Book Review: All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle


Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Title: All the Bad Apples
Narrator: Marisa Calin and Elizabeth Sastre
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2019
Summary/Review:

A Dublin teenager, Deena, on the precipice of her 17th birthday accidentally outself herself to her much older sister Rachel and her conservative father. Her other, wilder sister Mandy (Rachel’s twin) goes missing, and when her car is found by some cliffs on the other side of Ireland, she is presumed dead by everyone but Deena.

Instead, Deena goes on a road trip with her best friend, a mixed-race bisexual boy named Finn, and meets a previously unknown niece and an attractive young woman along the way.  They pick up clues in the form of letters from Mandy about the troubled history of women in Deena’s family going back centuries which includes forced pregnancy, rape, ostracization, accusations of witchcraft, abortion, and imprisonment in the notorious Magdelen laundries. The whole time they are pursued by three banshees adding an element of magical realism.

This movie ties together a story of contemporary sexism, homophobia, and discrimination in Ireland with folklore and history.  But does it with very little subtlety.  My mind wandered a lot during this book but let’s chalk that up to reader error. I’m sure this is a perfectly good book for young adults who want stories of adventure and family history with positive female and LGBT characters.

Recommended books:

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker


Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Title: The Age of Miracles
Narrator: Emily Janice Card
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2012)
Summary/Review:

This novel offers a speculative account of the crisis that occurs when the rotation of the Earth slows, lengthening the periods of daylight and nighttime.  This incident is referred to by the characters in the book as The Slowing, and it has the effect of causing birds to die off, an increase of solar radiation, a complete inability to grow traditional crops, and even causing some people to contract an illness.

While the premise is fantastical, the way the fictional American society responds to the crisis is realistic.  The US government determines that the country will continue to follow the 24-hour clock regardless of what time the sun is shining or not.  Some people rebel against this, insisting on living on “real time,” even going so far as forming their own separatist communities.

The narrator/protagonist of the novel is a junior high school girl from suburban San Diego named Julia.  From her perspective we see the dissolution of the social order among her family, friends, and school.  Any attempts to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence are overshadowed by the crisis that prevents any sense of predictability in the world. Julia narrates from an uncertain future while the narrative focuses on the first few months of the slowing as Julia faces changing friendships and an emerging relationship with a long-time crush.

This novel is dark and emotional and all too real to be reading at this time.

Recommended books:

  • The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Rating: ***

Book Review: Shearwater: A Mermaid Romance by D.S. Murphy


Author: D.S. Murphy
Title: Shearwater: A Mermaid Romance
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2017)
Summary/Review:

“Mermaids are real?” Patricia asked finally, looking stunned. “Like really real?” Ethan nodded solemnly.

“And they want to kill us all.”

The passage above is an actual quote from this teen paranormal romance set in a seaside village in Northern Ireland. It succinctly captures the flaws of this mermaid fantasy novel that has an excellent premise but the author doesn’t have the writing skill to make it pay off.  Clara is an American teenager whose parents die in a car crash. She learns that her mother actually was from Ireland and fled as a teenager.  Clara’s only living relative is a grandfather she never knew existed, Aedan, and she is sent to live with him in the seaside village of Portballintrae.

As Clara grieves her parents and adjusts to her new life in Ireland, she meets a handsome but mysterious boy, Sebastian.  It’s revealed that Sebastian comes from the mer-folk – the merrow – and that Clara is part merrow as well.  Clara also forms a friendship with Ethan, who is from an ancient group of families who are sworn enemies of the merrow and use merrow blood to perform magic.  Soon a plot by the merrow to kill all of humanity emerges.

Murphy does a good job of taking elements of Irish folklore and bringing them into a contemporary setting.  The big problem is that he is overly reliant on introducing big revelations and plot twists.  As they revelations multiply they must of course become bigger and soon just more ridiculous.  I think Murphy would’ve have done better to hold of on making revelations and built up the mystery and atmosphere of the novel.  A well-told story with smaller stakes (nevertheless of great importance to the characters) would’ve been far more interesting than this sprawling tale of a global threat.

