Tag Archives: family

Book Review, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

A. S. King gives us a well written coming-of-age story in Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Vera struggles with more than any teenager should. Her mother abandoned her, her father struVera Dietz by A.S. Kingggles with life, her best friend’s father beats his mother and love seems always out of grasp for Vera. Pressures from the gang at school demean Vera and when her best friend and love of her life rejects her, her world implodes.

A difficult story for me to read, because everyone makes bad decisions, one after another. They never seem to make a good decision. No reprieve appears in sight. Even King’s ending laid a heavy hand on the heroine.

Undoubtedly, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an important depiction of how life for many teens works. For those more fortunate, the story depicts issues some teens face, however, it hurts to visualize such a bleak life as completely as King depicted Vera’s.

Vera Dietz comes to life with style

King writes in a familiar first person perspective that suits the story well. Written in Vera’s voice, the style is believable and carries you into her world.

Book Review, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. KingPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Published by Ember on April 10th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 326

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to? Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.
From the Hardcover edition.

Book Review, The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr takes us into the world of classical piano competitions in The Lucy Variations.  At the beginning of the story, we find  that Lucy walked off stage at one of the highest level competitions. Her Sara Zarrfamily did not take it well. From there, Lucy must navigate within her new world, a world without playing piano.

Although her family pushed her beyond her emotional limit, Lucy’s passion for music remains clear. Her life doesn’t feel complete without it. While struggling to determine her own compass among the adults who control her life, she befriends her brother’s teacher. His affect on her life, a gift or a burden, we must read to determine.

By placing Lucy in the world of competitive music, which few of us are familiar with, Zarr creates a coming-of-age story that takes you out of your world and yet is very understandable. We can all relate to the pressures Lucy feels, the betrayals she confronts, and her struggle to do what she knows is right for herself. Lucy works through her issues like a true heroine, someone we’d like to emulate if we were in a similar situation.

Accolades for Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr writes stories with strong female heroines. She received the National Book Award Finalist for Story of a Girl. The National Book Foundation conducted an interview with her after the award.

POV questionable at times, written in 3rd close but sometimes I questioned whether it was 1st because

Book Review, The Lucy Variations by Sara ZarrThe Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
on May 7th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages: 309

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano -- on her own terms. But when you're used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl's struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It's about finding joy again, even when things don't go according to plan. Because life isn't a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.

Dragon Rule by E. E. Knight Book Review

Dragon Rule takes place in a world where dragons live along Dragon Rule by EE Knightside humans and, most importantly, dragons rule there. As expected, cooperation between the groups can be strained, but E. E. Knight focuses on tensions between dragons, rather than the human versus dragon relationship.

Although Knight starts and ends his novel with the Copper, the story diverges into his sister’s and brother’s lives. The reader follows subplots for many dragon characters. Although each is integral to the main story-line, subplots subsume the Copper’s struggle. Perhaps Knight planned for supporting characters to fight the Copper’s battles for him. With that said, no particular character engaged me so much that I burn for the next installment of The Age of Fire series.

If Knight intends a moral message, ‘blood is thicker than water’ appears a possibility. Copper and his brother and sister have very different personalities and morals, but when challenges confront the family, they stick together.

Nice descriptions of dragon environs, the Lavadome and  caves where dragons live helped establish settings, although in general the book lacked the due diligence I expect from an award winning novelist. Knight writes clearly with plenty of dialogue; however, typos occur too often, a complaint many reviews mention and I found unprofessional.

Dragon Rule: Book Five of The Age of Fire Series

It’s clear Knight enjoys writing about dragons. He personifies them with keen attention to their physical limitations, historical contrivances and builds cultures one may expect in a dragon world.

Perhaps because I didn’t read the first books in the series, Dragon Rule didn’t fully engage me. This book doesn’t stand on its own.  It appears written for current fans, as a bridge to the next installment of the series.

Dragon fans should check out the History of Dragons on the Draconsinka web site for some fun information on dragon lore in general.

