Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard
By Susan Crandall

Genre:  Fiction
Published:  7/2/13 by Gallery books
Pages:  308
Format:  Hardcover

My rating: 
4 out of 5 stars

Whistling Past the Graveyard introduces us to a fiery and precocious 9 year old named Starla.  When Starla decides to run away from home to avoid getting into trouble with her Mamie, she embarks on a wild adventure that will change her little life forever.  Starla hitches a ride with a colored woman named Eula who is traveling with a white newborn baby.  Their road trip through the South in the 1960s teaches them both important lessons about life, love and family.

This is a sweet story, and I really enjoyed reading it.  It has been compared to both The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird.  That is probably a decent comparison, but I think Whistling Past the Graveyard lacks the depth of those novels.  Still, it is worth your time to read; it is a crowd-pleasing type of novel. 

Starla is a fun narrator, and it is interesting to hear her perceptions about the world (and racial prejudices) around her.  Because the book is told from her perspective, the tone is fairly simplistic but it works.  While this wasn't my favorite book of the year, it is a great read. I think most everyone would enjoy reading Starla's story. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky
by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Genre:  Memoir
Published:  9/10/13 by Simon and Schuster
Pages:  384
Format:  ebook

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars

This is Amanda Lindhout's account of her terrifying kidnapping in Somalia.  Along with a fellow journalist, Amanda was held hostage for 460 days.  This memoir is more than just the details of her kidnapping.  It is a story of courage, forgiveness, and survival.

Before I even started page one, I knew what was going to happen.  I knew Amanda was going to be kidnapped, I knew she would be held hostage for 460 days, and I knew that she would be released.  And yet, her story captivated me from page one and never let go.  The details of what happened to Amanda and Nigel are horrific, but I didn't feel like they were the main purpose for sharing this story.  The most amazing thing about this story is Amanda's surprisingly positive attitude throughout the whole ordeal, and even more surprisingly, her understanding and compassion for her kidnappers.

This book is beautifully written and well paced.  It is hard to tell how much of the writing comes from Lindhout and how much comes from her co-author Sara Corbett.  But in the end, who cares?  It worked as an engaging and inspiring read, so who wrote what really doesn't matter to me .

Since reading this book, I have read more about Amanda Lindhout, reading and watching many interviews with her about her experience and the book.  Not long after she was released from captivity, she started a foundation to HELP the people of Somalia, the very country where she was kidnapped! She definitely has her critics, but I don't think all the criticism is fair.  I see Lindhout as someone who is taking something really horrible and trying to turn it into something positive.  For that, I admire her greatly!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Shade of the Moon

The Shade of the Moon
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Genre: Young Adult
Pages:  288
Published:  8/13/13 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
1 out of 5 stars 

I read the first three books in this series by Susan Pfeffer about the catastrophic events that occur after an asteroid strikes the moon and knocks it off its orbit.  In book one (which I gave 3.5 stars), we met Miranda and her family, who had to survive all kinds of natural disasters while their food supply grew lower and lower.  In book two (which I gave three stars), Pfeffer wrote about the same events from a different perspective; this time focusing on Alex and his sisters, who had to survive all kinds of natural disasters while their food supply grew lower and lower.  In book three (which I gave two stars), Alex and Miranda meet each other (and of course, fall in love), all the while surviving natural disasters while their food supply grew lower and lower.

Enter book four, which focuses on Miranda's little brother Jon.  The one good thing I can say about this book is that the plot changes.  After the same thing happened again and again and again in the first three books, there was nothing left to tell with that storyline.  So I'm glad that Pfeffer decided to switch gears for this final book.  (I am assuming this is the final book!!)

Except that I'm not glad, because I really did not like the plot line of this book.  At all.  I kind of wish I could have just kept reading about more natural disasters and starvation.  It might have been less torturous than reading this story.  In The Shade of the Moon, two years after the moon was struck by the asteroid, the world has stabilized somewhat, and natural disasters and food shortages no longer seem to be a problem.   Jon is now living in a safe town, called an enclave, where only the privileged are allowed.  As a claver, someone who lives in an enclave, Jon has greenhouses to provide food as well as a nicer home, air purifiers, a good school, a soccer team and many things that resemble life before the asteroid.  Only those with special privileges can live in the enclaves.  Everyone else must live in "grub" towns, and they are treated as second class citizens and live in much worse conditions.  This book focuses mostly on the class wars between the clavers and the grubs.

This storyline and setting just did not feel believable to me.  It has only been two years since the asteroid struck, and in such a short time, every person in society has completely changed the way they think about class and prejudice.  I could see a system like this developing over time, but two years does not seem like enough time for this whole new way of living to have developed.  Maybe natural disasters will make people do crazy things, but I wasn't buying this story.

My greatest complaint about the book is the characters and their (lack of) development. I did not like Jon, and I didn't really care what happened to him.  All of the characters were one dimensional and boring.  The dialogue was not impressive, and I just didn't feel connected to anyone.  Miranda and Alex did not even seem like the same characters that we read about in the first three books.  

I really think it would have been better for Pfeffer to have just stopped writing after the third book.  This fourth book was not necessary, and I don't feel like it added anything to the overall story.  I hope this is really the end of the series now.  If more books are written, I don't think I will read them.