Review of Castle of Water

Before I get started, I just have to say this book is one of my favorite books I have ever read. Period. It takes a lot to get on that list. And this book is just perfect.

The book begins with three ill-fated passengers on a small plane, a Cessna 208, headed for the Marquesas. Barry, Sophie, and Sophie’s fiance, Etienne. The two survivors of the crash, Sophie and Barry find themselves stranded on a small, obscure island fighting to survive. The story chronicles Barry and Sophie’s life on the island as they first fight to survive, then come to terms with their situation on this little known island. As the narrative develops, the characters evolve and come to terms with their situation and begin creating a life on the island.

What is remarkable about this book is the way Huckelbridge crafts his sentences and intertwines the present with the past. The story in and of itself is simple. Two people are stranded on a deserted island with little hope for a rescue. The narrative follows how each of the protagonists, Sophie and Barry, come to terms with her/his situation and proceeds with life on the island. However, the finesse with which Huckelbridge molds and shapes these characters for the reader is truly a step above anything I have read before. In addition, he intersperses narrative aimed directly at the reader, giving the reader a sense of ownership in the story and an insight that fosters the feeling that he/she is involved because he/she knows more than the protagonists. By the end, the reader is truly vested in the lives of Barry and Sophie, feeling their joy and their despair.

The writing in this book is, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Huckelbridge tackles a complicated situation and relationship and weaves a story of love, loss, and the strength of the human spirit. It is just magnificent. Rarely does a book come along that I automatically want to read again, and this is one that I would pick right back up and read again.

Bottom Line: This is truly masterful writing. As I read, I fell in love with these characters, and by the end, I didn’t want it to end. One of my favorite books of all time. Yes, it is that good! My rating is an easy 5/5.

A Review of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog!

Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog! All opinions are my own.

Hilde is a precocious young journalist investigating a theft on her street, Orange Street. The story follows her investigation as she questions neighbors to find out who is responsible for a break-in in her neighborhood. Her big sister and partner, Izzy, is along for the ride, snapping pictures of potential clues. Who has committed the crime, and will Hilde get her story in time for her 6:30 deadline? All will be answered by the conclusion of the story.

What a delightful book for young readers, and a great foray into the mystery genre for readers who haven’t been exposed to mysteries. This book is well done and smart. I enjoyed it. As a gauge, I had my nine-year-old son read it, and he really enjoyed it. Even though he usually prefers books whose protagonists are male, he liked the mystery and the fact that Hilde is an investigative journalist (he didn’t use the words–“investigative journalist”–he IS a fourth grader, after all!) His direct quote on the book is, “I liked the mystery. When I read it I though every new character was the thief. I thought it was cool that Hilde and her sister worked together. My favorite character was Zeus, because he barked like Zeus’s thunder.” (Side note: My son is really into Percy Jackson, so the name of the dog could have (did) affect his choice of favorite character.)

I love that the book is based on a real-life girl who actually publishes her own newspaper called the Orange Street News. (Click the link to see her site.) Not only is the story great, but Hilde provides a great example for youngsters of loving something, in this case, journalism, and going for it.

Bottom line: Love the book, and love that it is based on a real-life girl. If you have young readers (ages 5-9), they should definitely read it. My rating is 5/5.

 

A Review of This Is Our Story

This Is Our Story is a YA suspense novel about a group of five privileged young men who go hunting one morning in the woods of Louisiana. By mid-morning, four boys walk out of the woods and one is dead. Grant Perkins is the unfortunate victim, but was his death an accident or was it murder? The four surviving boys are quickly dubbed “The River Point Boys,” and are under investigation for the death of their friend. Kate Marino, the main protagonist in this book, interns at the prosecutor’s office where her mother works, and the lawyer her mom works for, Mr. Stone, is given the case against The River Point Boys. Kate becomes involved in the investigation, and in a unique plot point, becomes Mr. Stone’s eyes when it is revealed that he is losing his eyesight. Kate’s personal connection with the case becomes apparent early in the novel and shapes her actions throughout. As Kate and Mr. Stone investigate more deeply into the events surrounding the River Point Boys’ last hunting trip, they find more questions than answers which are not resolved until the final pages of the book.

Here is another one that I don’t want to write too much about the plot, because who likes a suspense novel to be spoiled? Not me!

Before I get into my thoughts about this book, can we just for a moment discuss the cover art for this book?! I love it! It is one of my covers of the year. Make sure you look closely at it. Can you see the five shadows in the background? How clever is this? I love the strategic placement of the deer head. LOVE!