Dragon Rule by E. E. Knight Book ReviewDragon Rule (Age of Fire, #5) by E.E. Knight
Series: Age of Fire #5
Published by Roc on December 1st 2009
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 320

The author of the national bestselling Vampire Earth series presents the fiery fifth book in his epic dragons saga.
Scattered across a continent, three dragon siblings are among the last of a dying breed?the final hope for their species? survival.
Wistala, sister to the Copper who is now Emperor of the Upper World, has long thought humans the equal of dragons. She leads the Firemaids, fierce female fighting dragons who support the Hominids of Hypatia. Which puts her at odds with both her brothers, for the Copper has no use for the humans he now dominates and AuRon, the rare scale-less grey, would isolate himself and his family from both the world of men and the world of dragons. But as the Copper?s empire roils with war, greed, and treachery, the time is fast approaching when Wistala will have to choose who to stand with? and fight for...

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter Book Review

Humming Room by Ellen PotterEllen Potter starts The Humming Room with a young girl, Roo, hiding while state troopers search her parent’s trailer. The scene seemed foreboding and not what I expect in a middle grade book. By the end of the chapter I feared for Roo, either her parents died or committed a terrible crime. One imagines the mystery of what happened the challenge of the story, but that plot line evaporated more quickly then it arrived. The mystery remained unresolved, making it incongruous to the rest of the story.

In the next chapter Roo moves in with her uncle on the isolated Cough Island, where a new world introduces new mysteries. Two housekeepers attempt protecting Roo from something undefined, but with little effect. New mysteries appear everywhere.  A Faigne or phantom boy skirts around the river, stirring Roo’s imagination. Humming in the walls entice her, while rumors of her uncle killing his wife haunts her. Bottom line, there is no lack of mysteries in Potter’s novel. All, but the first mystery is resolved by the end. What happens to the parents is never addressed, only that Roo loved her father, who looked like her uncle.

Roo proves a confrontational personality, but one I grew to embrace. Each chapter of the story left me wondering what comes next. The plethora of mysteries drives the story, but its core revolves around Roo building relationships and establishing her equilibrium.

Ellen Potter Builds on Sounds

I like how Potter incorporates sounds in her story. She builds Roo’s character on the girl’s listening ability. From the opening scene, with Roo under the trailer listening to the state troupers’ boots above, to the end. Even the title, The Humming, reflects Potter’s obsession with sound. The story weaves what Roo hears into every scene. The sounds of the river and swishing of oars, flapping of a bat’s wing and swish of a crane overhead all serve to enliven the read. We question the squirrel’s chatter who befriends Roo, and the unidentifiable crying she hears. Neither do we miss the humming in the walls of her uncle’s mansion. Perhaps most distinctive is Roo’s ability to hear sounds in the earth when she puts her head to the ground, which is a thread at the beginning and end of the story, tying it together.

The World Listening Project announced the theme for World Listening Day which occurs annually–scheduled for July 18th, 2017 this year. The theme will be “Listening to the ground”

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter Book ReviewThe Humming Room by Ellen Potter
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 28th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade, Mystery, Young Adult
Pages: 192

Hiding is Roo Fanshaw's special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment's notice. When her parents are murdered, it's her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.
As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn't believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.
Despite the best efforts of her uncle's assistants, Roo discovers the house's hidden room--a garden with a tragic secret.
Inspired by The Secret Garden, this tale full of unusual characters and mysterious secrets is a story that only Ellen Potter could write.

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin Book Review

From Annals of the Western Shore,

Gifts by Ursula Le GuinGifts is all about power. Le Guin explores both mental and physical aspects of it. People born with power, the illusion of power and creating the illusion of power where none existed before. She probes how people use power, abuse it and are distracted by it. How people enslave others with it, fool themselves by it and accept or reject power whether in themselves or others.

Le Guin accentuates the effects of powers on society by creating a world where magical powers inherited through one’s blood lines range from killing people to turning rocks to dust.

The powers depicted in Gifts include: ‘wasting people’ so they die within the year; twisting limbs; blinding or making people deaf; taking people’s will; making people follow you or become subservient to you; rendering people brainless idiots and being able to talk to animals. Her main character, Orrec’s, power is ‘undoing’ things or dissolving them. It’s considered one of the most odious powers. Odious enough for Orrec’s father to persuade him to blind himself.

The powers Le Guin portrays in Gifts can apply to power in all societies. Power of influence over others, revenge, holding people in line, submission to power or fear of one’s own power.

Both Sides of the Coin

Relief comes from an outsider who questions everything Orrec believes about the powers that bind his world. The outsider explains incidents that occur as natural, but Orrec can’t see the truth. He remains blind, because he believes the lore he was raised within.

