Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category:

Christina’s Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Christina’s Review: The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist - 10th Anniversary Edition by Paulo Coelho
Published by Harper Collins on 2009-10-13
Genres: Body, Mind & Spirit, Fiction, General, Inspiration & Personal Growth, Literary, Spirituality
Pages: 208
Format: eBook
Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

April’s VA Wine and Book Club pick was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. A couple of the club members have read this book before and enjoyed. When starting the book myself, I met many others who have either read the book themselves (for fun or through school), or who have heard of the book and were interested in talking about it. The book was a quick read (I finished it in my short metro commute over a few days) and it was fast-paced. I am still trying to decide how I feel about the book – I have mixed feelings and cannot decide if I totally liked it – but overall I thought it was worth the read and a good lingering-thinker.

The story has been translated from Portuguese into dozens of different languages (I read the English translation). Coelho introduces the reader to Santiago, a shepherd in Spain who wants to travel and explore the country. This shepherd meets a Gypsy who helps to decipher his dreams and sends him off with his vision of a buried treasure he will find in the pyramids of Egypt. Soon after meeting the Gypsy, Santiago then meets a King who talks of life and this same destination. In pursuit of this treasure, Santiago then meets the alchemist who helps to guide him along his journey. The reader has the pleasure of following this boys journey has he seeks the meaning of life and buried treasure. It is a tale of exploration, understanding, diligence, dreams and of following one’s heart. The end features a nice twist I found humorous and profound at the same time.

If you do read this book, I recommend either reading it on as an e-book so you can highlight and mark pages or buying the book and keeping a sticky pad and pencil by you to mark pages and keep notes as you read. You’ll want to own this book because it is stock-full of life quotes. These quotes ranged from motivational to “follow-your-dreams” and other parts of life.

One lesson I took away to share was to never loose focus or abandon your dreams. The story of Santiago read fast and was almost exhausting as he followed this life-lesson. I am still pondering the author’s intentions with this book… Was it meant to be a satire? Was it supposed to be philosophical? Did he pile on the quotes as a life’s lessons book? Was it just supposed to be a fun read?

I am very much looking forward to the book club’s discussion on this read. I think this book makes a great club pick because it was short and posed a lot of questions that could be answered differently. The book’s ending and purpose is also up for debate. I cannot wait until our April meeting.

pj - christina


Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken FollettEdge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Published by Penguin on 2014-09-16
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Sagas
Pages: 1120
Format: Paperback
Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—as they make their way through the twentieth century. It has been called “potent, engrossing” (Publishers Weekly) and “truly epic” (Huffington Post). USA Today said, “You actually feel like you’re there.”Edge of  Eternity, the finale, covers one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the 1960s through the 1980s, encompassing civil rights, assassinations, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution—and rock and roll. East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for generations… George Jakes, himself bi-racial, bypasses corporate law to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department and finds himself in the middle of not only the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but also a much more personal battle… Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is much more dangerous than he’d imagined… Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Khrushchev, becomes an agent for good and for ill as the Soviet Union and the United States race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tania, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw—and into history. These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as they add their personal stories and insight to the most defining events of the 20th century. From the opulent offices of the most powerful world leaders to the shabby apartments of those trying to begin a new empire, from the elite clubs of the wealthy and highborn to the passionate protests of a country’s most marginalized citizens, this is truly a drama for the ages. With the Century Trilogy, Follett has guided readers through an entire era of history with a master’s touch. His unique ability to tell fascinating, brilliantly researched stories that captivate readers and keep them turning the pages is unparalleled. In this climactic and concluding saga, Follett brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again.

With the final installment of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy finished, it really feels like I’ve ended an era (Edge of Eternity is a whopping 1100+ pages).  Within three months I’ve explored the evolution of war in Fall of Giants; I’ve read about the devastation of Europe in Winter of the World; and finally, I’ve experienced the constant fear of nuclear war, the battle for human rights, and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Edge of Eternity.

In short, I loved this book.  If it hasn’t been apparent from any of my previous reviews, I’m such a Euro history nerd and especially for Central Eastern Europe.  Although I’m Eurocentric, the best parts of this book focus on events outside of Europe and the United States.  In my studies – again because I’m a Euro girl – the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War are often overlooked; however, they are such important moments in history.

