Saturday, July 8, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Night Witches: A Novel of World War II

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Told as the personal recollections of sixteen-year-old "Valya," Night Witches is the story of the brave female pilots who helped the Russians defeat the Nazi invasion during World War II. Valya and her family are in Stalingrad when it is besieged by the Nazis. Her father is a pilot, MIA. Her sister joins the Night Witches, and Valya is left at home with her grandmother and mother. When she finally joins her sister in the 588th Regiment, she works hard to prove she is ready to be a pilot, too.

From the conditions in Stalingrad - children fighting in the trenches, starvation - to those on the front - frostbite, exhaustion, constant danger- the book makes clear what war is really like for those caught up in it. The deprivations, the noise and dirt, the lack of niceties we take for granted, and the loss of friends and family to enemy fire are all experienced by Valya and those around her. It also shows that the Russian people were aware that Stalin was not all that different from Hitler, with the NKVD, SMERSH, and thousands at a time that he ordered sent to the gulags.

Lasky also shows that there can be bonding and friendships that develop during times of shared danger and purpose, and that a smiling face can hide deception. The incongruous sight of deadly pilots calmly embroidering by the fire, or a sniper risking his life to save someone, make it clear that people are always more complicated than we first believe. The use of Valya's references to favorite children's books sharpens the contrast between her life during the war and the peaceful years before it came. As she tried to find a way to the airbase through the troops ringing Stalingrad, "it looms as sparkling as the Emerald City of Oz, and the frozen river is my yellow brick road." And when she is finally on her way, she feels that the "Darlings' nursery window has indeed blown wide open, and I feel myself jumping on the back of the wind."

Some readers may not associate the author of the Ga'hoole stories with her works of historical fiction, but she is a master storyteller in both types of writing. Her use of imagery helps create the atmosphere. In Night Witches, Valya's mother is a violinist and she wishes that her daughter would also have been a musician. As Valya fights in the trenches, she thinks, "So now I am playing a DP-28 machine gun. A staccato nocturne." Balancing between the tension of the bombing runs, the hopes of reunion for the sisters, and the devastation of their country by the troops, the story carries us along through all the ups and downs as if we too were borne on the wings of the Night Witches. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Giveaway: A List of Cages by Robin Roe


And we have landed on #5 in the giveaways. This is a great YA novel I picked up in hardback at ALA Midwinter this year. As awesome as it is, it doesn't really belong in my elementary school library collection, so please help it find a good home.

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Check back soon to see what else I have found in my cleaning and reorganizing.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Giveaway: The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan



Day four of the giveaway spree and I'm getting closer to seeing the top of my desk. Today I have an ARC of Erin McCahan's The Lake Effect. A perfect summer read with YA romance at the lake shore. Enter to win and good luck!

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Stay tuned for more giveaways in the days ahead.  :-)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Giveaway: Girls Like Me by Lola St.Vil



And we're already at giveaway #3 in the midst of this summer cleaning frenzy here in my office. Enter below, and good luck!

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Keep on believing - there are more books for future giveaways.  :-)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Giveaway: Girl on a Plane by Miriam Moss



As promised, here's the second giveaway of an ARC found while straightening my home office. Enter below, and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

More giveaway goodies to come, so stay tuned!

Summer Reading 2017 The Goblins of Bellwater

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In the Pacific Northwest, Kit works as an auto mechanic by day and tries to pacify the goblin tribe with gold on full moon nights. Despite all his efforts, they still lure humans into the forest and play their (sometimes deadly) tricks on them. When local resident Skye becomes mixed up in a goblin curse, then Kit, his cousin Grady, and Skye's sister Livy are also pulled into the conflict. Can four humans find a way to outwit a goblin leader who has been playing her tricks for centuries?

Unlike many urban fantasies, Ringle's tale does not have humans yearning to enter the other world. Instead, these humans want to hold onto their humanity, even though they are not sure how to do so. Mixing elements of tales about goblins, other fae, the flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest, and a family curse, the story also deals with human problems like job hunting, dating, and pursuing dreams. The details of the setting are worked in cleverly through Livy's job with the Forest Service, as well as part of the trials the characters must go through to try and gain their freedom. Creatures from the treetops to the depths of Puget Sound make appearances, and sometime serve as the bodies of the fae.

It's not all despair and fighting against an unwanted fate. There are elements of humor sprinkled along the way to lighten the mood. Just imagine goblins demanding their own milk steamer so they can make fancy coffee, or a chain saw artist carrying off driftwood illegally while rangers look the other way because the artist is a part of the local color. What about the goblin tradition of being named for the first item they steal? In a modern world that could be real trouble for an immortal being. Imagine being called iPad forever. Eww!

Readers who enjoy urban fantasy and new takes on the traditional fairy dwellers of old tales should find plenty to enjoy in this original story of lovers, curses, and the strength of mortals when battling for those dearest to them.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Giveaway: Gutless by Carl Deuker



Hello, one and all! We're halfway through summer break here in East Tennessee and I have been using some of those precious days off to reorganize my home office. The upside to all that effort is a host of new giveaways that are starting...now. First up, an ARC of Carl Deuker's Gutless. Enter below, and good luck!


