Posts Categorized: Book Reviews

Rose Under Fire
by Elizabeth Wein

September 8, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Wein_RoseUnderFire
★ ★ ★ ★

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein | Disney Hyperion | September 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

The author of best-selling WWII thriller Code Name Verity has produced another work of the same impressive quality. Fans of Verity will find Rose Under Fire very much to their liking.

Rose Under Fire is the dairy style first-person narrative of Rose, a young American woman who is working for the war effort in England during the 2nd World War.

She flies military planes as a transport pilot; though women at the time were not allowed to be actual fighter pilots or bomb droppers, moving planes and occasionally people from one Allied airfield to another was considered a relatively safe job for them. Of course, this occupation still involved some definite dangers, like malfunctioning equipment and rough weather conditions — not to mention the bombs that rained down on Britain in a near-constant storm of explosive destruction.

The book is split into two parts. The first is a diary of a young woman who is far from home in a war-torn land, who experiences fear and thrills and romance and grief and every other kind of thing you might expect a person in her situation to experience. Rose is brave and perhaps a little overenthusiastic, but she’s certainly a relatable character. She’s an aspiring poet and her poems add a special something to this book-as-journal interpretation of her story. Everything seems normal, or at least as normal as an expat wartime pilot girl can expect… until Rose crash lands behind enemy lines.

The second part of the book is told primarily in retrospect, as Rose remembers and comes to grips with her experiences at the Ravensbrück concentration camp prior to escape and rehabilitation in Paris. This is some real punch-in-the-gut stuff, made all the more startling by being based on actual historical events. Our protagonist meets girls and women who have been experimented on and horribly abused by Nazi guards. Rose herself is soon subject to the kinds of cruelties that are so astonishing that the real concentration camp survivors upon whose own experiences this part of the story is based were accused of exaggeration or outright lies even by their rescuers. Rose struggles to heal, both physically and psychologically, as she relives her POW experience and tries to reclaim her own life.

Though powerful in its treatment of WWII Nazi atrocities, this book isn’t exactly a tear-jerker. Recommended as a companion read for The Diary of a Young Girl (The Diary of Anne Frank) or for folks interested in realistic early-mid 20th century historical fiction.


Links:

This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in October 2013. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Wein, Elizabeth. Rose Under Fire. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Rithmatist
by Brandon Sanderson

August 31, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Sanderson_Rithmatist

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson | Macmillan – Tor Teen | May 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Brandon Sanderson is well known amongst sci-fi/fantasy fans as a prolific source of imaginative epics packed with never-a-dull-moment storylines on top of complex settings and backstories. Sanderson, who is only in his late 30’s, is already the author of 82 distinct works. He is perhaps best known for his Mistborn series and for completing the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, who passed away before he could complete his 14-book behemoth.

Most recently, Sanderson was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novella for The Emperor’s Soul. He is currently working on 3 different projects and has several more on the backburner; fans will be happy to hear that his next novel, Steelheart, is due out in September. Though his works generally appeal to SF/F genre enthusiasts of all ages, The Rithmatist is his first work to be specifically targeted to middle-to-high-school readers.

The Rithmatist follows the story of a young man who goes to school with people who possess a magical power – but he himself does not possess that same ability. The idea for this story came to Sanderson as he contemplated the possibility of non-magical students attending a magic-focused school, such as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Sanderson, of course, puts his own spin on the rules of magic. The book is illustrated by Ben McSweeney with examples of typical chalk drawings. Sanderson has clearly put quite a bit of thought into the mechanics of this world’s distinct magical system. The power to animate simple lines of chalk is extended to only a select few students during a one-time initiation ceremony. These young rithmatists are trained to draw chalk circles and lines that can attack enemies, defend positions, and act as small helpful creatures called chalklings.

Joel, our “muggle” in this case, missed out on his initiation ceremony and wishes for nothing more than to be allowed the chance to train as a rithmatist. He jumps at the rare chance to study with a rithmancy professional alongside a particularly apathetic rithmancy student named Melody; they are soon pulled into an investigation of mysterious kidnappings committed by improbable chalk creatures. What he and his new companion discover could change the way rithmancy is used forever.

Though distinctly Sandersonian, The Rithmatist is not an intimidating brick of a book. Younger readers who are just beginning to test the waters of the fantasy genre should definitely get their toes wet with this story. Fans of the aforementioned Harry Potter may recognize and enjoy some familiar elements, but this is in no way a “copycat” series (and yes, Sanderson has indicated his intentions to continue Joel’s story – the 2nd installment is expected sometime in 2015). This book is recommended for teen readers who enjoy detailed magical systems and fantastic plotlines tempered with doses of realistic coming-of-age character development.