I don’t like to dive too much into specific moments in the books I review because I want to be as spoiler free as possible.  I am ignoring my rule for Edge of Eternity.  In the 1960’s, Jasper Murray, who is not a particularly likable character, is drafted into the American army.  Jasper is a British citizen, but due to his permit to work in the United States, he becomes eligible for the draft.  During a mission to find out where the Vietcong are hiding, Jasper’s group finds a Vietnamese village.  In the subsequent scenes, the horrors committed by U.S. soldiers are detailed.

My generation may not know many men or women who fought in the World Wars, but many Vietnam veterans can be found across the United States.  Follett makes no attempt to hide the atrocities that took place in Vietnam: the rape of young girls, the torture of civilians, and murder.  The most stomach churning moment of it all was when Follett wrote about officers forcing their soldiers to participate so that no one could claim innocence.  You know it’s fictional story, but U.S. atrocities in Vietnam are not fiction.  For a character that I disliked so much, Follett placed him in a situation that I would not wish upon anyone.  It is hard to imagine Vietnam veterans that we encounter take part in anything similar but some may have.

My problem with Edge of Eternity is that I wish it had been split in two.  When the story begins, all of the characters are young.  When the story ends, each is graying.  Beloved characters from Fall of Giants pass away, and many characters from Winter of the World are ignored.  It became difficult to keep track of characters’ ages.  Being such a long book, there were some stretches that I wanted to skip.  Also being selfish, I want more time with the characters (because forty years isn’t enough…).

Any of these books can be enjoyed as a standalone work.  However, if you are going to read them all, do so in order.  Of the three books, Fall of Giants remains my favorite.  This is perhaps because I find the events of the early twentieth century to be the most interesting and impactful of the century.  Edge of Eternity is a very close second.  Follett is a great storyteller and did extensive research to write these books as accurately as possible.  The series lacks a maturity that older, long-time historical fiction audiences may desire, but if you are interested in history and want major event after major event, The Century Trilogy is for you.


Ellen’s Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Ellen’s Review: The Maze Runner by James DashnerThe Maze Runner by James Dashner
Published by Random House Children's Books on 2009-10-06
Genres: Boys & Men, Friendship, Social Issues, Visionary & Metaphysical, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Read the first book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series, perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent. The Maze Runner is now a major motion picture featuring the star of MTV's Teen Wolf, Dylan O’Brien; Kaya Scodelario; Aml Ameen; Will Poulter; and Thomas Brodie-Sangster and the second book, The Scorch Trials, is soon to be a movie, hitting theaters September 18, 2015! Also look for James Dashner’s newest novels, The Eye of Minds and The Rule of Thoughts, the first two books in the Mortality Doctrine series.   If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.   When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.   Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.   Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.   Everything is going to change.   Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.   Remember. Survive. Run. Praise for the Maze Runner series:

In simplest terms, a maze is a puzzle.  There might be obstacles along the way, but every maze has an entry point and an exit.  Imagine being sixteen and waking up in the center of monstrous man-made maze.  Not only do you have no idea where you are, but you also have no idea who you are.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner follows the life of Thomas, a teenager who finds himself trapped with other teenage boys in a maze.  Thomas learns that several of the oldest boys have lived within the maze for two years.  They made a home in the Glade, the center of the puzzle, and have built a society run by the laws of order.  Gladers, as they call themselves, work a variety of jobs to maintain this order.  The Runners run each day through the maze to search for an exit and map their findings; the Med-jacks provide medical care; the Cooks prepare food; the Slicers slaughter livestock; and others work in typical farming occupations.

The boys do not live in a normal maze.  Every day the structure changes; the walls move.  Thomas learns quickly after arriving about the Creators, the people who built the maze and observe the boys’ actions.  Gladers hate the Creators.  They provide supplies each week, but also unleash the deadly Grievers, a mechanical, weaponized creature that hunts and attacks Gladers.

After Thomas’s arrival, life as the Gladers know it begins to change.  No one remembers anything before the Glade, but several boys who survived hallucinogenic Griever attacks recognize Thomas.  The Glade also provides a strange sense of comfort and familiarity to Thomas, which was not a sensation the other boys felt upon arrival.  The day after Thomas arrives, the Glade receives its first female inhabitant who carries an unnerving message.  The Gladers soon find themselves forced to solve the puzzle or risk being killed by Grievers.