Orrec’s girlfriend, Gry, realizes that power works for good and evil. She refuses to use her gift for the family business of calling wild bore, bear and deer to the hunt. Instead she uses her power to talk to animals,to heal them and to train dogs and horses. She questions whether all powers have good and evil possibilities. She asks Orrec to consider the positive use of his power to ‘undo’ things and suggests the power’s original purpose may have been to heal rather than kill.

Le Guin foreshadows the end early in the story, but it comes with a certain satisfaction as the protagonist finally comes to terms with issues of power in his society, family and in himself.

Le Guin: Master Story Teller

I find myself returning to Ursula Le Guin’s books for a thought-provoking-science-fiction story that doesn’t rely on mega battles. She incorporates humane themes within unusual circumstances and environments. The combination equates to a good read.

For those interested in writing: Ursula Le Guin writes Gifts in 1st person POV. Notice how carefully she uses the pronoun ‘I’, so it isn’t overused.  A master storyteller with many awards, Le Guin balances backstory, action scenes and dialogue with the narrators thoughts, emotions  and telling of the story.

You may find more information about Ursula Le Guin at the Nebula Awards website.

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin Book ReviewGifts (Annals of the Western Shore, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Series: Annals of the Western Shore #1
Published by Harcourt on April 1st 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 286

Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability--with a glance, a gesture, a word--to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.
In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light.
Includes a reader's guide and a sample chapter from the companion title Voices.

The Memory Key by Liana Liu

Redd Becker Book Reviews

The Memory Key explores a future where memory chips implanted The Memory Key by Liana Liuin everyone, including children circumvents  alzheimer’s disease, but the mind begins to rely on the device. Things go wrong when the company that makes memory keys designs them to manipulate people. When Lora’s key malfunctions and she begins to have crisp memory recall she begins to investigate her mother. Lora realizes her mother, a scientist with the company who made memory key, was murdered by them.


A Memory Key Sounds Enticing

Liu writes a fast-paced action mystery. As with much scifi questions of technological interventions on humans predominates. Implants to ward off challenges of our organic body sounds appealing, but be wary of big business and relying on technology. Some scenes appeared too convenient such as: her mother working for the memory key company, her best friend’s brother becomes a love interest who works for the same company, and her alternate boyfriend works for the old folks home where Lora finds her mother still alive.

For those who enjoy writing: Scenes move fast and are entertaining. The quality of writing works well for the format. The style reflects what YA specialist often asks for in YA books, but for me has become too standard in the genre.

Many find The Memory Key wonder. Take a look a more reviews at YA Books Central.

The Memory Key by Liana LiuThe Memory Key by Liana Liu
Published by HarperTeen on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 368

In a five-minutes-into-the-future world, a bereaved daughter must choose between losing memories of her mother to the haze of time and the reality-distorting, visceral pain of complete, perfect recall.

Lora Mint is determined not to forget.

Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return.

But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would. Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad—burying the truth forever? Lora’s longing for her lost mother and journey to patch up her broken memories is filled with authentic and poignant emotion. Her race to uncover the truth is a twisty ride.

In the end, Liana Liu’s story will spark topical conversations about memory and privacy in a world that is reliant on increasingly invasive forms of technology.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicide

Redd Becker Book Review

A teenage suicide story by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng writes the story of a teenage suicide and a family left to figure out what happened, as well as how they influenced the event and how they will live with it.

Ng moves through each member of the family as they confront their personal prejudices and motivations. They each make assumptions and live accordingly. Whether the assumptions are accurate makes no difference. Each character lives truthfully by their own beliefs. The consequences of their actions; however, based on what they assume, determines their life and those around them. As the reader, we see how pieces of a young girl’s life fit together to create a family tragedy.

Emotions of teenage suicide are universal

Ng created a story brimming with the intricacies of family dynamics, while bullying, racism and misunderstandings drive tensions for an Asian American family. Although issues of racism drive many of the characters, the underlying motivations and desires of each character are common to most of us. Ng writes about universal truths that reside in each of us and our families. Insecurity and misunderstandings are not unique to any specific race.

For those interested in writing: Ng writes in a style you may be warned not to use. The book is full of memories and not much dialogue or action scenes, but the fullness of the plot, characters and environments are clear.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicideEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Books on May 12th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 292
Buy on Amazon

“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now. . . . Deep, heartfelt.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, drama, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.