Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: The Wonder of Us

The Wonder of Us
By Kim Culbertson
Published: April 25, 2017

Riya and Abby are:
Best friends.
Complete opposites.
Living on different continents.
Currently mad at each other.
About to travel around Europe. 

Riya moved to Berlin, Germany, with her family for junior year, while Abby stayed behind in their small California town. They thought it would be easy to keep up their friendship-it's only a year and they've been best friends since preschool. But instead, they ended up fighting and not being there for the other. So Riya proposes an epic adventure to fix their friendship. Two weeks, six countries, unimaginable fun. But two small catches:

They haven't talked in weeks.
They've both been keeping secrets.

Can Riya and Abby find their way back to each other among lush countrysides and dazzling cities, or does growing up mean growing apart?

My review:

Abby has had a difficult year in the wake of her parents' divorce. Her dad fell apart and the burden of taking care of him and the house fell to her. It's also been tough because her best friend Riya moved to Germany and they got into a major fight. Now she is in Europe on a trip with Riya (paid for by Riya's wealthy grandmother) where they hopefully will mend their broken relationship. When Abby first sees Riya again she realizes how much Riya has changed. She dresses like a sophisticated European and Riya is also keeping a big secret from Abby that could destroy their friendship for good.

Riya comes across as flighty and irresponsible and a little spoiled at times. She does care a lot about Abby and wants to be a good friend but she definitely has some growing up to do. I think Abby is more mature in a way because of what she's been through with her family. Riya seems like a younger, boy crazy idealistic dreamer in comparison. Of course Abby also likes their small town and doesn't want things to change while Riya is growing away from that and wants to see and experience the world. For Abby, their small hometown represents stability and for Riya she feels it is holding her back. She doesn't want to have the same exact life that everyone else is living. I think this is something teens can easily relate to as they prepare to graduate and possibly leave home for college or career. It is a time when friendships change and people sometimes do grow apart because they want different things.

Abby and Riya are not alone on their trip as they are chaperoned by Riya's older cousin Neel who is in college. Neel is British and can be a stick in the mud in Riya's view but he and Abby get along really well (cue the romantic sparks). Abby is really into history and the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, something she and Neel have in common. As someone who has loved history since I was a kid, I liked how Abby kind of geeked out on it. I love reading books about travel (especially set in Europe) so that appealed to me about this book and I enjoyed reading about the different places they visited.

While there is some romance the book really does focus on the friendship of Abby and Riya which I appreciated. The resolution of that part of the story felt realistic. I also liked how supportive Riya's parents and grandmother and Abby's dad are. It is nice to see positive portrayals of adults in teen fiction. I mostly enjoyed this novel, especially the travel aspect and the growth of the protagonists. It would be a great book to pack in your beach bag this summer.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bout of Books 19 Wrap Up

Bout of Books

I managed to complete three books during the Bout of Books read-a-thon. I was in the middle of reading the first book when the read-a-thon started and I read the other two books from start to finish. I think if it hadn't been Mother's Day weekend, I would have finished a couple more. I've participated in 24 hour readathons where I've read more so I am disappointed that I allowed myself to be distracted by TV earlier in the week.

The next Bout of Books read-a-thon is in August and hopefully I'll have the chance to participate.

Books read:

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan
The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Post (89) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

Happy Mother's Day! I will be spending the day with my family and we are taking my mom out to eat at an Indian restaurant. On Saturday we went to a couple of garden centers that were having sales for Mother's Day. One place even gave away free plants (and hot dogs and ice cream). My mom came home with several new geraniums to add to her flower garden and some other plants as well. 

On the reading front I am participating in Bout of Books but not reading as much as I'd hoped. It is that time of year when TV shows are wrapping up I guess. I am also participating in the Clean Sweep ARC Challenge that is going on through the month of May. I hope it will motivate me to read more of my ARCs. 

I spent some time catching up on TV shows when I could have been reading. Oh, well. It's that time of year when TV shows are wrapping up. I still need to watch the final episode of Home Fires and get caught up on The Flash, Supergirl and Jane the Virgin. I am most excited about The Flash. I've heard that there is a cliffhanger ending. I wish Home Fires hadn't been cancelled but at least the creator has written some e-books that wrap up the stories. The first one will be out in July.

After a cool and rainy week it is nice to be able to look forward to days in the 80s. I hope I don't have to dig out my sweaters again! I am longing for summer and hope we have a nice one. 

Last week on my blog:

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff (review)
Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer (review)

Books read:

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

I liked this though I still prefer the other series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus) but it was fun to catch up with Leo. The next book looks like it will be incorporating characters from Camp Jupiter like Frank and Hazel and possibly Jason and Piper as well. 

The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert 

I love apple cider and apple desserts so I wish I could have tasted a lot of the food and beverages mentioned in the book. I read an ARC so maybe the final copy will include recipes. I enjoyed this almost as much as The Coincidence of Coconut Cake. I was also reminded of Sarah Addison Allen's books.

Currently reading:

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

I should be finishing this one today. It's a fun teen contemporary featuring Indian American protagonists. 

