Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Andi Unexpected

Andi Unexpected
Amanda Flower

Twelve-year-old Andora “Andi” Boggs and her fourteen-year-old sister Bethany move to rural Ohio to live with their eccentric twenty-something aunt after the sudden death of their parents. While dealing with her grief, Andi discovers proof of another Andora Boggs in the family tree whose existence was hidden in a Depression-era trunk in the attic. With help from her new friend and neighbor, Colin Carter, Andi is determined to find out who this first Andora was and what happened to her.

I haven’t read a lot of kids books in while, but this one sounded like a good one- I’m always up for a good mystery, you know. However, I’m not sure if it is because I’m older that I didn’t enjoy this one so much, or if it really was just a so-so book. I’m inclined to think it the latter; there are plenty of kids’ books I still enjoy, so I wouldn’t say I’ve exactly “outgrown” them as a whole.

I think what I disliked most about Andi Unexpected was the attitude of the kids- I mean, all that talk about cell phones and texting and really, her older sister was a huge brat. A lot of times Andi seemed more like a teenager than a 12-year-old. The worst part is, I’m sure that these are how most kids act today. (To quote the Professor, What do they teach in schools these days?) I’m not saying there was really anything inappropriate in here, it’s just that I can’t help but roll my eyes and get annoyed at a 14 year old who thinks she’s dying because she doesn’t have unlimited texting. I’ve never texted in my life and I’m still alive.

But on the other hand, I was interested in the mystery- who was this first Andora, and what happened to her? All the same, for a reader who’s used to the stakes being a bit higher in a mystery (I mean, honestly, I’m kind of used to a universe-imploding-if-the-heroes-don’t-win kind of deal) a lot of the “danger” fell a little flat for me, although I understand that for kids, a story like this would be more appropriate.

I was hoping that the Andi Boggs novels might be a bit more like my favorite kids’ mystery series- The American Girl History Mysteries- which I loved. However, I felt a little let down by this book. A lot of it seemed to drag on for me, and I don’t think I’d be interested enough to read any other books in this series. Still, if you’re on the lookout for middle grade mysteries, you might want to try out this one.

Rating: 6

I received this book for free from booksneeze.com in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sense and Sensibility


Sense and Sensibility
Joanna Trollope
Harper Collins

In theory, I abhor the idea of modernizing Austen: being a writer, I know I would hate people messing around with my books, throwing them in a different time period or (heaven forbid!) adding vampires or zombies or sea monsters to them or something. And why do you need to update stories I still find relevant today, anyway? However, in practice, I’ve read and watched my share of modernized Austen classics- I remember picking up Debra White Smith’s retellings a few years ago, and while I never did get into The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I have been (mostly) keeping up with Emma Approved. So when I first heard about Harper Collins “Austen Project” I was disdainful…but when I saw a copy of Sense and Sensibility at the library, I picked it up. Typical.

The Austen Project is an upcoming series of books setting Jane Austen’s books in modern day, the first of which, Sense and Sensibility, came out this year. I admit I was curious, but when I began to read I was instantly disappointed. Not from the fact that it was set in modern day, but the fact that according to today’s world, “modernized” might as well be synonymous with “inappropriate.” Aside from Marianne and Willoughby's (called “Wills” in this update) highly unacceptable relationship, there was language- and I mean language. Not so much so that it was on every page or something, but the actual words were very offensive (and I’m not talking about a D**n used a few times, either).

I also felt like something in the book was missing- I couldn’t put my finger on it until later. Though Austen never explicitly mentions God in her works, her characters operate in a very clear Christian worldview. Joanna Trollope takes away that entirely (even Edward, who wishes to become a pastor in the original, wishes to do something “public service-y” rather than religious in this modern story) And that really takes away from the book. It gives the allusion of this update being too much like the original and too little: the things don’t mesh together because of it. Their morals are different, so the idea of Willoughby getting a young girl pregnant is just not as appalling as in Austen’s classic. Instead, he gets her hooked on drugs because that’s so much worse, apparently. The Dashwood girls, frankly,  aren’t as likable because their moral standards aren’t as high. The reason we love Jane Austen’s heroines and heroes are because they have flaws but at  heart they’re good. Joanna Trollope lowers the level of their morals- which means she has to make the villains even worse to gain the reader’s appropriate reaction. For example, when Wills takes Marianne to see his home and they- ahem- become rather intimate (which was NOT in the original, my friends!), Elinor is upset not because of what they did, but because they did it secretly without his aunt’s knowledge. Because apparently it’s okay to have an inappropriate relationship if you keep it out in the open, but not if you use deception. It’s as if the author had to make excuses about why certain characters’ actions were wrong, because while they might have been scandalous back in Jane Austen’s day, today they’d garner nothing more than an eye blink.

And it was too much like Austen's classic in the fact that the author tried too hard to make certain plot points work that just didn't in modern society. Even the way the Dashwoods lost their house sort of had me scratching my head a little bit.

As far as this book was being advertised- as Jane Austen’s classic story with the addition of social media and technology- it wasn’t as overt as I was expecting. Marianne naturally texts Willoughby obsessively, while her hysterics at finding him in London end up on youtube (poor girl). Margaret fiddles with her earbuds and is a bit more on the bratty side than usual (although I was half afraid they would get rid of her character altogether). Practical Elinor is the one to get a job to support her family- unheard of in Austen’s classic but of course a very necessary and a believable addition here.

