Monday, February 1, 2016

Review of Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Sepetys, Ruta.  Salt to the Sea.  Philomel, 2016.

In the winter of 1945 in Europe, World War II is nearly over, but many citizens of the eastern Baltic States are fleeing the advance of the Russian army, led by Joseph Stalin, to what they hope is freedom.  Travel conditions across Europe are brutal—sub-freezing temperatures, snow, rocky terrain, and little or no food and shelter.

Many refugees band together to make the trek to evacuation boats waiting at Gotenhafen on the Baltic Sea in Poland.  One such group includes Joana, a young nurse from Poland, Emilia, a pregnant fifteen year-old Lithuanian girl, and Florian, an artist from Prussia.  Other members of the group include a small boy, an elderly shoemaker, and a blind girl.  Amazingly, they all receive passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff, formerly a cruise liner, now serving as a transport ship. 

On the ship they encounter Alfred, a teenaged German soldier, who is a delusional coward, making up fantasies in his head and shirking his duties by hiding in the bathroom.

The ship, which is well over capacity, leaves the port, only to be hit hours later with three torpedoes from a Russian submarine.  The ship’s inhabitants either spill out into the icy Baltic Sea or sink with the ship.  Sadly, only about one-tenth of the occupants survive.

Ruta Sepetys is known for her well-researched historical novels, and Salt to the Sea is no exception. Although the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff resulted in far greater casualties (more than 9400) than the Titanic, it is not often remembered, mainly because it was overshadowed by all the other tragedies that occurred during World War II.   Ms. Sepetys has given voice to thousands evacuees, many of them children, who perished in the largest maritime disaster in history.

The book is told in four alternating teen viewpoints, that of Joana, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred.  Readers are able to see the horrors of war as the characters' backstories unfold in short chapters written in beautiful prose.  

Even though Salt to the Sea is intended for a young adult audience, it could easily be an adult crossover.  It will make its debut tomorrow, February 2, 2016.  I highly recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it five out of five fleur de lis!


Reviewer’s Note:  The copy reviewed was an e-galley from Edelweiss.




Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review of The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Carey, M.R.  The Girl With All the Gifts.  Orbit, 2014.

Melanie loves school and soaks up new information like a sponge.  She is inquisitive and has the IQ of a genius.  She would also do anything in the world for her wonderful teacher, Miss Justineau.  So why is she, along with a roomful of other children, kept strapped to a wheelchair instead of being able to run and play?  And why do the guards laugh when she tells them that she won’t bite.  Melanie and the other children are “hungries”, or zombies.  However, when most of the population has succumbed to the parasite that has changed them, these children still have human traits, emotions, and an elevated level of intelligence.  They are even able to control, to some extent, their desire for human flesh.

Every now and then Melanie notices that students disappear from her classroom and never return.  It is revealed that the children are test subjects for a project run by Dr. Caldwell, a scientist employed by the British government.  She is in the process of cutting portions of their brains and studying how the parasite affects them.

When the base is attacked by “hungries” and “junkers”, or vigilantes, Melanie, Miss Justineau, and Dr. Caldwell flee in a humvee driven by Sergeant Parks, the head guard at the base, and Private Gallagher, another guard.  They must work together and get along to try to reach the city of Beacon safely.   It may be the only town left in all of England.

This fast-paced novel is intended for adults, but I consider it to also be a crossover novel for young adults.  In the summary, it is not revealed to be a zombie novel, but readers will make that discovery by the end of the first chapter.

Pandora’s Box, Melanie’s favorite story, plays a big part in the plot, hence the book’s title.  Relationships are significant, especially the one between Melanie and Miss Justineau.  Readers will learn a lot about zombie science and the way the human brain operates.  The novel is filled with action and adventure--there are chase scenes, shoot-outs, and gruesome, gory deaths.  The story is told in multiple points of view, and the characters are interesting and mulit-facted.


Readers will enjoy this new, refreshing take on the zombie genre.  I recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Review of The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Carey, M.R.  The Girl With All the Gifts.  Orbit, 2014.

Melanie loves school and soaks up new information like a sponge.  She is inquisitive and has the IQ of a genius.  She would also do anything in the world for her wonderful teacher, Miss Justineau.  So why is she, along with a roomful of other children, kept strapped to a wheelchair instead of being able to run and play?  And why don't the guards laugh when she tells them that she won’t bite?  Melanie and the other children are “hungries”, or zombies.  However, when most of the population has succumbed to the parasite that has changed them, these children still have human traits, emotions, and an elevated level of intelligence.  They are even able to control, to some extent, their desire for human flesh.

Every now and then Melanie notices that students disappear from her classroom and never return.  It is revealed that the children are test subjects for a project run by Dr. Caldwell, a scientist employed by the British government.  She is in the process of cutting portions of their brains and studying how the parasite affects them.

When the base is attacked by “hungries” and “junkers”, violent human nomads, Melanie, Miss Justineau, and Dr. Caldwell flee in a humvee driven by Sergeant Parks, the head guard at the base, and Private Gallagher, another guard.  They must work together and get along to try to reach the city of Beacon safely.   It may be the only town left in all of England.