The Maze Runner reminded me of a cross between Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies, both books that I also recommend.  I found it interesting how such an innocent game was turned into a fearful habitat.  This is not a new concept – the Triwizard Maze in Harry Potter is another example – but the main difference is that the characters have built a society within their nightmare.

The maze becomes a symbol for all the Gladers.  It represents life and death, identity, bravery, freedom, and manipulation.

  • Life and Death: Runners risk their lives each day to map a way out of the maze.  Gladers fear the maze, and their number one rule is never to enter the maze if you are not a Runner.  The worst punishment a Glader can receive is banishment.  When banished, you are forced to survive outside of the protective Glade walls against Grievers.  Banishment is a death sentence.  No one survives being trapped in the maze after dark.
  • Courage: Entering the maze is a choice.  The Glade, with its moving walls, protects the Gladers each night from Grievers.  When their daily routine changes, the Gladers must find it in themselves to face their fears and fight back.  The maze is fear, but it is also courage.  When Gladers enter the maze, they become a symbol of bravery and hope for each other.
  • Identity:  Solving the maze represents the simplest of questions: why.  Why were they sent there?  Why are they being watched?  Why can’t they remember their lives, parents, and childhood?  The maze has become their identity, and solving it is the only way they believe they can regain all of their memories.
  • Freedom and Manipulation: The maze is manipulated by the Creators, who can control and set new variables.  The Gladers know that they are not in control of their environment, and the maze is a constant reminder of this.  To battle manipulation, the maze becomes a sign of freedom.  If it can be solved, everyone can return to their families and live the lives of their own choosing.  Freedom of choice does not fully exist within the maze, but it represents the freedom beyond its walls.

The Maze Runner is a quick read and recommended for anyone interested in science fiction, dystopias, and puzzles.  I enjoyed the book and plan on reading the rest of the series.  My only complaint is that I believe the ending happened too quickly.  Dashner builds up to an exciting finish, but the events become so confusing and are left unexplained.  I hope that the second installment, The Scorch Trials, will answer my remaining questions.

Christina also reviewed “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner. See her review here.


Christina’s Review: Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-Weber

Christina’s Review: Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-WeberMint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-Weber
Published by Regnery Publishing on 2014-10-20
Genres: General, History, United States
Pages: 398
Format: Hardcover
In the more than two-hundred-year history of the American presidency, there has been one element present in each and every administration: alcohol. In the beginning, there was George Washington, who sold whiskey distilled at Mount Vernon and preferred to quaff a well-crafted port. More than two hundred years later, Barack Obama beckoned some master brewers to advise his White House staff on how to make mouth-watering batches of White House Honey Ale with a key ingredient from Michelle Obama’s beehives.And then there was the matter of the forty-two other gentlemen in between…Journalist Mark Will-Weber strolls through our country’s memorable moments—from the Founding Fathers to the days of Prohibition, from impeachment hearings to diplomatic negotiations—and the role that a good stiff drink played in them in his new book, Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.So grab a cocktail and turn the pages of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt for a unique and entertaining look into the liquor cabinets and the beer refrigerators of the White House. Cheers!

I heard about this book when it first came out, and then I saw an interview with the author on a TV news show. I knew I had to add it to my to-read list as a history lover, and tried to get to the read as soon as I could.

Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-Weber was an entertaining read, and it was a good pick-up and stop read. You can read each president individually if you wish. The book was not designed to be a history lecture. It was fun to learn about the histories of the presidents in a different light, through their drinking, leisure activities and policies related to or involving alcohol during their time in office. The focus was not just on the presidential period for reach president but also included parts of the person’s life before or after the presidency and how alcohol may have had an influence in decisions or events. (For example Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking-focus was a lot on the Civil War period.) Will-Weber also did research into some of the drink recipes the presidents may have enjoyed or had named after them at local bars. There was variety in the writing style and fun stories… I caught myself laughing out loud on occasion while riding on the DC metro.

The book did show some patterns and phases with the presidents and their drinking habits. For examples, Madeira wine was a popular drink of choice for many of the founding fathers. From there, there was a series of presidents who were war leaders and had a Civil War legacy left behind before they entered the office. Teetotaler presidents and activists started to make their way into the book, then Prohibition hit and affected policy and presidents/guests in the White House. As Prohibition came to an end, the drinking stories and presidential habits picked back up. Hard liquor and beer entered the stories more and more.

