A Piece of the World: A Book Review

Title: A Piece of the World

Author: Christina Baker Kline

Publisher: William Morrow

Copyright Date: 2017

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My first ever published book review was on The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Since then, I’ve awaited a new novel by this spectacular author who is known for weaving narrative into non-fiction stories. In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline writes a fictional account of the woman pictured in Andy Wyeth’s famous painting, Christina’s World. Although the story itself is a novel, much research went into finding the facts and spirit behind that original painting.

Christina Olson lived on her family homestead in New England along with her brother Alvaro. Too weak to live on her own due to a physical ailment, Christina tried not to depend too heavily on any person. On one side, her family came from the Hawthorn line, notorious for her ancestor’s role in the convicting of witches in Salem. On the other side, she traced back to a poor Swedish family. The family farm had been an heirloom for many generations, and when her other brothers leave to create their own lives they leave their invalid sister and her closest brother to continue the work of the self-sufficient home.

A life of washing, making, and sustaining is all Christina knew until one man shows up and offers her promises. His grand words and attention conjure up fantasies of a normal life outside of the white washed walls of the family home. But, Christina’s own stubbornness becomes her worst enemy.

After neglecting the help and well wishes of others, Christina Olson reserved herself to life as a spinster on the farm where cats, dishes, and sewing are all she needed. She let opportunities slip through her fingers and turned down any offers to help her physical condition. Years go by where she and Alvaro slave away each day to maintain the home until a young visitor and her artist boyfriend show up on the doorstep. The artist wanted to paint her home.

The artist became a summer fixture in the Olson home spending hours in an upper room capturing life on the farm. And it is in the final revealing of years of work that Christina finally sees and accepts that this home is her entire world.

It was there that she learned to walk, love, and survive. What else could she possibly need?

This story was very well written and even though it’s about a woman who rarely leaves her home it is filled with twists and drama that hook the reader. Having recently visited New England I also enjoyed getting caught up in the vivid scenes and settings painted by the words of the author.

The Ameri Brit Mom

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Female of the Species: A Book Review

Title: The Female of the Species

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Copyright Date: 2016

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Mindy McGinnis draws you immediately into the action of this novel with the hook, “This is how I kill someone.”

Alex Craft’s sister was murdered, and ever since Alex has struggled to feel anything but numb. Withdrawn from the rest of humanity, Alex finds herself reluctant to log hours for a senior project at the local animal shelter. While working at the shelter, Alex meets Peekay, the Pastor’s daughter, who helps Alex open up little by little. A friendship forms between the two, and Alex finds herself thrust back into social interactions. But there was a reason she hid away. She’s protecting those around her.

The death of her sister not only stole her emotions, but also created an instinct. That instinct pulls Alex toward revenge and violence. As Alex goes from another face in the crowd to part of the in-crowd it becomes more of a challenge to keep her beast at bay. Falling in love also proves to be just as dangerous as she feared.

Told from three perspectives this novel gives the reader a glimpse into life of a pastor’s kid who loves to get drunk and frisky, a jock who falls in love with Alex, and a female vigilante out to avenge her sister’s murder.

I liked to envision Alex Craft as a young, female version of Dexter from the television series. She’s odd. People don’t really know the real Alex. Oh, and in her spare time she kills the bad guys that the cops let get away.

I’m a fan of anything Mindy McGinnis. After hosting her at my school, teaching her novel Not a Drop to Drink in my classroom, and encountering her several times in my SCBWI group I have mad respect for her as an author. This book is very well written, but I caution readers of her other works that this one is written for a much more mature readership. From the outset, she makes it clear that the intended audience should be okay with vivid scenes of violence. Additionally, she covers topics like rape, sex, and drugs throughout the course of Alex’s story.

Other books I’ve reviewed by McGinnis include: Not a Drop to Drink and A Madness So Discreet.

“The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”-Rudyard Kipling

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Bone Clocks: A Book Review

Title: The Bone Clocks

Author: David Mitchell

Publisher: Sceptre

Copyright Date: 2014

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One thing I look forward to every summer when we visit England is stopping in Waterstones Bookstore and looking to see what is current in British fiction. Two summers ago, The Bone Clocks, was at the top of every list. I don’t tend to choose science fiction for myself, so I decided to buy this book for my sister with the intent to borrow.