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P.S. Stay tuned for more giveaways as I continue with my cleaning spree.  :-)

Summer Reading 2017 Venturess (Mechanica #2)

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In Mechanica we were introduced to a complex world with the kingdoms of Faerie and Esting so different from each other and so intriguing. The folk from the Faerie kingdom are re-imagined in a way that shows them as distinctly nonhuman, however humanoid their appearance can be. The magic of Faerie and the mechanical, gear-driven inventions of Esting are as unlike as their creators. And there is Nicolette, our heroine - intelligent, inventive, and so lonely and mistreated since the deaths of her parents. Our hearts can't help but long for her success and happiness.

Now we have Venturess, the second of Nicolette's adventures. After the events in Mechanica, Nick moves from her childhood home and into the city. She lives near her friends Fin and Caro and has a workshop of her own to make her inventions and sell them. When Fin's father agrees to an attempt to negotiate a peace with Faerie, Nick and Caro climb aboard the airship with Fin and set off for the land across the sea. Incredible sights await them, along with discoveries about Nick's past, but so do danger, treachery, and battle. Can their love and friendship see them through all these hazards and into a future where the two realms are at peace?

The wonderment of all the mechanical gadgets (clockwork and otherwise), and the magic of Faerie will dazzle the imaginations of readers. Familiar characters from the first novel such as Fitz, Bex, Lord Alming, and Mr. Candery appear, along with our trio of heroes and Nick's trusty steed Jules. New personalities include the airship's crew, its captain (Wheelock), and the Faerie ruler Talis. Questions of loyalty, duty, love, friendship, and the meaning of family are all addressed by Nick and her companions, and readers will ponder them as they enjoy the story. After all, every good fairy tale has something to teach us.

I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys fairy tale reworkings, mixtures of magic and mechanics, and young adults who are brave enough to reach for their dreams.

The publisher was kind enough to supply a galley for me to read and review.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation

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Did you ever have to write a report on a president when you were in school? I remember writing about Thomas Jefferson when I was in third grade. I was impressed with all his accomplishments, and had a hard time figuring out the pronunciation of Monticello. But the only sources back then were the biographies in the school library, or the family edition of World Book Encyclopedia. Those books barely mentioned the explorers he sent out to map the Louisiana Territory, mostly just their names and the dates of their expeditions. If you had the same experience, there is now a cure for our lack of information - Jefferson's America by Julie M. Fenster.

In her book, Fenster traces the events and world politics that led up to the Louisiana Purchase. She explains the personalities involved - Jefferson, Napoleon, Carlos IV, Talleyrand, Godoy, Grenville - and the posturing and empire building they were attempting in North America. Mixed in with the international scene, there were also the internal politics of the United States. Jefferson's service under Washington, his own presidency, the famous Burr-Hamilton duel, and other events and relationships are painted in as the backdrop of the action along the western frontier. 

It seems amazing that so many people had so many different schemes and personal agendas. When we look back at the times of the founding fathers, we tend to imagine that everyone was pulling together for the good of our fledgling nation. We are surprised to hear that the government was run by human beings rather than saints, and that they played power games and backed pet projects just as politicians do today. And it may seem callous to us that Jefferson would send men out to explore when he knew that the other nations with territories outside the U.S. borders might kill them on sight. But each man who answered his call "was hungrier than all those he left behind to see the New World of his generation - the American West."

Jefferson's explorers were successful to varying degrees, and they received varying amounts of fame and recognition for their efforts. Some became household names, like Lewis & Clark. Others, such as Thomas Freeman, tend to be forgotten outside of history classrooms. They were not just filling in blank spaces on a map, or meeting native tribes and establishing lines of communication. These men were helping the president to "bring forward in place of his words the color of the rock, the words of the chiefs, the direction of the water, and the fact that the American mind had met its frontier." Jefferson needed to appease the critics who disagreed with the money spent on the territory, as well as feed the popular curiosity about what the west was like. 

The text of the book does a wonderful job of making the personalities of these historical figures come alive, and to toggle back and forth between the various expeditions to give a sense of how much was going on in so many different directions at once. It is easy to see why some details were left out of the World Book articles. Most parents wouldn't approve of their children learning about the reputation Sacajawea's husband had for "interfering with underage girls." And Ellicott's ploy of bringing his own "harlot" on a surveying mission by passing her off as his washerwoman wouldn't really be a fact to include in an elementary school report.

Along with all the details about the explorers and what they found, the author also puts the whole situation into a context that modern minds can appreciate. Yes, these men risked their lives to travel where few Europeans or their descendants had gone, but it was more than that. As Fenster puts it, this was a cold war of the early nineteenth century. "In the last part of the twentieth century,the entry into space served the same purpose in a climate just as tense between the United States and the Soviet Union." A-ha, now we get it.

Anyone interested in general U.S. history, early American heroes, or the Jefferson presidency will enjoy this thoughtfully written text. Some readers who do not normally turn to nonfiction may find themselves absorbed in the tales of pirogue portages (say that three times quickly), log jams, and grizzly bears.

There is more information about the author and the book available on the publisher's website. The hardback copy came out last spring. The books is now available in a paperback edition.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.