective they were in moving a whole country’s people to camps.

Siv Eng goes through so much in the 7 years of the take over. Its heartbreaking to read of her separation from her family. The people like Siv Eng who lived in the cities were forced to work in jungle labor camps collecting rice or digging trenches. Just imagine what it would be like to survive on just getting a bowl of soup. They had to supplement it with whatever they could steal.

Throughout the book you can see evidence of how God protected her even in her darkest days of illness. In one of the chapters Siv Eng cried out to the God. We find out that later in life she comes to accept Jesus as her Savior. We see how God provided kinder chiefs who would help Siv Eng find missing jewelry, move her to work in the gardens, and find certain missing family members.

Language – None

Innuendo – At one point in the book, the author mentioned that it was common for soldiers to rape women, but nothing happened to any of the characters. Other then the one mention, there was nothing inappropriate.

Violence –

Now due to this being a memoir Siv Eng mentions things she saw like rotting corpse, soldiers shooting the prisoners, or beating that happened. Also she mentioned how leeches who latch onto their feet. In one chapter it discuss how they had to detach a leech. A few sections mentioned mass murders or digging a mass grave. Several mentions of soldiers killing people.

Other –

There are many instances where individuals had to lie to the soldiers or to the Khmer Rouge in order to survive. Also, there is a mention of how the prisoners used helmets to relieve themselves.

Conclusion –

I really enjoyed this memoir! It opened my eyes to something that had happened in history. To me it is fascinating reading survival stories. The human body can endure so much pain and heartache with God’s help. This would be a good book for teens on up due to some of the content mentioned. I highly recommend reading it!!

Anna

2019 in Review

Whew! This was quite the year! II almost finished my list, just missed 1 book , more like half a book. In total I read 70 books! Which for me is a lot! There were many great books, but I am going to narrow it down to my top 5 books for 2019. I’ll start with 5 and work my way up to #1. Here we go!

#5 Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I picked this up at the library one day and was pleased that it turned out so well. I know the cover is odd looking, but the story itself is quite good. Basically a modern, science fiction retelling of Cinderella. Has robots, a killer plague, and a lost lunar princess. What not to like!

Rating – PG-13 for violence

#4 The Oath by Frank Peretti

This book sucked me in and I thought about several days after I had finished it. A “What if sin were a dragon?” tale. Once the plot gets going, this is a hard book to put down.

Rating – PG-13 for gore and violence

#3 The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

This book popped up on radar last February and I figured I should take the plunge. So glad I did. This is the prequel to the Lord of the Rings. Sort of reads like a history book.

Rating – PG-13 honestly not much questionable content, but I think anyone under 13 would be awfully bored.

#2 Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages by Trenton Lee Stewart

Love that cover!! Anyway, this book gives us yet, another adventure with the Mysterious Benedict Society. The team has aged somewhat and now the Ten Men are on lose.

Rating – PG mild peril

Take a guess at what book took the #1 position??

You guessed it!!

#1 The Forsaken Continent by Wayne Thomas Batson

This is the third book in the Myridian Constellation series. I waited for this book for such a long time!! It definitely paid off!! It tells the saga of Stormgarden family after the Bloody Red Night when Morlan came back for revenge.

Rating- PG-13 for evil creatures and Lord of the Rings like battles

What books have you read this year? Any top favorites?

So that is it folks!! I hope every one has a wonderful New Year!!

Anna

Review for The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages

The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Riddle of Ages by Trenton Lee Stewart

Genre – Middle-grade fiction, science fiction

Rating – PG for mild peril

Series – 5th book in The Mysterious Benedict Society

Synopsis –

It has been several years since we last met with the society. They have now grown up and matured. Yet, there is a new crisis arising. The Ten Men have escaped and are looking for revenge, and they have teamed up with another telepathic individual. Will the society be able to come together once more?

My Thoughts –

I was so excited when I first heard this was coming out!! I read this series back when I was in middle-school. So this was a sweet treat to be able to visit with some old friends. The older kids are roughly 16 years old, maybe 17. While, Constance is now 8.

This book had a different feel to it then the previous four. (I’m included The Extortionary Education of Nicholas Benedict in the count.) The writing style has changed. The riddles are still there, but the focus has shifted more to how they have all changed.

A key component to this book is growing up and how that affects friendships. I think this one will resonate with kids and adults alike. There are some great moments in there between Reynie and Mr. Benedict which really got to me. I loved that we get an idea of where the kids will go in the future.

I will mention a couple downsides that I feel detract from this book. First, less action and less mystery. I do with there would have been a bit more mystery for the kids to solve. It spent much more time focusing on interpersonal communication.

Secondly, the adults where for the most part are out of the picture. I remember when I first read this series, how positive the adults were portrayed. So, many books these days have awful parenting. This was always a series I could count on showing positive parent-child relationships. Not to say that the parents were portrayed negatively, but their influence was minimal at best. I guess this is due to the kids needed to grow up and take on more responsibility.

Language – None

Innuendo – A character who can read thoughts heard that a some characters had crushes on each other. There is no mention of who crushes were on.

Violence – This series for the most part tries to handle things without relying on violence. Several characters talk about how they do not want to hurt anyone. A bad character throws pencils at other characters, and talks about hurting them. Also a character shoots tranquilizer darts, but overall no one is hurt.

Summery –

I loved being able to return to this fantastic series. The whit and charm were still there, but the characters themselves have changed. While, there is less action, we get a deeper look at friendship and the lengths one would take to keep it going. This would be a great read-aloud!

What are your thoughts? Have you read this series? Which book is your favorite?