It took two years, but I followed through with that plan.

The Bone Clocks is one of the longest books I have ever read. At 613 pages, this book is nearly twice as long as my usual reads. The text is divided into six chapters. Each chapter is a different POV during a different decade, but all are connected.

From the onset, the reader meets Holly Sykes, a British teenager in 1984. After arguments with her parents about her inappropriate relationship with an older man, Holly decides to runaway. She finds herself on a road to self-discovery during the time on her own. On the night of her escape, Holly encounters a strange elderly woman, meets her partner, and finds out that her younger brother has gone missing.

Hugo Lamb has always had the world handed to him on a silver platter. His parents are some of the wealthiest in England, and it has always been expected that he will carry out their legacy at an ivy league school. Over Christmas break in 1991, Hugo meets Holly while on a ski adventure with friends.

In 2004, Holly’s sister, Sharon, is getting married and her daughter’s father has flown in from Iraq to be a part of the big day. Ed Brubeck has spent much of their daughter, Aioffe’s, life overseas reporting on the wars of the Middle East. Some days Ed dreams of being married to Holly and having the family he always dreamed of, but his addiction to the thrill of battle keeps him from making that commitment.

Since she was a young girl, Holly has suffered from inexplicable dreams. Haunted by the apparent death of her younger brother, she finds herself communicating with the same elderly woman in her dreams. These strange encounters lead to Holly writing an novel, which eventually lands her amongst the greatest modern writers. While at a speaking engagement in Spain in 2014, Holly meets the acclaimed Crispin Hershey and begins to form a relationship with the author.

All of Holly’s strange dreams begin to make sense in 2025 when she is introduced to Horology, a group of souls that have survived death several times over. She meets Marinus who teaches her about the Great War between Anchorites and Horologists, and she becomes a pawn in the fight for Horology.

In 2043, after the collapse of the world-as-we-know-it, Holly finds herself taking in two orphans in her old age. Having survived so much heartache and terror in her own life, Holly tries to teach the orphans the most important things, and she learns to sacrifice herself for those she loves.

From its first page all the way through page 613, I was drawn into Holly’s life and those she meets along the way. Most of the story follows the rules of realistic fiction, but every so often Mitchell lays breadcrumbs for the reader leading up to the climax–a war between two entities beyond this world. In the end, the reader is left thinking about the difference that each decision can make and the chain reactions that they begin.

The Ameri Brit Mom

A Madness So Discreet: A Book Review

Title: A Madness So Discreet

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Copyright Date: 2015

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(photo credit: Good Reads)

Set in the 1800s in a famous insane asylum in Ohio, this thriller explores insanity and the patients who find themselves exiled to the depths of asylum halls. Grace Mae is the oldest daughter of a senator. When her father’s secrets become a danger to his reputation he sends her away to an asylum in Boston where she is mistreated. During her stay in Boston she meets a young doctor named Thornhollow who specializes in the practice of performing lobotomies to cure the insane.

The doctor sees that Grace is no less sane than himself, but rather she has become the victim of a dark man. He devises a plan to get her out of the Boston asylum and brings her to Ohio with him where she will be cared for and will serve alongside him in the study of criminal minds.

In her new home, Grace hides under the alias of insanity. She trades her voice for a chance to catch criminals like her father and becomes protege to the doctor.

A letter from her younger sister, Alice, changes her focus and forces Grace to take much more drastic action.

A Madness So Discreet was one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past couple of years. It was brilliantly written and had me hooked from page one. The dramatic themes of the book kept me on the edge of my seat as I hoped to find justice for all the wrongs done to Grace by people she should have been able to trust. Her desire to protect her sister from the harm she faced also pulled on heart strings. This book is a cross between historical fiction and criminal investigation with a large dose of family drama.

The author, Mindy McGinnis, is an Ohioan whom I have met on several occasions. Her first book, Not a Drop to Drink, is one that my students read and she came and spoke at my school last spring after we finished reading that book. Also, she spoke to my SCBWI group a few weeks ago about character development. Next month she is releasing a new book, Given to the Sea, that I am excited about. Mindy’s YA books are among my favorites and A Madness So Discreet is my favorite one yet. If you are looking for a book to hook you from the very onset this is a great book for you!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Thin Space: A Book Review

Title: Thin Space

Author: Jody Casella

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Copyright Date: 2013

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A few months after the car accident that stole away his twin, Marshall is desperate to contact his brother. He remembers the old Celtic legend that his elderly neighbor told him before her passing. A thin space is a place where a soul both entered and left the world. It is believed that these are places where the wall between this life and the after life is thin enough to pass through. At the time his neighbor explained this legend it sounded insane, but now Marshall is so desperate to see his brother and set things right that he’s willing to give it a try.