This Is Our Story is enjoyable, and it is a great choice for young adults looking for a suspenseful novel. The premise is interesting, and I definitely did not want to put it down. The novel flips back and forth in time from before Grant’s death and after Grant’s death. This time switch occurs at chapter breaks, and each regular chapter also begins with a text message sequence that pertains to the story, which is a nice touch. There are also intermittent chapters where the person who is responsible for Grant’s death directly addresses the reader, which gives an eerie touch to the narrative. The first two-thirds of the novel is well-crafted, compelling, and very suspenseful. (More on the last one-third below.)

That being said there are some problems. At times, the dialogue is stilted. For example, occasionally Kate will say “ya’ll,” which is (I am guessing) meant to reiterate that the story takes place in Louisiana; however, it is used very sparingly, and there really isn’t any other indication that they are in the South. In fact, as I read the story, I pictured the characters in New England. Only when, I read the “ya’lls,” did I go back and realize that the setting is Lousiana. Eek–one of my pet peeves!

For me, the problems with the plot came in the last one-third of the novel. There were some liberties taken to move the plot forward that felt unrealistic which in turn, made the resolution of the novel feel contrived. I don’t want to give too much of the specifics here, but would love to discuss with anyone who has read or reads This Is Our Story!

Bottom Line: The plot had some issues for me which affected my satisfaction at the end of the book; however, I enjoyed reading it and think the target audience will definitely find it a satisfying read. My rating is 3/5.

 

A Review of Girls Who Code Book #1: The Friendship Code

Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Girls Who Code Book #1: The Friendship Code. All opinions are my own.

Lucy is a middle school student who is desperate to learn to code so that she can create an app that will help her sick uncle. She joins the school coding club, but is soon disappointed when after the first meeting members have not even touched a computer. Dissatisfied, Lucy complains to her parents and old brother, Alex, who advise patience. Dissatisfied once again, Lucy decides to try her hand and teaching herself to code. That is, until mysterious notes begin showing up on her locker written in code. She enlists help from her friends to figure out what the notes mean and who could be writing them. Is it Alex? A friend? Who could it be?

Girls Who Code Book #1:The Friendship Code is a mild, straightforward story with the ultimate goal of introducing young girls to coding. The characters are likable and the friendships presented in the book are standard fare for this genre.

This book would be an excellent choice for educators who are interested in introducing coding in a unique way. Definitions and coding jargon are explained in a way that will resonate with young readers. I especially appreciate the “real-life” examples that were used within the book to explain coding in an accessible way. For example, in one scene Lucy and her friend, Erin, complete an activity in which Erin is blindfolded and Lucy has to guide her through an obstacle course using only spoken directions highlighting the importance of being clear and thorough when coding.

One caveat–on Amazon.com, the grade recommendations for this are third through seventh.  The Friendship Code is definitely geared toward younger readers. Third and Fourth grade seem like a better fit for this book than middle school students. The simplicity of the plot and the lack of conflict make it better suited for upper elementary. I would not use this book for middle school students.

Bottom Line: A great introduction to coding for younger readers and for educators who are searching for an approachable way to present an introduction to coding for young girls.

 

A Review of Station Eleven

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel that intertwines and connects the lives of several characters. The novel switches from present day in a world where most of the population has been decimated by a pandemic called the Georgia Flu to the past which highlights the years, weeks, and days in the lives of key characters before the pandemic hits North America.

Arthur is an actor who suffers a heart attack during a production of King Lear just before the pandemic hits. As the narrative unfolds, it is clear that he is the common thread amongst the array of characters whose stories are told during the course of the story… And that is where I am going to end my description. I don’t want to include any spoilers for this tightly woven novel.

So, here is the thing.  I think that my opinion on this book will be in the minority, because I have heard rave reviews of this book from fellow bookworms that I respect and admire. Perhaps this is a case of wrong book, wrong time. Perhaps I should have read the book instead of listening to it as an audiobook. I am not sure where the disconnect happened. So, while I can appreciate the way Emily St. John Mandel crafted this intricate story, I was ultimately disappointed and unsatisfied at the end.

The characters were connected to each other, but I did not connect to any of the characters. I didn’t find the characters particularly well-developed or likable, so I wasn’t really invested in their stories. The resolution of this sweeping (across decades) novel was anti-climatic for me, and I wanted more from it.

Okay.  This is my personal opinion on this novel. However, I would be negligent if I did not mention that Emily St. John Mandel’s writing is beautiful and lyrical, and the setting she creates in the post-pandemic North America is both alarming and timely.

Bottom Line: This is hard to call. My personal feeling is–I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. However, I do know there are many who LOVED this novel. My rating is 4/5. The quality of the writing took it from a 3 to a 4 for me.