Currently listening to:

I hadn't listened to this NPR radio drama before and thought it would be perfect to read it now with the 40th anniversary of Star Wars later this month. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels are both in it. Of course this was recorded in 1981 so some of the additional scenes don't really mesh with "canon". It's fun to listen to though.

On my TBR list:

The Vicar's Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: Letters to the Lost

Letters to the Lost
By Brigid Kemmerer
Published: April 4, 2017

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.
When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

My review:

Letters to the Lost is a story about two teens who are deeply grieving and find a way to reach out to each other through anonymous letters and later through anonymous email. In real life however Juliet and Declan are not friends. In fact, Juliet feels nothing but disdain for the cocky troublemaker. Declan sees Juliet as spoiled and privileged. He has no idea of the pain she is going through the same way that she can't see his hidden depth. Of course they will somehow find out the truth about who they've been writing to all along...

Juliet has really been struggling since her mom died. Her mom was a talented and adventurous photojournalist and while Juliet has a gift for photography, she hasn't been able to pick up a camera since her mom died. She feels her skills are so meaningless compared to what her mom achieved. Since her mother's death, Juliet and her dad have been living like two strangers in the same home and even though her best friend Rowan tries to be supportive, Juliet feels like she can't be honest about her continuing grief.

Declan lost his younger sister in an accident he blames himself for. His family fell apart that day and things have only gotten worse now that his mom is remarried. He does not get along with his stepfather and on top of that he has to do court ordered community service. Rage, grief and guilt simmer below the surface in equal measure. Declan wants to do better but it is really hard. Things starts to feel a little better when he answers a letter he finds on a tombstone.

I thought this book was fantastic. The author does a good job of exploring grief, guilt and family relationships as well as friendship. A variety of families are represented in the book from the dysfunctional family of Declan to the fractured family of Juliet and the stable and loving families of Declan's supervisor and Rev's adoptive parents. It is nice to see some positive portrayals of parents along with the imperfect ones in this novel. The main characters are well developed and I loved the growth of their relationship with each other. The secondary characters are also well drawn, especially Rev. I liked how the book challenged the assumptions of the characters as well as the reader. 

Letters to the Lost is likely going to be one of my favorite YA books of 2017. It would be a good pick for fans of authors like Jessi Kirby and Morgan Matson.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan's Tale
By Pam Jenoff
Published: February 21, 2017

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival 
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night. 
Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

My review:

Ingrid's family once had a very successful circus until they could no longer perform. As Jews, it was illegal for them to have non Jewish employees and gradually the business fell apart. Ingrid had fallen in love and married a young man, moving to Berlin. Unfortunately he was also a Nazi and though he loved Ingrid, when their marriage was declared illegal, he divorced her. She returned to the family home only to find they were gone. She hadn't heard from them in months and now feared the worst. Thankfully she was given refuge by a neighbor and leader of a rival circus, Herr Neuhoff. Herr Neuhoff offers Ingrid a place with his circus as a trapeze artist and she accepts, knowing she doesn't have much choice. Fortunately he turns out to be a very kind man and though Ingrid (now renamed Astrid for her protection) initially struggles to fit in, she even finds new love. Then they discover a young girl and a baby in the snow...

Noa stumbles across the Neuhoff circus after she rescues a Jewish baby from a train car. Herr Neuhoff takes her in but she has to join the circus act. Noa has gymnastic skills but it has been a long time and training to be an aerialist is a challenge. It doesn't help that Astrid doesn't seem to like her or believe she can do it. Reluctantly Astrid and Noa become friends but danger is always around them with Nazi officials prowling.

The Orphan's Tale is reminiscent of Water for Elephants in that it is about circus life.  What makes it different is that it takes place in WWII Europe.  It is both an emotional story and a fascinating look at circus life during a difficult time in history. I don't know how realistic it would be for someone like Noa to learn to be an aerialist but it was certainly interesting to read about. On the surface Noa and Astrid seem so different but they both have hidden strength that allows them to survive so much suffering. The danger of discovery by the Nazis is a constant threat and there are also other dangers involved with being part of a circus act. I thought the friendship that developed between Noa and Astrid was natural but the romantic relationship between Noa and Luc didn't work as well. It just seemed rushed. While Astrid and Peter's romance begins off the page, we at least get to see some growth and development there. We get to know Peter but the addition of Luc felt like a convenient plot point.

Overall I thought this book was fantastic. The story was touching and suspenseful and I enjoyed the added historical details as well. I had no idea circuses were operating in Europe during the war. I think readers who liked Water for Elephants or historical fiction set during WWII would like this. It would be a great selection for book discussion groups too. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley

Monday, May 8, 2017

Bout of Books 19

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 8th and runs through Sunday, May 14th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 19 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

This week is the Bout of Books readathon and I've decided to participate. I haven't been reading as much as I'd like to this year (I blame Netflix and Pinterest). Hopefully this read-a-thon will help me make a dent in my TBR pile! 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Clean Sweep ARC Challenge

clean sweep 2017

Because I have so many unread ARCs to get to, I decided to participate in the May Clean Sweep ARC Challenge hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer

I don't have a set goal in mind but I hope I can at least make a dent in the pile this month. The challenge started on May 1st and continues till May 31st.

Some of the books I might read as part of the challenge:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman
The Vicar's Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack
Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See