Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

From Goodreads: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions. Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously - and at great risk - documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. 

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: We all know about the plight of Jews under Nazi Germany, but the suffering of people from the Baltic states (i.e. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) during Stalin’s regime is one that most people probably aren’t aware of. So, kudos to Ruta Sepetys for writing Between Shades of Gray and giving voice to those people who were silenced. 

I find it shocking that more than twenty million people died in Soviet prisons or as deportees in Siberia; and that those who survived had often spent as many ten to fifteen years in forced labour camps. These survivors and their descendants were considered criminals by the Soviets until 1991!  

Lina’s story was hard to read; but amidst that horror, Sepetys shows our ability to be resilient even in the worst of circumstances. I also liked that the Russians featured in the book were portrayed as human – some were terrible, but others were capable of kindness.

A historical fiction that should be read, Between Shades of Gray was released in March 2011 by Philomel Books. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s such a striking image – the plant has managed to survive despite the harsh environment.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mini Reviews: The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson and In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

From Goodreads: When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I haven’t had much time to read due to school ending and then deciding to take a course over the summer, but I did finish The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson recently. I didn’t know much about the book before beginning it, and only picked it up because of its cover and the fact that I wanted to see how a Caucasian, former CIA officer would deal with the subject matter. While I would have liked Laila to have been forthright about where she was from – all we know is that she’s from the Middle East, a region composed of many countries, each with their own customs and traditions – I understand why Carleson chose not to limit herself in such a way (as she explains in the back). Similarly, although I didn’t agree with all of Laila’s thoughts, her attempts to reconcile her old way of life with her new one were relatable. Overall, I think Carleson did a good job of portraying another culture’s way of thinking respectfully and showing how different American life can be to others.

Inspired by real events, The Tyrant’s Daughter was released in February 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. 

From Goodreads: Take caution ahead - Oversize plant life, eerie amphibious royalty, and fear-inducing creatures abound. Lest you enter with dread. Follow Jack and Jill as they enter startling new landscapes that may (or may not) be scary, bloody, terrifying, and altogether true. Step lively, dear reader ... Happily ever after isn’t cutting it anymore.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I love reading retellings because it’s always fun to see authors put their own twist on something familiar; and with its dark humour and some bloodshed (as a nod to the original Grimm tales), Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly is definitely one of the more memorable fairy tale retellings I’ve read. Gidwitz takes the stories of The Frog Prince, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Jack and the Beanstalk among others and combines them into one over-arching story where Jack and Jill are the main characters. It wasn’t until I was done reading that I found out that In a Glass Grimmly was the second book in the A Tale Dark and Grimm series - perhaps I should have looked at the cover more carefully since it does say In a Glass Grimmly is a companion novel ... oops! - but now that I know there’s another book in the series, I’ll be sure to read it too.

In a Glass Grimmly was released by Dutton Children’s Books in September 2012.