Friday, December 9, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

From Goodreads:
Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously - and at great risk - documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

This book is beautiful and sad. I've always loved Holocaust/War books - not for their subject matter obviously, but because there are so many stories of people rising above their circumstances with bravery and hope. Reading books like this remind me that I have absolutely nothing to complain about. If Lina managed to stay positive, then I have no reason to ever be pessimistic. I loved Lina. Such courage and beauty. Ruta Sepetys does a beautiful job of describing her and really, all her writing was beautiful. It was the light moments interspersed throughout the book that made me especially love this novel. One moment towards the end involving a Dickens book made me bawl and laugh at the same time. I was really moved by this story and these characters. While this book's characters are fictional, the story is based on true stories of families that were deported from Baltic countries at the beginning of World War II. It's a little-known chapter of history, and while it's ugly, I feel like I'm a better person for knowing what these people went through. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and help them all, take some fruits and vegetables to the kids who were dying of malnutrition. It just breaks my heart to read about them and makes me so grateful for the plenty that my family enjoys. This is a powerful book, right up there with Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place and I plan to buy it so I can lend it out to everyone I know.


From Goodreads:
Dragons exist. They’re ferocious. And they’re smart: Before they were killed off by slayer-knights, they rendered a select group of eggs dormant, so their offspring would survive. Only a handful of people know about this, let alone believe it – these “Slayers” are descended from the original knights, and are now a diverse group of teens that includes Tori, a smart but spoiled senator’s daughter who didn’t sign up to save the world.

The dragon eggs have fallen into the wrong hands. The Slayers must work together to stop the eggs from hatching. They will fight; they will fall in love. But will they survive?

This book is written under a pseudonym by a best-selling author of YA teen fiction *cough*Janette Rallison*cough* because it's out of her usual genre. Said author is not really trying to keep her identity secret, so I don't feel too bad about outing her - she's mostly going along with her publisher's thoughts that this book might reach a larger audience under a pseudonym.

My thoughts? It's Janette Rallison! It's dragons! How could it be bad? It's not and I loved it. It's a little bit X-Men meet Percy Jackson and yes, some plot elements do feel a little over-used and cliche (and predictable), but it doesn't seem to matter much because the writing is so great. Janette Rallison is still funny, the YA romance is still sweet and entertaining, the characters' powers are cool, and the dragons are terrifying. I loved all the dragon mythology. The first and last chapters are sooo good and I can't wait to read the sequel.

This book actually shows some surprising depth too. We delve into the psyche of a traitor. There are several surprisingly complex and compelling characters, to tell the truth. I won't say any more because I don't want to give anything away, but I really enjoyed this and will probably buy it. Never mind that the cover looks like it has some weird dragon-ish looking rocket ship (it's supposed to be a dragon egg).

Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List

From Goodreads:
Sixteen year-old Jessica dreams of Hollywood fame, and when Jordan moves into her small town, she dreams of him too. He’s a movie star’s son, and hey, he’s gorgeous to boot. Jordan has always wanted to get out from the shadow cast by his superstar father, but now that he and his mother have moved so far away from LA, how can he get his divorced parents back together? Jessica convinces Jordan the way to get his father to come for a long visit is to be a part of the school play. And if she’s “discovered” in the process, all the better. Things go wrong when she lets Jordan’s secret identity slip, and grow even more disastrous when the principal tries to change West Side Story into a gangfree, violence-free, politically correct production. 

Ok. I must have the mentality of a high school student; I absolutely loved this book. But then, it's Janette Rallison! Her writing style just clicks for me. I read this as part of my quest to read all of her books, and I think I really need to just buy them all because they make me happy. The magic is not lost after Fame, Glory, etc... 

This book made me laugh out loud multiple times. It is light and maybe a little immature and just a bit fluffy and cliche, but I can't help it; I love it. Janette Rallison has a knack for hilarious and embarrassing situations and the first chapter in this book is so funny. But of course, the end of the book is even more so. I love drama and plays and musicals (and am a fan of West Side Story). I've been backstage and behind the scenes plenty of times and Janette Rallison has really captured (and amplified) some of the funny things that happen in a play. Ok - it was worse than that. West Side Story was completely butchered in this book and I was rolling on the floor. I got lots of weird looks from my kids, which is always a sure sign that I've found a winner. This book made my week. Love, love, love. 


From Goodreads:
In the Enclave, your scars set you apart, and the newly born will change the future.

Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants e

very month. But when Gaia's mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

It's been a while since I've read a dystopian! For a while there, that's all I read and then I think I got burnt out (I think it was because of the very disappointing Enclave). So I decided to stick to the dystopian series I'd already read, but this one kept popping up and looked so interesting that I finally caved. I'm glad I did.

Birthmarked is fascinating. It is emotional and does what a good dystopian should, stir up the reader's sense of justice. It's infuriating and disturbing to see people living in such an unjust society. This story is doubly compelling because it deals with the most defenseless people imaginable: newborn babies. I thought all the midwifery in this book was extra interesting too. This book has good pacing, a gripping plot, fantastic characters, a nice bit of romance, beautiful writing, and a terrible ending. :D Just saying... I'm hoping to get the sequel soon from the library because I'm dying for a bit of resolution. Not that second books in trilogies are known for their resolution. But I am hoping it will resolve some of the burning questions I have because of that terrible cliffhanger. I recommend Birthmarked! Definitely not a disappointment.


Blurb from goodreads:

Brandon Sanderson, fantasy's newest master tale spinner, author of the acclaimed debut Elantris, dares to turn a genre on its head by asking a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails? What kind of world results when the Dark Lord is in charge? The answer will be found in the Mistborn Trilogy, a saga of surprises and magical martial-arts action that begins in Mistborn.

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the "Sliver of Infinity," reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler's most hellish prison. Kelsier "snapped" and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.
Kelsier recruited the underworld's elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.
But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel's plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she's a half-Skaa orphan, but she's lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

Sorry. Long blurb.

First off, Mistborn was not what I was expecting. Granted, I didn't even read a blurb before requesting it from the library. All I knew was that I kept seeing it everywhere on people's lists of favorite Fantasy books. Well, this is not your typical fantasy. I don't know why I was expecting elves and dwarves or something like that, but Mistborn is completely original. Brandon Sanderson creates quite the clever mythology here and imagines up a fully-rounded world that is easy to get immersed in. And so you know, I recently took a grammar class and my professor told me it's ok to end a sentence with a preposition, so that last sentence is perfectly fine. ANYWAY, nerdy aside over, let's get back to the book.

Misborn was a fascinating read. It feels more like an Ocean's 11ish heist novel than what anyone would call a fantasy. I loved it, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel with high expectations. The characters were well-described and felt like real people. I especially liked Vin. The plot was intricate and there was some very interesting foreshadowing. I liked the depth of Brandon Sanderson's world and can't wait to get back into it with The Well of Ascension.

The Dressmaker

Blurb from the book cover:
Ellen Gowan is the only surviving child of a scholarly village minister and a charming girl disowned by her family when she married for love. Growing up in rural Norfolk, Ellen’s childhood was poor but blessed with affection. Resilience, spirit, and one great talent will carry her far from such humble beginnings. In time, she will become the witty, celebrated, and very beautiful Madame Ellen, dressmaker to the nobility of England, the Great Six Hundred.

Yet Ellen has secrets. At fifteen she falls for Raoul de Valentin, the dangerous descendant of French aristocrats. Raoul marries Ellen for her brilliance as a designer but abandons his wife when she becomes pregnant. Determined that she and her daughter will survive, Ellen begins her long climb to success. Toiling first in a clothing sweat shop, she later opens her own salon in fashionable Berkeley Square though she tells the world – and her daughter - she’s a widow. One single dress, a ballgown created for the enigmatic Countess of Hawksmoor, the leader of London society, transforms Ellen’s fortunes, and as the years pass, business thrives. But then Raoul de Valentin returns and threatens to destroy all that Ellen has achieved.

In The Dressmaker, the romance of Jane Austen, the social commentary of Charles Dickens and the very contemporary voice of Posie Graeme-Evans combine to plunge the reader deep into the opulent, sinister world of teeming Victorian England. And if the beautiful Madame Ellen is not quite what she seems, the strength of her will sees her through to the truth, and love, at last.

A friend of mine lent this book to me and I really enjoyed it. I don't always think to request Historical Fiction from the library, but I should more often, especially because I love Victorian England. The trick is finding a story that has a clean romance, and fortunately, The Dressmaker delivers on that account. I thought Ellen was a fantastically strong heroine and the plot managed to avoid feeling too soap-opera-esque. My only complaint is something I can't mention because it would be spoiler-y. I just have this one romance pet peeve... anyway... Overall, The Dressmaker is a satisfying historical fiction romance.