From this read, I think it would be fun to drink with: Thomas Jefferson (his love for wine and potential for the Virginia wine industry, although he failed at growing wine grapes); Ulysses S. Grant (especially with his cellar of fine wines); Frederick D. Roosevelt (“How about another sippy?” -255); Lyndon B. Johnson (for a night out on the town). As for Teddy Roosevelt and his mint juleps, I will have to try one of these after my next tennis match to attest to its refresh-ness post-court time.  Although, I now learned there is such thing as “pulling a Nixon” and serving guests a cheaper bottle of wine than the one you are drinking…just be sure to wrap a towel around the label when serving to hide this fact from your guests.

I read the book from cover-to-cover, but I did stop somewhere around the middle to start and finish another book. This did not set me back on my read or confuse me. The luxury of this book was that I can be read section-by-section with the ability to skip a president if that is what you want. (I did not) When reading straight through, it can get repetitive at times. (For example, the same sentence on gout and its causes was repeated in multiple sections for the presidents affected) But it was not too distracting. Overall, it was an entertaining read and a different read on the presidents we think we know so well. I recommend having this book on the shelf as a pick-up on the occasion read… the chapters are quick and broken down by different headers. Enjoy it!

I’ll leave you with this great proverb from my Irish ancestors as quoted in the chapter on Ronald Reagan:

“if I had a ticket to heaven and you didn’t have one, I would give mine away and go to hell with you.”


pj - christina

Christina’s Review: Beyond Jefferson’s Vines by Richard Leahy

Beyond Jefferson's Vines by Richard Leahy
Published by Sterling Epicure on 2012
Genres: Beverages, Cooking, Wine & Spirits
Pages: 226
Format: Hardcover
For 30 years, Thomas Jefferson grew grapes in his Monticello vineyards in hopes of producing fine wine --but to no avail. Today that has completely changed. Virginia wine now has a reputation as some of the best in America, with increasing sales and more wineries (nearly 200) welcoming an ever-larger number of visitors. Richard Leahy, a former editor for Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, has written the essential book on Virginia wine, covering its history, interviews with the state's top winemakers, and updates on the latest industry developments.

beyond jeffersons vinesI purchased the first edition of this book over a year ago to reference when I was building my website for a digital public history project. I had skimmed the book and read select sections then, but never finished it. When I found out Richard Leahy would be speaking at our first Business of Wine class at George Mason University, I decided it was about time I read the whole thing, and I am glad I did.

As many of you know, I am passionate about learning and sharing the history of Virginia wine. Virginia wines have grown in national and international prominence, and are important to our local economy. The history of Virginia wine traces back to the colonial origins of Virginia. It is a rich history, filling the centuries and impacting the state economically and agriculturally. The history of wine in Virginia is one of failures and progress… after some failed attempts and shattering events such as Prohibition, the industry is now thriving, productive, and profitable. Leahy explored this history and where the industry is today, featuring wineries from across the state and wine enthusiasts who have helped to bring light to this growing industry for the state and country.

Leahy started with some of the history and direction for Virginia wine. From there, he moved into information on how to attend tastings like a professional and a suggested route to follow, touring vineyards throughout the state. Leahy divided the state into its six viticultural areas:

  • Monticello
  • North Fork of Roanoke
  • Northern Neck (George Washington’s Birthplace)
  • Rocky Knob
  • Shenandoah Valley
  • Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Personally, I found the directions from vineyard to vineyard to be an unnecessary addition, but understand others may use these as a guide to trace his journeys through the state from each vineyard.beyond jeffersons vines autographed

A new edition of his book was released in November, 2014… I highly recommend starting with this edition if you can get your hands on it! The state’s wine industry has grown exponentially since his first edition was published in 2012. There are many new vineyards that have opened, and sadly, a couple that have sold or closed since his first book. Virginia has continued to grow in prominence and increase their presence and awards on the national and international stages. In his new edition, Leahy highlighted some of this recent information and Governor’s Cup winners and expanded his research/travels.

I enjoyed some of the fun facts that were presented throughout Leahy’s book as well. For example, I did not know Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band) owned a winery here in Virginia. Yes, he does! It is Blenheim Vineyards, located just south of Charlottesville. Another personal fun fact I learned is there is a term for two of my passions combined into one real thing called “wiking” – for those who like hiking and wine! How did I not know there was a larger group out there in Virginia who enjoy “wiking” like me… this book exposed me to a new world!