Before her passing the neighbor left Marshall instructions for locating a thin space. Part of the legend states that one must enter the thin space with bare feet. Marshall goes all over town in the dead of winter without shoes in the off chance that he walks through a thin space.

When Maddie moves into the neighbor’s house, Marshall starts to open up about the accident. At first, it’s the convenience of wanting to search her house for a thin space which sparks their relationship, but soon Marshall learns that they both have something to gain from finding a thin space.

This is a boy’s journey to cope with the loss of a sibling. It shows how we go to great lengths to just have one more conversation with the ones we love who have passed.

I really enjoyed this read. I’ve been reading through YA fiction from Ohio authors this year. I have actually met Jody Casella on several occassions as she is the coordinator for my chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) If you are looking for a supernatural thriller Thin Space is an exemplary piece.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Gone Too Far: A Book Review

Title: Gone Too Far

Author: Natalie D. Richards

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Copyright Date: 2015

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Ever since I became a member of the central Ohio SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) I’ve been on a quest to read books by Ohio authors. This book was recommended to me by my high school librarian. The author is local to our area. 

Piper Woods is a senior just trying to make it to graduation. Her future plans are all laid out and include paying out of state tuition and studying photography. She won’t miss the cliques and the drama of high school, and she’s aching to get out of her dysfunctional home.

All of that changes when she finds a notebook laying in the hallway of the school. She picks it up and flips through the pages. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that someone is using the notebook to record secrets about her classmates. She soon realizes that knowing the secrets comes at a dangerous price.

After tragedy claims someone mentioned in the notebook Piper decides to turn it in and walk away. Before she can do that, a text message urging her to make things right changes her mind. Piper finds herself caught up in the secrets of the school. Torn between making people pay for the harm they have caused and keeping her squeaky clean record Piper is forced to make some major choices.

Natalie D. Richards is also the author of Six Months Later. Many of my students have read that book and it seems just as good as Gone Too Far. I look forward to continuing my list of Ohio authors over the next couple of months. Some of the authors of the list (like Natalie D. Richards) are also part of the SCBWI with me. It is so cool to read a book by someone I have met. It makes my dream of becoming an author seem so much more realistic. Let me know if you are interested in some reading suggestions written by Ohio authors. There are some really great pieces that come from my home state.

The Ameri Brit Mom

24 Book Challenge: A Book With a Number in the Title

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This is book #15 from The Ameri Brit Mom 24 Book Challenge in 2016. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, or outside influences.

Title: Numbers

Author: Rachel Ward

Publisher: Chicken House-Scholastic

Copyright Date: 2010

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The hardest part of growing up for Jem isn’t the fact that she watched her mother die or that she’s been stuck in the lowest classes for her year amongst all the people society has given up on. No, the hardest part for Jem is growing up with the power to know the date of death for anyone whom she looks in the eye.

Jem is a teenager living in London with her foster mom, Karen. She keeps to herself and likes it that way. Without friends, Jem is constantly haunted by the death of the people around her. One day she makes friends with another boy from her class, Spider. Although instincts told her to stay away from him, knowing that his number is coming very soon keeps Jem intrigued and close to Spider. She wants to prove that she can beat these numbers and protect him.

One day, after running away from school the pair decide to hang out at the London Eye. Blowing off school was fun until Jem starts to look around and realize that the death date for many of the people around her is the same-and it’s today.

Numbers is a tale of one girl’s struggle to face her greatest fear: death.

Throughout the book, you begin to see the tough layers of Jem being pulled back. She opens up to Spider with the understanding that his days truly are numbered. During the course of their friendship Jem learns what it means to love and to live each moment to the fullest. In the end, she learns so much from the first boy she let into her life.

This was a great YA tale that many teens would enjoy. With a slight apocalyptic feel this novel explores themes of love, friendship, and fear. This book is followed by two others in the trilogy: The Chaos and Infinity.

The Ameri Brit Mom