Archive for February, 2014|Monthly archive page


In YA Book Reviews on February 26, 2014 at 3:28 am


by Pat Schmatz

Realistic Fiction/©2011/226 pages/Recommended for Ages 11 and above

Publisher’s Summary:

Thirteen-year-old Travis has a secret: he can’t read. But a shrewd teacher and a sassy girl are about to change everything in this witty and deeply moving novel.

Travis is missing his old home in the country, and he’s missing his old hound, Rosco. Now there’s just the cramped place he shares with his well-meaning but alcoholic grandpa, a new school, and the dreaded routine of passing when he’s called on to read out loud. But that’s before Travis meets Mr. McQueen, who doesn’t take “pass” for an answer–a rare teacher whose savvy persistence has Travis slowly unlocking a book on the natural world. And it’s before Travis is noticed by Velveeta, a girl whose wry banter and colorful scarves belie some hard secrets of her own. With sympathy, humor, and disarming honesty, Pat Schmatz brings to life a cast of utterly believable characters–and captures the moments of trust and connection that make all the difference.

My Thoughts:

A very engaging read – I could not put it down, and I did not want it to end. The characters jump off the pages, and I just loved them – Travis, Velvetta, and Bradley are memorable, unique individuals who each have a story to tell. I also liked that every other chapter was Velvetta’s perspective. As a retired teacher, I especially appreciate how teachers are depicted (Mr. McQueen especially makes me proud!) and that a number of novels are alluded to in Bluefish (most frequently, Haunt Fox by Jim Kjelgaard, the book Travis learns to read with, and The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, which Velveeta reads.) There may be a few loose ends when the story concludes, and normally that would annoy me. However, for this book and for me, the ending was enough. Mostly, that is because I can’t help but believe that Ms. Schmatz will come out with a book about Velvetta that will complement this book, and also because I think the author supplies ample material to allow the reader to imagine what happens from there. All in all, a beautifully written book; a quiet gem that packs a punch.

Companion Books: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

 My Rating: 5/5 Stars

 Related Information:

Book Trailer by the author

Review with Helpful Middle School Teacher Suggestions

Discussion Notes


The Light Between Oceans

In My Book Club Books on February 23, 2014 at 2:57 am

9781476708492_p0_v1_s260x420 by M. L. Stedman 

Published July 31st 2012/Hardcover, 343 pages

Book Club Selection for February, 2014

Publisher’s Description (Goodreads):

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

Book Club Wrap-up: Overall, our group agreed this was one of those books that just begged to be discussed. Talk about your moral dilemmas and shades of gray.  Most of us were impressed with the great descriptive writing, but one of us was distracted by the frequency of inconsistent verb tenses and the feeling that many of the situations were too contrived. We each had something to say about all the main and several of the minor characters, and there was a wide variety of comments and strong feelings about each. Of course, the main discussion was around the character’s decisions and consequences. We didn’t each actually give the book a rating, but I am guessing that that would have varied from 2 to 5 stars. Just like the greater reading community, we had widely differing thoughts on this book. That definitely made for a lively and satisfying discussion.

My Rating:  5/5 Stars (For me, this book wasn’t as much about plot and characters as it was about the craft of writing. I just kept rereading certain sentences and passages because they were just so descriptive.)

Reading Guide – we used these questions from the publisher to guide our discussion.
Related articles
  • Book Club Dinner Menu for our Discussion of The Light Between Ocean was inspired by the ocean and Australian setting, Isabel’s garden, and baby Lucy
  • Deep Blue Sea Martini

Cruel Beauty

In YA Book Reviews on February 12, 2014 at 11:50 pm


 by Rosamund Hodge

YA Fantasy/©2014/342 pages/Recommended for 7th Grade and Above

Publisher’s Blurb (Goodreads):

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart. Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him. With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

My Thoughts:

I was so looking forward to reading this book because of the publisher’s comment claiming it to be “Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast“. Perhaps that resulted in my expectations being too high because this book just didn’t grab me. I do enjoy a good retelling of a favorite fairy tale, but I don’t think that Cruel Beauty was what I had in mind. I found this book to be a very dark retelling of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. It does come complete with a fantasy world under a parchment dome sprinkled with elements of romance and mythology, so that added some interest.  Also, I do think it is well written, and it was engaging enough that I kept reading. If it had been really bad, I would have abandoned it completely. Life is too short to read books you don’t like. That said, I just couldn’t bring myself to really care about the characters. Add to that that there were parts of the plot that were just a little too dark and a little too confusing for me (sometimes there was just too much going on), and you won’t be surprised when I tell you that it just wasn’t the satisfying read I was hoping for. To put things in perspective, I did just finish Cress, the third book in the Lunar Chronicles (one of my favorite YA series), so that may have contributed to my lackluster impression of this book. I read many rave reviews before I purchased this book, so plenty of other avid readers enjoyed it. It just wasn’t the book for me.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Other Opinions:

A Touch of Book Madness

A Reader of Fiction


In YA Book Reviews on February 5, 2014 at 9:04 pm

9780312642976_p0_v1_s260x420by Marissa Meyer

YA Science Fiction/©2014/550 pages/Book 3 of The Lunar Chronicles/Recommended for 7th grade and above*

Publisher’s Blurb (Barnes & Noble):

In this third book in Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

My Thoughts:

This third book in the series does not disappoint. Great humor and jaw dropping drama permeate this book, just like the two that preceded it it. Very impressive how the author maintains and advances all the individual story plots. I just could not put it down. Now I must patiently wait for the fourth and final book. Well, maybe not so much patiently…

My Rating: 5+/5

Other Reviews:

Alice Marvals