Links:

This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in August of 2013. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Sanderson, Brandon. The Rithmatist. New York: Tor, 2013. Print.
Source: Blue Willow Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
by Deb Perelman

December 7, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 0

Perelman_SmittenKitchen

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman | Knopf | January 2012 | Hardcover $35.00

Deb Perelman loves to cook. It’s as simple as that. She isn’t a chef or a restaurant owner—she’s never even waitressed. Cooking in her tiny Manhattan kitchen was, at least at first, for special occasions — and, too often, an unnecessarily daunting venture. Deb found herself overwhelmed by the number of recipes available to her. So, she founded her award-winning blog, smittenkitchen.com, on the premise that cooking should be a pleasure, and that the results of your labor can — and should be — delicious… every time.

Deb is a firm believer that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes. And now, with the same warmth, candor, and can-do spirit her blog is known for, Deb presents her first cookbook — more than 100 new recipes, plus a few favorites from her site, all gorgeously illustrated with hundreds of Deb’s beautiful color photographs.

I recently acquired a copy of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The author has been writing about food/cooking over at “The Smitten Kitchen” blog for years now, and her expertise is evident in this long-awaited book.

First, and most obviously, the book is beautiful. Ms. Perelman did all of the photos herself in her tiny little kitchen. And every single recipe has at least one photo — the more involved/complicated ones have more. Plus, I love that the cover looks great with or without the dust jacket. Oh, yeah, and it opens flat on your kitchen counter. Details like this make me so happy.

I do want to make it clear that this is not a cookbook for beginners. The instructions are all clear and the author has included plenty of little asides and tips, but if you can barely boil an egg this book is not for you! And it isn’t for folks who only like simple, meat-n-taters type meals, either. Ms. Perelman was once a vegetarian, and that comes across in her creative use of produce (and relative dearth of heavy meats) in these dishes.

But if you think cooking is a fun hobby, if you like trying new ingredients and combinations, if you want to try something different but not unrealistically complicated, if you appreciate recipes that have been tested and perfected by a foodie who knows what she’s doing — this is the cookbook for you.

I’ve already tried a couple of recipes from the book: a fancy sort of grilled cheese (which involved caramelized onions, and which made me seriously ecstatic) and a cucumber dill ‘slaw. Planning on trying the latkes this weekend (it is Hanukkah, after all).

This is one of the few cookbooks I have that I know will get lots of repeated use. And that’s probably the best recommendation a cookbook can get.


Links:

Publication information: Perelman, Deb. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. New York: Knopf, 2012. Print.
Source: Blue Willow Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


We Are What We Pretend to Be
by Kurt Vonnegut

November 16, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 0

Vonnegut_WAWWPTB

★ ★ ★

We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut | Vanguard Press | October 2012 | Hardcover $19.99

Called “our finest black-humorist” by The Atlantic Monthly, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Now his first and last works come together for the first time in print, in a collection aptly titled after his famous phrase, We Are What We Pretend To Be. In this fiction collection, published in print for the first time, exist Vonnegut’s grand themes: trust no one, trust nothing; and the only constants are absurdity and resignation, which themselves cannot protect us from the void but might divert.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of We Are What We Pretend to Be by Kurt Vonnegut from a giveaway at Book Riot. It is actually 2 books in 1: his first novella Basic Training + his final novel If God Were Alive Today + an intro by the author’s daughter, Nanette Vonnegut. Basic Training was never actually published, and Vonnegut didn’t get a chance to finish If God Were Alive Today before he passed away in 2007.

I think I enjoyed Nanette’s introduction more than either of the actual stories, which is unfortunate because I count Vonnegut as one of my favorite authors. Neither of the stories were actually bad, but neither of them were anywhere near the quality of his other works — and that isn’t surprising. These stories were never published in the first place because they weren’t really ready for publication. I guess the novelty/nostalgia factor is supposed to make up for that now, for Vonnegut fans who are obviously never otherwise going to get new works out of him because, y’know, he’s dead.

I caught glimpses of the author’s budding genius in Basic Training, but it is definitely in need of some editing (which I suspect the publisher was reluctant to do, and I can’t really lay blame for that). And If God Were Alive Today has the makings of something truly profound, but I found it very, very obvious that it was unfinished (and, again, in need of more refined editing, but then it would be, being unfinished and all).

Overall, I’m glad I got a chance to read it and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to lend it out, but I wouldn’t recommend this to Vonnegut virgins as an introduction to his works.


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Publication information: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Literary Trust. We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works. New York: Vanguard Press, 2012. Print.
Source: Giveaway from Book Riot
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.