I do recommend this book for anyone interested in the wine industry, especially the growing Virginia industry. If you are looking to map out a summer plan, vacation to the east coast/Washington, DC, or just looking for a day-escape in the beautiful Virginia countryside, definitely check out this book. For the history lover, the first few chapters touch on the history of wine in the state. (my personal favorite) Cheers!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: September Girls by Bennett Madison

Michelle’s Review: September Girls by Bennett MadisonSeptember Girls by Bennett Madison
Published by HarperCollins on 2013-05-21
Genres: Adaptations, Dating & Sex, Fairy Tales & Folklore, General, Legends, Myths, Fables, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
In September Girls, Sam is spending the summer in a beach town filled with beautiful blond girls who all seem inexplicably attracted to him. But that’s not the only reason why he thinks the Girls are strange. They only wear flats because heels make their feet bleed. They never go swimming in the water. And they all want something from him. Sam finds himself in an unexpected summer romance when he falls for one of the Girls, DeeDee. But as they get closer, she pulls away without explanation. Sam knows that if he is going to win her back, he’ll have to learn the Girls’ secret. Bennett Madison, author of The Blonde of the Joke, brings a mix of lyrical writing, psychologically complex characters, and sardonic humor to this YA coming-of-age novel about first love…and mermaids.

How I came to own and read this book: I went to a local author event, where there was a panel of four authors. Bennett Madison was one of the authors. I was interested in all the authors’ works so I bought one copy of each of their books. I got them personally signed. They then sat on my shelf for almost two years for no good reason. I have finally started reading them, with varying levels of enjoyment.

What I thought before I started: I had thought the premise sounded interesting during the author event, but then when I went on Goodreads and saw some of the reviews of other friends and readers, I was shocked. Many did not enjoy the book at all, not finishing it, critiquing it harshly for being misogynistic, too crude, etc. I was dismayed that I had already bought the book and had it signed because after those reviews, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it. However, I decided to go into with as much of an open mind as I could given that I had already read other reviews.

What I thought after I finished: It has been so cold that it was nice to escape to the beach. I could really picture the beach, the weather, the sense of summer. It was fantastic.

I was at first very shocked by the presence and sheer quantity of curse words in the book, but decided that it was authentic given the point of view. However, I would say that while authenticity creates an original voice in a book, perhaps the cursing could have been less dramatic. While it is completely common for others to curse as much as Sam, the main character did, it’s not really that fun to read.

While I understand people’s thoughts on the misogyny or the cursing in this book, neither bothered me. I didn’t quite agree with the former and the latter felt realistic to me. Now whether it was necessary or appropriate for a book that was pitched as young adult is another question, one I don’t have an answer to myself.

The main character is a young adult, but I don’t think it’s a young adult book in the way that others are. It is perhaps better suited for ‘new adult’ or whatever.

My main complaints are not related to either of the above points. I just wanted to understand what was going on. Who were The Girls? What was the curse? What happened to Kristle? What happened to DeeDee? I read it all, and perhaps there were explanations within some of the more poetic pieces, but I couldn’t grasp at it myself. Which is unfortunate because I did want to like it more.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

Christina’s Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth GriffinSilhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Published by Milkweed Editions on 2012
Genres: 20th Century, Family, Girls & Women, Historical, Homosexuality, Parents, Social Issues, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 189
Format: Hardcover
Silhouette of a Sparrow is an excellent example of an historical, coming-of-age lesbian young adult novel. Written with a deft hand, based in the true history of its setting, and with characterizations that will ring true to any teenager, it is a worthy and enjoyable read for anyone. --Lambda LiteraryWINNER OF THE MILKWEED PRIZE FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATUREWINNER OF THE 2013 PATERSON PRIZE FOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERSALA RAINBOW LIST RECOMMENDED BOOKAMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT LIST RECOMMENDED BOOKLAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALISTMINNESOTA BOOK AWARD FINALISTFOREWARD REVIEWS BOOK OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTIONIn the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging in ornithology and a visit to an amusement park-a summer of fun before she returns to a last year of high school, marriage, and middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under supervision of oppressive guardians, her father's wealthy cousin and the matron's stuck-up daughter. Only a job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own heart can save her from the suffocation of traditional femininity in this coming-of-age story about a search for both wildness and security in an era full of unrest. It is the tale of a young woman's discovery of the science of risk and the art of rebellion, and, of course, the power of unexpected love.