Anna

Review for Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (Peter Nimble #1)

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Genre – Middle-grade, fantasy, mystery

Rating – PG for fantasy violence

Age range – Middle school on up (I think it would make a good read aloud)

Synopsis –

Peter Nimble is trying to make a living for himself by stealing for Mr. Seamus despite his blindness. Until one day he meets a mysterious stranger who helps Peter by giving him a special gift. Peter then sets out across the ocean to answer a call for help, and might discover someone about himself along the way.

My thoughts –

This was a quirky book which I really enjoyed reading. The author wrote it in the third person so at times the narrator will pop out and explain something. A sort of cheeky comical/absurd feel to it. It meshed several genres together by combining fantasy, with an orphan tale, and a dash of mystery. The beginning was reminiscent of Oliver Twist.

The plot was tight and moved quickly. Several of the twists were a little predictable. I saw the end coming a mile away. The characters while, absurd at times, were relatable. Throughout the novel, Peter really grows as a character from petty thief to revolutionary. I loved that Sir Tode became one of Peter’s best friends and stood up for him. Also, the ravens were a nice touch. Now, the bad guys felt very one dimensional. They were totally evil.

I loved how the author incorporated the Fantastic Eyes throughout the book. They helped Peter when used the right way. Thankfully, they weren’t overused. Some books rescue the hero every time he gets in trouble. Not in this book, when Peter gets in trouble, he learns from his mistakes.

Violence – It was more violent then I expected for a middle grade book. There were two main battles where many characters died. In a couple places there is mention of blood covering a street. A gang of boys throw daggers around a zebra. The ravens attack and kill a few banished thieves. Several ravens get cut or die.

Language – None

Innuendo – None

Other- I should mention that there is a fair amount of thieving that goes on. The book does mention that thievery is not a good thing. Peter does not enjoy doing it, but he does it cause he has too.

Conclusion –

This book had me intrigued from the start! I love the cover as it catches your eye. The narrator sometimes pops up and made me laugh with the third person dialogue. I cannot wait to read the squeal.

Quick Reviews – 5 Books I read

I am going to try something different from how I normally write reviews. I will write about my top 5 books I have read in the past month. I have been reading a lot recently and I wanted to mention some of these amazing books. Now as a side note I do want to give The Silmarillion its own post as there is a lot to unpack.

The Story People by Heather Kaufman

Synopsis – Ben owns a bookstore that had belonged to his uncle. He struggles with finding a sense of home. When a female author comes to town, the town ladies try to match make these two together.

Thoughts – Although a wee bit predictable, it was a sweet read. I loved how the author put snippets telling the back story of the two kids at the beginning of each chapter. There were several times that this book made me laugh. I loved the older ladies and their escapades trying to keep Ben in town. If you are looking for a nice, light read, this is for you!

Rating – PG for some mild innuendo

Corus the Champion Lengends of Karac Tor by D. Briggs

Synopsis- This continues the story of the Barlow brothers and their adventures into Karac Tor. The four brothers have their work cut out for them as an enemy from the north approaches seeking to destroy all. Meanwhile Sorge attempts to find his lost friend.

Thoughts – I enjoyed this one even more then the first because now that the setting is built, we can sit back and enjoy the ride. One particular character goes on quite the journey. This book had more themes from Arthurian legend which I thought was neat! We actually get to see both Arthur and Merlin. I felt that this plot had more depth than the previous book. The time-travel thing was great and enhanced the plot.

Rating – PG-13 for fantasy violence and a torture scene

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

Synopsis – This is the history of Middle-Earth from its creation to the fall of Saruon. It tells the tale of the Silmarils which are three jewels that were created by the Valar. Melkor seeks revenge on the Valar and tries to take the Silmarils. There are also tales of the courage and corruption of the people of Middle Earth like men and elves.

Thoughts – Going into this book, I had anticipated hating it or at least dragging myself through it. I must say that it is so different from the Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed it more then I had thought I would and will probably need to reread this in the future. There are parts that were dry, but it makes up for it later on. I loved the tale of Beren and Luthien and the fall of Gondolin. Tolkien is a master word builder. The words he created can be very beautiful.

Rating – PG for fantasy violence

I found a podcast that does a great job of going thought Tolkien’s works. If you are interested, they will walk you through The Silmarillion. Highly recommend the Prancing Pony Podcast!

https://theprancingponypodcast.com/category/podcast-episodes/

Free Verse by Sarah Dooley

Synopsis – Sasha’s brother has recently passed away and she must brave the world. She gets put into a foster home with a women who cares very much for her, but Sasha has gone through so much, and doesn’t know how to let Phillis in. Though a series of events, Sasha discovers poetry as a coping mechanism.

Thoughts – This was sad and almost depressing read. It has a happy ending, but gosh, this kid gets put through the ringer. For a middle-grade book, this has some tough themes, depression, anxiety, and grief. It actually reminded me a little bit of October Sky. It was an interesting read, but I am still on the fence about it.

Rating – PG for heavy themes and mild language

Haatchi and Little B by Wendy Holden

Synopsis – This book tells the story of Owan, a boy who suffers from Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, and Haatchi, a dog who was run over by a train. It tells their journey to find one another.

Thoughts- The story of how they found each other is very touching. Haatchi goes through quite an ordeal before he finds a forever home. I always find it amazing how dogs can have such an impact people’s lives. I did find the book a little dry at times as the author gave the book more textbook like. I did like the descriptions of what Schwartz-Jampel syndrome was as I had never heard of it. What this pair has gone through is astounding.

Rating – G

Cannot wait to hear from you! What books have you been reading?

Anna