The thing is, because each of the novels in the “Austen Project” are being written by different authors, I would be willing to read more of the upcoming ones (albeit a bit nervously. If they end up changing Fanny Price’s character-!). However, I highly doubt I’ll ever pick up another book by Joanna Trollope.

Rating: 3


Jonathon Friesen
Blink (Imprint of Zondervan)

In the year 2250, water is scarce, and those who control it control everything. Sixteen-year-old Luca has struggled with this truth, and what it means, his entire life. As the son of the Deliverer, he will one day have to descend to the underground Aquifer each year and negotiate with the reportedly ratlike miners who harvest the world’s fresh water. But he has learned the true control rests with the Council aboveground, a group that has people following without hesitation, and which has forbidden all emotion and art in the name of keeping the peace. And this Council has broken his father’s spirit, while also forcing Luca to hide every feeling that rules his heart.
But when Luca’s father goes missing, everything shifts. Luca is forced underground, and discovers secrets, lies, and mysteries that cause him to reevaluate who he is and the world he serves. Together with his friends and a very alluring girl, Luca seeks to free his people and the Rats from the Council’s control. But Luca’s mission is not without struggle and loss, as his desire to uncover the truth could have greater consequences than he ever imagined.
I’ve begun read dystopian novels- I’m not sure why, but they’ve been appealing to me of late. That’s why I was willing to take a chance on Aquifer, even though I’d never read any previous books by the author. I was a bit surprised to find a small hardcover book in the mail, not much longer than a novella (it was under 300 pages), but I picked it up with an open mind.

The thing about Aquifer is there is nothing really…real about it. I never felt like I got to know all of the secondary characters, or even Luca himself; they all seemed a little one-dimensional to me. Also, I found parts of it very confusing. Something would be described, and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the picture the words made; it wouldn’t make sense to me. I found the futuristic society a little hard to understand as well. I never got interested or drawn into the story; I didn’t hate it, but my emotions never got involved. Also, the romance moved unbelievably fast. The two of them knew nothing about each other, and the girl was ready to completely leave her family to help him. So Aquifer is not really one I'd recommend, not because it was bad, but because there are better things out there.

Rating: 4

I received this book for free from booksneeze.com in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley


Dear Mr. Knightley
Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.
Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.
After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.
As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters

When I first heard of this book several months ago, my reaction was something along the lines of “abcjelwhfehrbsv itslikeDaddy-Long-LegsandJaneAustenandohmygoodnessIneedtoreadthisbook!!!!” Yeah….I’ve been waiting anxiously for this book to come out. I may or may not have been a little overexcited. Even my sister, a self-labeled “book snob”- especially of contemporary fiction- was anxious to pick up Dear Mr. Knightley.

When I first started, I was a tiny bit disappointed; though I liked the story, the main character, Samantha, wasn’t a Christian at the beginning, and so though there was nothing grossly inappropriate in it (nothing beyond what you might find in a PG rated movie), there were still a few things that popped up that I didn’t care for. But then as the story went on, it got better and I completely fell in love with it (I might as well admit I pretty much fell in love with Alex Powell, too. ;). Though I liked Samantha and her realistic struggles, she didn't quite capture my heart the way the secondary characters did.  I ended up loving the secondary characters. I loved the professor and his wife, Ashley, and Kyle. The ending almost made me cry. And I adored the quotations from -literally- all of my favorite books. I especially loved the redemption themes near the end, and Samantha's thoughts on Eustace and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Over all, Dear Mr. Knightley was rather brilliant and once I got past the slow (for me) beginning, I enjoyed (almost) every moment of it.

Objectionable content: Because Samantha grew up in foster care, there are some mentions made of physical abuse. Samantha kisses her boyfriend and almost goes further but decides  not to. There are a few words that are not terrible, but I prefer not to use in my conversation.

Rating: 9

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

An Elegant Solution


An Elegant Solution
Paul Robertson
Bethany House

For young Leonhard Euler, the Bernoulli family have been more than just friends. Master Johann has been a demanding mentor, and his sons have been Leonhard's allies and companions. But it is also a family torn by jealousy and distrust. Father and sons are engaged in a ruthless competition for prestige among the mathematical elites of Europe, especially the greatest prize: the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Basel, which Johann holds and his sons want. And now, their aspirations may have turned deadly.
Lured into an investigation of the suspicious death of Uncle Jacob twenty years ago, Leonhard soon realizes there's more at stake than even a prominent appointment. Surrounded by the most brilliant--and cunning--minds of his generation, Leonhard is forced to see how dangerous his world is. His studies in mathematics have always been entwined with his thoughts on theology, and now, caught in a deadly battle of wills, he'll need both his genius and his faith to survive.

Though this novel is categorized as “historical suspense,” I’m not sure I would describe it that way. It was definitely historical- in fact, I really have to hand it to the author, because I’d rarely read a book that felt so historically accurate in its vernacular without being heavy and hard to read. On the other hand, I wouldn’t exactly label it suspense; it could be a little dry at times. There was a lot about math, and as I’m a bit of a dunce in the subject, I read without really understanding the mathematical equations. However, the intricate plot kept me guessing, although it was very…shall we say, cerebral. Not that that’s a bad thing; it’s just one of those books that you really have to pay attention to. There were several phrases/words that seemed to be unnecessarily repeated throughout the story, and like a lot of classic books, actually, sometimes I felt the writing meandered off the main point (in this case into philosophical questions) although not for too long.

Despite An Elegant Solution being a little long and slightly dull, I still liked it in a way, and I’m actually interested in more books by the author.

Rating: 7

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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