Silhouette of a Sparrow was one of the earlier books selected for our book club to read by a group member. It was a fast-read and contained some mature content (even though it is noted for winning the “Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature.”)

The book is about a girl, Garnet, who is away from home during the summer of 1926. While away, she picks up a job and meets a girl from a different side of the tracks than herself. Garnet has the opportunity to explore who she is and what other opportunities and adventures are out there for her during this coming-of-age period in her life.

This book allowed for a great group discussion with multiple opinions and directions for conversation to go between the mature subjects and metaphorical references carried on throughout. My main critique: It felt like the author was trying too hard at times to get her message across between the environmentalism and “coming-of-age” experiences. The book felt over-dramatized at times, with numerous “disasters” occurring back-to-back for a book that I thought was intended to be more relatable for younger generations.

However, after discussing this book with my book club, I saw more behind the story I did not appreciate before. For example, the significance behind the bird-cutting hobby of Garnet and how she spread her wings in the end…

It was not a favorite on my list, but others ranked in highly and felt that connection the author intended. It is a light, quick read… probably great for a summer-time pool-side book.

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Christina’s Review: Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing HahnMister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2012
Genres: Adolescence, Death & Dying, Girls & Women, Law & Crime, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 330
Format: Paperback
Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham's junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties—friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is—are shaken or cast off altogether. Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy's guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent—the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove. Told from several different perspectives, including that of the murderer, Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls is a suspenseful page-turner with a powerful human drama at its core.

I borrowed this book from Michelle because the book’s description sounded intriguing to me. The story is based off of real-life events that took place in 1955 around Washington, DC involving the author. In Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls, the original events are fictionalized and moved to just outside of Baltimore, Maryland to a quiet suburban neighborhood. The story followed the last day of Junior year for Nora and her group of friends, and how their lives were changed forever.

This story is about accepting death and follows that “coming-of-age” and understanding of life story-line. The author chose to tell the story primarily through Nora’s perspective, but also through the eyes of other characters involved, including Buddy and “Mister Death” himself. The character differentials were hard to get through at first… I could tell the author tried to make their voices sound different, but they felt forced and I did not identify well with any of the other characters except Nora as the main character.

As the summer progressed following the murders and search for the killer, or waiting on the conviction of the guy it had to be, Nora began to question her religious views: Is God real? Why would he let this happen? Why did he take the lives of two young girls? How would things change from here?

Getting towards the end of the read, there was no real climax. The end of the story just happened, and it was not until the “Afterword” that I really grasped why that was. The story was based on events that occurred during the author’s life when she lost two friends to an unknown killer. I believe the book was more therapeutic for the author and meant for her primarily to get out those emotions and the events that haunted her past and present. I did not feel closure in the story, and I did not really identify with the characters or events. In fact, I really just wanted to get through the book and to the end to find out what would happen.

It was a fairly quick read… short sentences, straight-forward content. The book was meant to be a coming-of-age type of read, but I did not get that. To me, it was a story based on real events and meant to be more of a closure for the author than a tale for the reader.

pj - christina


Michelle’s Review: For the Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Michelle’s Review: For the Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana PeterfreundFor Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Published by Harper Collins on 2012-06-12
Genres: Family, General, Love & Romance, Visionary & Metaphysical, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Fans of Divergent will love Diana Peterfreund’s take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in a post-apocalyptic world. In the dystopian future of For Darkness Shows the Stars, a genetic experiment has devastated humanity. In the aftermath, a new class system placed anti-technology Luddites in absolute power over vast estates—and any survivors living there. Elliot North is a dutiful Luddite and a dutiful daughter who runs her father’s estate. When the boy she loved, Kai, a servant, asked her to run away with him four years ago, she refused, although it broke her heart. Now Kai is back. And while Elliot longs for a second chance with her first love, she knows it could mean betraying everything she’s been raised to believe is right. For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking YA romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

I have found my way back to reading by getting sucked into a series. But instead of just reading each book in the series back to back directly, I thought I would add a book or two in between, the lemon to refresh my palette so to speak. For the Darkness Shows the Stars was intended to be that fresh lemon and it ended up being more than that to me.

I understand now why everyone was loving this book and its companion. It’s a retelling that was very refreshing because while it kept a lot of the details that are important from the original (I presume, because I’ve never read Persuassion) it was enough removed to feel entirely original.

