readingcook

The Crown’s Game

In YA Book Reviews on May 22, 2017 at 8:49 pm

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by Evelyn Skye
Fantasy/©2016/Grade 7 and Up

Book Info (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

My Thoughts:

A very unique reading experience! The setting was the first thing that captured my interest – an alternate 19th Century Russian historical setting infused with elements of magic. Then there was the fascinating mix of characters, with Vitka and Nikolai being the most interesting and quite memorable in their own way. The plot was full of edge-of-your seat twists and turns, and didn’t let up. When you reach the cliff hanger at the end, you just have to have the sequel (The Crown’s Fate) ready to grab. Even with all that, for me, the quality of the writing and the elements of magic really stood out. Highly creative and imaginative.

Sequel: The Crown’s Fate

Much darker than the first book, but equally great magical world, serious girl-power, epic sibling rivalry, deeper character development.

If You Liked This, Then You Might Like This:

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Series, Book 1) by Leigh Bardugo

Finding the Worm (Twerp Sequel)

In Middle Grade Book Review on May 22, 2017 at 5:07 pm

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by Mark Goldblatt

Realistic Fiction/@2015/Recommended for Middle School

Publisher’s Info (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Finding the Worm (Sequel to Twerp):

It’s not a test unless you can fail. . . .

Trouble always seems to find thirteen-year-old Julian Twerski. First it was a bullying incident, and now he’s been accused of vandalizing a painting. The principal doesn’t want to suspend him again, so instead, he asks Julian to write a 200-word essay on good citizenship. Julian writes 200 no’s instead, and so begins an epic struggle between Julian and his principal.
 
Being falsely accused is bad enough, but outside of school, Julian’s dealing with even bigger issues. His friend Quentin has been really sick. How can life be fair when the nicest guy in your group has cancer? Julian’s faith and friendships are put to the test . . . and the stakes have never been higher.

My Thoughts:

Though Finding the Worm is the sequel to Twerp, both books can stand alone. However, you won’t want to miss out on either one. Each one gives you great writing, unforgettable characters and engaging plots. Both are powerful stories that give you a realistic view of life in 6th and 7th grade as related through Julian’s (i.e. Twerp) journals, both bring you humor and tears, both bring you thought provoking issues of bullying and its consequences, of integrity, and of empathy. I think both books will give middle grade readers much to think about long after they have finished the last page.

 

 

Small Great Things

In My Book Club Books on May 15, 2017 at 1:52 am

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by Jodi Picoult

Book Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

My Thoughts:

This is just one of those books I could not put down, and I can’t stop thinking about. In the course of a very engaging story told from the perspectives of three characters, the author raises major issues about racism, our justice system, and how we treat minorities. While it is a book of fiction, it is also a book that makes you think. The author’s note at the end was unlike any I have ever read before and gives me a whole new appreciation of Jodi Picoult.

Book Club Discussion:

We actually started our discussion by talking about the ending. The author is Jodi Picoult, after all, and she is known for her unexpected endings. We all agreed we liked the book for many reasons, but one member thought the ending came too fast, seemed rushed, and was just too tidy. At least one of us felt that it just wasn’t realistic to expect Turk to have changed so drastically in that short of a time. It also didn’t seem completely realistic  to us that things would have ended so well for Ruth. We all agreed with these observations, but most of us still liked the ending. We wanted things to end well for Ruth, and it gave us a sense of hope that someone like Turk could change so drastically, even if it wasn’t completely realistic.

All in all, the story made us think more deeply about racism and if we were totally sure we were not at all prejudiced. Like Kennedy, we believed that we fit into that category of people who don’t see color, but then we discussed this further. One member clarified her thoughts about this by saying that of course, we see color. How could you not? The thing is not to dwell on it, not to see it as what defines the person,  and not to use it as the basis of how we relate to him/her.

The book definitely made us think about and acknowledge our prejudices. One member shared her experience of having accrued a lot of information about a woman, and then being surprised to find out she was African-American, not white. It made her stop and thing about why she had formed that opinion, what prejudices she indeed had. She outlined her thought process on figuring it out, and went on to say that we all have prejudices and need to be more self-aware in order to monitor how we think and react.

We went on to discuss the parts of the story that really stuck with us. One member brought up how enlightening it was to find out how white supremacists think and the brainwashing involved to multiply their numbers.  One member cited the part of the story when Ruth had Kennedy go shopping with her and what an eye-opening experience it was for Kennedy. One member noted the court scenes as being truly memorable. Another found it interesting how Kennedy had her associate help with the background check of the prospective jurors and observe how each juror reacted to things said in the course of the selection process. Another member cited the scene that starts on page 407 where Ruth states her true, unrestrained feelings. That was so powerful.

All in all, we liked the book. It provided an engaging story and was seriously thought provoking. One member stated that it was the best book she has read that examines racism.  Because it is fictionalized and brought in characters who displayed many of the stereotypes of both whites and blacks, it helps you look at and be open and honest about your own prejudices. A special thank you to author for including a very detailed and heartfelt Author’s Note at the end of the book.

Discussion Resources:

Reading Group Guide

Booking Mama Discussion

Book Club Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars

Book Club Menu

An Appetizer Collection of Small Great Things

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Cheeses, crackers, olives, truffle salted macron almonds, crudités

Kennedy’s Dinner for Ruth

Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread

Lasagne

Cold Zabaglione with Berries