Recommended books:

  • Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein


Author: Elizabeth Wein
Title: Rose Under Fire
Publication Info: New York : Hyperion, [2013]
Summary/Review:

This World War II novel is in the same universe as Wein’s excellent Code Name Verity.  Maddie from Code Name Verity is a minor character in Rose Under Fire, and the incidents of that novel are alluded to.  The protagonist of Rose Under Fire is Rose Justice, an American pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary responsible for ferrying aircraft among Allied airbases.  The book is written as her journal with some letters and poems.

Initially the book is about her quotidian concerns regarding flying, the War, friendships, and men. After the liberation of Paris, she flies to France (and buzzes the Eiffel Tower). Return a plane to England, she sees a V-1 flying bomb and attempts to divert it with the wingtips of her plane. Flying off course, Rose is intercepted by German jets and forced to land behind enemy lines.  She is sent to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp exclusively for women.

While this is a young adult book, it does not shy away from describing the full extent of violence and deprivation the Nazis carried out in Ravensbrück.  It is challenging for children, and adults, to read but I also think it is beneficial.  Rose is able to find hope and survive through the family she makes with the other women at the camp.  These include Polish political prisoners known as the Rabbits because they were forced to endure Nazi medical experiments.  Rose also bonds with Russian military pilots known as the Night Witches.

The story is heartbreaking and devastating, but also hopeful.  I also appreciate that after Rose escapes from Germany, the novel still shows her dealing with her ongoing trauma. Like Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is an excellent novel the deals with the horrors of World War II and the bravery of the women who participated in it.

Favorite Passages:

Hope—you think of hope as a bright thing, a strong thing, sustaining. But it’s not. It’s the opposite. It’s simply this: lumps of stale bread stuck down your shirt. Stale gray bread eked out with ground fish bones, which you won’t eat because you’re going to give it away, and maybe you’ll get a message through to your friend. That’s all you need.

Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet. But as long as you’re being lifted, you don’t worry about plummeting.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Author: Louisa May Alcott
TitleLittle Women
Narrator: C. M. Hebert
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010) [Originally published in 1868 and 1869]
Summary/Review:

I want to see Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of Little Women, but despite living most of my life in New England, and the past 22 years in Massachusetts, I’ve failed to read this book. So I’m filling in that gap in my cultural experience.

As is often the case with classic novels, I find it hard to write a review that says anything that hasn’t been said before.  But I did enjoy this book, which could be old-fashioned at times, but startlingly progressive for its era and still relevant in many ways.

The novel is the coming of age story for the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – living in a fictionalized version of Concord, Massachusetts in the 1860s.  When the story begins, their father is away from home, serving as a pastor in the Civil War, and even when he returns he is a benevolent background characters.  As the title clearly states, this is a women’s story, which only seems fair since many novels set in time of war exclude women entirely.  The only prominent male character throughout the novel is the boy next door, Laurie, who becomes a close friend of the March sisters.

Meg is the oldest, who takes a lot of responsibility for raising her younger sisters and maintaining the household. She’s married in the second part of the book and has some very relatable problems dealing with toddlers who don’t want to go to bed. Jo is the second daughter, who struggles with the limitations placed on girls and women of the time, and expectations to marry.  She loves literature and drama, and becomes a writer over the course of the novel.  Not surprisingly, she is the character who is most similar to Alcott herself.  Beth is sweet and shy, and something of the family’s conscience.  She has a very close relationship with Jo.  Beth contracts scarlet fever early in the novel and remains very sickly.  The youngest, Amy, is vain and materialistic as the story begins, but matures considerable over the course of the novel.  She becomes a talented artist.

I shan’t summarize further, but should you be like me and not have read it yet, I suggest you give it a try.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
Title:Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, and Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Summary/Review:

The Alcatraz series continues with the great humor and cleverness of the previous books, including a great running gag on chapter numbering.  The book focuses in on the history and meaning of the Smedry Talents bringing alight some fascinating details.  The story also finds Alcatraz and his friends in the middle of war, with all the loss and sacrifice that entails.  While humorous and never comes to a point that death seems possible, the book does exposit on the frightening reality of children in war.  Finally, Alcatraz makes an unexpected alliance.  Another great book in this series, and I look forward to the next and final volume.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


AuthorBenjamin Alire Sáenz 
TitleAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
NarratorLin-Manuel Miranda
Publication Info: New York, NY : Simon & Schuster Audio, p2013.
Summary/Review:

Sáenz has written a beautiful novel about friendship, family, love, coming of age, and coming to terms with your identity as a teenager. Set in El Paso in the mid-1980s, the book is narrated by 15-year-old Mexican American boy Aristotle – or Ari – who has learned to repress his feelings from his parents. His father won’t speak of the horrors of fighting in the Vietnam War and neither of his parents will talk about Ari’s much older brother who is in prison.  The story begins when Ari meets and befriends Dante, another Mexican American boy his age, at the swimming pool. Dante and his family are more open in their feelings and he draws out Ari over a series of meaningful conversations.  The two boys deal with the typical trials of teenagers as well the specific problems related to understanding their identity as Mexican Americans and masculinity.  They suffer injuries when hit by a car, are separated when Dante’s family goes to Chicago for a year, and explore their sexuality.  Without giving too much of the plot away, this is an absolutely beautiful book and one that I think a lot of young people (and formerly young people) can identify with. As an added bonus, Lin-Manuel’s expressive voice is absolutely perfect for the audiobook narration.

Favorite Passages:

He didn’t say anything. And then I heard him crying. So I just let him cry. There was nothing I could do. Except listen to his pain. I could do that. I could hardly stand it. But I could do that. Just listen to his pain.

Recommended booksGeorge by Alex Gino, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand


Author: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Title: My Lady Jane
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2016)
Summary/Review:

This work of historical fiction flat-out revels in the fact that it is completely made up.  This version of the story of Lady Jane Grey, a.k.a. the Nine Day Queen, has the boy King Edward being manipulated and slowly poisoned by his adviser Lord Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Edward designates his favorite cousin Jane to be his heir and has her married to Dudley’s son Guildford.

So far, similar to reality, but sillier.  In this alternate history, some people are Effians, that is having the ability to change into an animal.  Swiftly, Jane inherits the throne when Edward is declared dead, and then she and Guildford are forced to flee when Mary in turn claims the throne.  Jane, Guildford, and Edward (spoiler: he’s not dead) all have adventures, discover new powers, and meet interesting people along the way to a happier ending than reality.  The book is riotously funny both in the dialogue and the authors asides.  The audio book is excellently performed by Katherine Kellgren.

Recommended booksThe Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain and The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
Rating: ****

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


AuthorRay Bradbury
Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Narrator: Jerry Robbins and the Colonial Radio Players
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2007)
Summary/Review:

This is a book a read as a child and I revisited it through this dramatization by the Colonial Radio Players.  All I could remember was a mysterious carnival and a dust witch (which is different from a sand witch).  The material lends itself well to dramatization with the exception of characters constantly having to describe what they’re seeing.  The story captures that frightening feeling in a child’s life when they know something is wrong and for the first time realize that the grownups can’t fix it.  I also really came to appreciate the father and son relationship of Charles and Will Holloway, and how Charles tries to do his best despite not knowing the answers.  The story works well at maintaining a sense of dread and horror which is then released with laughter and joy.

Recommended booksThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


Author: Nicola Yoon
TitleThe Sun is Also a Star
Narrator: Dominic Hoffman, Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2016
Summary/Review:

This beautiful and romantic young adult novel tells the story of two teenagers who share one significant day together.  Daniel is the Korean-American son of immigrants, an aspiring poet, and in order to fulfill his parents’ aspirations is heading to an admissions university for Yale University.  Natasha is an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica brought to New York due to her father’s quixotic dreams of becoming an actor, is passionate about science, and is meeting with a lawyer in a last ditch effort to stave off deportation.

They meet by happenstance, then meet again, share their dreams and philosophies, and fall in love.  This book is completely unrealistic in that there’s no way that Daniel and Natasha could do all the things that they do in a single day, and the coincidences are too many.  But Daniel and Natasha are REAL, their thoughts and conversations spectacularly illustrate them as fully fleshed and specific teenage human beings.  Natasha and Daniel alternate as narrators offering different perspectives on the same situations, and there are also chapters from a third person omniscient narrator who fills in the details on the seemingly minor characters and family members who play a big role in the story.

This is a terrific and  thoughtful novel.

Recommended booksLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Rating: ****