This fast-paced novel is intended for adults, but I consider it to also be a crossover novel for young adults.  In the summary, it is not revealed to be a zombie novel, but readers will make that discovery by the end of the first chapter.

Pandora’s Box, Melanie’s favorite story, plays a big part in the plot, hence the book’s title.  Relationships are significant, especially the one between Melanie and Miss Justineau.  Readers will learn a lot about zombie science and the way the human brain operates.  The novel is filled with action and adventure--there are chase scenes, shootouts, and gruesome, gory deaths.  The story is told in multiple points of view, and the characters are interesting and mulitfacted.

Readers will enjoy this new, refreshing take on zombies.  I recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!











Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review of Losers Take All by David Klass

Klass, David.  Losers Take All.  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015.

At Fremont High School, aka “Muscles High”, if you are not an athlete, then you are a nobody.  The whole school—and the town of Fremont, New Jersey—is totally obsessed with sports.  They even have a whole week at the end of every school year devoted to honoring their athletes.

Jack Logan’s father and two brothers were talented football players, but Jack---well, not so much.  In fact, Jack doesn’t even like sports.  At the end of his junior year, his seventy-year-old principal dies of a heart attack during the annual “senior run” and is replaced Coach Muhldinger—the football coach.  As his first official act as principal, Coach Muhldinger decrees that all seniors must play some kind of sport.

When Jack is roped in to trying out for the football team, he ends up in the hospital, instead.  Jack and his girlfriend, Becca, decide to form a “C” level soccer team and ask the school’s part-time Latin teacher, Mr. Percy, to be their coach.   A whole group of unathletic seniors join the team with the goal of not winning, but just surviving the season without getting injured.  Hilariously, they lose games in fine fashion and become a media sensation via online videos.  .  The team attracts a whole group of fans that are against violence in sports and bullying.  This does nothing to enhance the team’s image with Coach Muhldinger, who seeks revenge on the team for the humiliation it has brought to him.

In Losers Take All, David Klauss has succeeded in capturing the essence of competitive sports, including the negative aspects of violence and bullying that sometimes go along with it.  He has tackled these hard issues “head on” and provided a thought-provoking look into how sports culture affects the mood of a school and a town.  He has also put a lot of humor into the plot with his descriptions of play-by-play scenes of the soccer team’s games.  Readers will find themselves cheering for the mix of misfits that are doing their best to lose every game they play.

The characters are extremely well developed.  Principal Muhldinger is your stereotypical coach—all business, gruff, overbearing, and opinionated about non-athletes.  Our main character, Jack, who is also the narrator, provides a genuine male teen voice.  He thinks he has no athletic ability, but discovers he has a true talent for soccer.  Even though it seems like his football-hero dad is not on his side, Klass shows that Tom Logan is a loving and supportive parent.

Sports fans and non-sports fans, alike, as well as readers who enjoy humorous fiction, will enjoy this book.  I recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!






Monday, November 9, 2015

Review of Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt, Gary D.  Orbiting Jupiter.  Clarion, 2015.

Life has not been easy for fourteen-year-old Joseph Brook.  He has endured abuse by his alcoholic father, a placing in a group home setting, life at a juvenile detention center, and worse of all, incarceration in a high-security prison, where other inmates abused him.  As a last resort, a social worker places him with the Hurd family, who lives on a farm in Maine.  Joseph joins twelve-year-old Jack, who had been adopted by the Hurds some years previously. 

Because of what Joseph has been through, he some strange idiosyncrasies.  He won’t wear anything orange, let anyone stand behind him, let anyone touch him, go into rooms that are too small, or eat canned peaches.  And one more thing--he’s a father to a baby girl who is named Jupiter, and more than anything else in the world, he wants to find her.

Joseph has to keep overcoming obstacles and fighting back but has finally reached a point where two loving adults and a boy who “has his back” believe in him and provide a nurturing environment.  Just when things start to turn the corner, Joseph has to face his past and figure out how to protect his future.

I love male protagonists, and this novel has two outstanding ones in Jack and Joseph.  Our narrator, Jack, tells the story as only a young boy could.   He and the rest of his family are accepting, loving, down-to-earth people who truly care for Joseph.  They welcome Joseph into their family with open arms and provide the kind of family life that he has always needed.  Even when situations become rough, the family continues to lift him up.

Although Joseph has had a hard life, he has a huge heart and is unusually forgiving.  He is intelligent, has a natural ability for mathematics, and is athletically inclined.  It is through Jack’s eyes that readers learn about Joseph’s past and realize that he is wise far beyond his fourteen years.

Orbiting Jupiter is not all serious. From day one, Joseph is expected to do chores around the farm just like Jack and his dad.  Joseph learns you can tell a lot about a person the way cows acts around him.  The Hurd family cows, especially Rosie, take a shine to Joseph, but he learns that milking a cow is not as easy as it looks!

Gary Schmidt has written an endearing novel about acceptance, healing, and the ability to overcome life’s obstacles.  Make sure you have a box of tissues when you read it!  Although I highly recommend it for middle school and public libraries, older readers will also enjoy it.  I give it five out of five fleur de lis!