A disaster to human kind occurs after the majority of people began to recode their DNA and basically become bionic humans. It backfired, creating the Reduced, those humans who maintain a little of their humanity but are basically little evolved from livestock. The Luddites had resisted the appeal of science and were therefore spared from the Reduction. Now, in a post-apocalyptic world where the Luddites are the ruling class and the Reduced the serfs, there are a new group of people emerging from the Reduced, seemingly no different than the Luddites.

I could go on about this premise because it was so entirely fascinating to me. It was exciting to read and learn more about it. It wasn’t overly complicated and allowed the story to grow. The story itself is one of complicated love, but it is not too overwrought. The epistolary nature of the book really helped build the story and reveal enough to keep the suspension there. Without those parts, I doubt I would have enjoyed the book half as much.

I would definitely recommend this book to others. It was a nice escape and was the perfect refreshing sorbet.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s First Three Reviews Ever: Nervous Conditions, The Chronicles of Pern: 1st Fall, and Mariel of Redwall

I joined Goodreads in 2010 but didn’t automatically begin reviewing books. Even then, I wasn’t quite sure how much detail I wanted to delve into. You’ll see in these three reviews that they were little more than a few sentences on my thoughts on them. Perhaps some wouldn’t consider them reviews. But as I’ve stated before, reviews are really my way of documenting that I actually read a book. Can I remember the details of these books close to five years ago? Little bits and pieces. But these little sentences are a testament to my thoughts directly after finishing them.

And considering that I don’t want to lose my reviews, here they are. Feel free to make fun of them or take heart that everyone has to start somewhere and just a few sentences can still get a point across.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembganervousconditions

Published:  January 10, 2004 by Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd
Format: Purchased paperback
Originally reviewed: May 2010

Tambudzai dreams of education, but her hopes only materialise after her brother’s death, when she goes to live with her uncle. At his mission school, her critical faculties develop rapidly, bringing her face to face with a new set of conflicts involving her uncle, his education and his family. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s quietly devastating first novel offers a portrait of Zimbabwe, where enlightenment brings its own profound dilemmas.


Read it for an English class. Wonderful story with lots of depth. It sticks with you once you finish it.

4/5 stars

The Chronicles of Pern: 1st Fall by Anne McCaffreyfirstfall

Published: August 1st 1994 by Turtleback Books
Format: Hardback from public library
Originally reviewed: November 2011 (I think I edited it over a year later after initially reviewing it)

For use in schools and libraries only. A collection of short works about Pern features five tales of the time of Pern’s exploration, original Dragonriders, and first Threadfall.


A collection of stories that fills in the holes of the beginnings of Pern, it was entertaining. Some stories were better than others; I did not enjoy Rescue Run. It was frustrating to me. Sometimes the stories could be a little redundant, but it was enjoyable. That said, it makes me look forward to see how Pern continues to evolve…or see if it devolves!

3/5 stars

Mariel of Redwall by Brian Jacquesmariel

Published: March 1st 2000 by Ace
Format: Purchased paperback
Originally reviewed: January 2010

In the fourth volume of the epic Redwall saga, a mouse-ship is attacked by the pirate rat Gabool and his heinous band of cut-throats. Hapless voyagers Mariel and her father Joseph the Bellmaker are mercilessly thrown into the sea by the pirates. Mariel washes ashore, starved and near death, and is taken in by the hospitable inhabitants of Redwall Abbey. Sure that her poor father is dead, Mariel swears an oath of vengeance against the filthy pirates who killed her father. With he help of a motley band of animals, Mariel leads the charge to recover a bell and avenge her father.


Let it be known that I have read most of the Redwall series before in my childhood. This past summer I challenged myself to read them all again in the order in which they were written.

I recently finished Mariel of Redwall. It is different than the previous three in that a portion of the plot is set in the Isle of Terramort, an island separate from the land mass Salamandastron and Redwall are on. It’s the first (in publishing order) to deal more in depth with searats. It is also the first to have the main character as a female.

I have come across a few typos (Bladegirt v. Bladegrit) as well as character switches. The plot and characters are predictable with an understanding of the series. But if you’re just looking for a fun read about heroes, battle, adventure, and the pursuit of peace, I’d highly recommend this book.

4/5 stars

pj - michelle