01. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Noelle

Alexandria by Lindsey Davis, read by Noelle, on 04/28/2014

Little known fact about me:  I was a Latin nerd in high school.  I still heart ancient Rome.   I was in the mood for something along these lines this month, and a Marus Didius Falco mystery did the job.  The plot dragged a little at times, and there were a few elements of the ridiculous (scholar eaten by crocodile), but the Latin nerd inside me thoroughly enjoyed it.

In first century A.D. Rome, during the reign of Vespasian, Marcus Didius Falco works as a private “informer,” often for the emperor, ferreting out hidden truths and bringing villains to ground. But even informers take vacations with their wives, so in A.D. 77, Falco and his wife, Helena Justina, with others in tow, travel to Alexandria, Egypt. But they aren’t there long before Falco finds himself in the midst of nefarious doings—when the Librarian of the great library is found dead, under suspicious circumstances. Falco quickly finds himself on the trail of dodgy doings, malfeasance, deadly professional rivalry, more bodies and the lowest of the low—book thieves! As the bodies pile up, it’s up to Falco to untangle this horrible mess and restore order to a disordered universe.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Teen Books

Sekret by Lindsay Smith, read by Courtney, on 04/25/2014

Yulia’s parents used to be nomenklatura, members of the Soviet elite. Now, Yulia lives with her mother and brother, her father’s whereabouts unknown. They’ve been on the run, eluding the KGB, for several years. Then, on a day much like any other, Yulia uses her ability to read minds in order to get desperately needed supplies on the black market. Yulia senses something wrong and, before she can do anything about it, she is taken into custody by KGB operatives. It turns out that they had been specifically tracking Yulia for some time and not because of her parent’s former transgressions, but rather due to her psychic abilities. Yulia is forced to join a top-secret group of operatives with powers similar to hers. There, Yulia learns to block her own thoughts from being read and how to hone her own skills for the purposes of espionage. Yulia knows they have her mother and brother and she has been promised time with them as a reward for her cooperation. As if that weren’t incentive enough, the man in charge of their group, Rostov, is known as a “scrubber” and is able to “scrub” the thoughts right out of someone’s brain, only to be replaced with thoughts of his choosing. Yulia and her comrades manage to expose a traitor with connections to the CIA, only to discover that the traitor has had memories erased by another scrubber. This other scrubber appears to have even more power than Rostov. He’s also looking for Yulia. If this scrubber, who works for the enemy, is more powerful than the USSR’s scrubber, then Yulia’s not safe anywhere.
I found Secret to be both unique and fascinating. I’ve read quite a few books involving mind reading and other psychic powers, but this is by far the most realistic use of such powers that I’ve come across. The Soviet backdrop (a real dystopia!) is detailed and well-researched. Much of the plot centers around real events from the Cold War era (the space race, Cuban Missile Crisis). Further, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the KGB was doing research on physic abilities during this era(mainly in response to the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program), which makes this a fantastic merging of the paranormal and the historical. A cliff-hanger ending sets this up for a sequel.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, read by Courtney, on 04/08/2014

The year is 1960 and 13-year-old Sophie is being forced to live with her Aunt and Grandmother in rural Louisiana for the summer. Sophie, who usually lives in New Orleans with her single mother, is not happy even though it means she won’t have to worry about her mother’s criticism all summer long. Sophie’s aunt lives on what is left of the Fairchild family’s once-grand sugar cane plantation. There’s not much to do on the plantation, so Sophie spends her time outdoors exploring. On one of her excursions, she encounters a strange creature that grants her wish for adventure, family and friends. Sophie subsequently finds herself transported back in time to 1860. The plantation in 1860 is vastly different from the dusty, sleepy farm that Sophie had previously explored. This is the plantation’s hay-day; all the structures are new and solid, the atmosphere thrums with life. The Fairchilds have nearly 200 slaves working their crops and, when Sophie makes her first appearance, she is mistaken for a light-skinned slave. Realizing that attempting to tell her slave-owning ancestors that she’s traveled from the future would probably not make her transition any easier, Sophie begins to assume the identity of a slave.
Sophie’s journey is particularly fascinating because she originates from a pre-Civil-Rights-Movement South. Racism is still a part of everyday life even if slavery is a thing of the past. Sophie not only has to learn to fit in where she is uncomfortable, she experiences the bigotry first-hand. Sophie quickly discovers that the past is far more complicated than she had ever dreamed.
This book could have been a rip-off of other “modern-girl-travels-to-her-ancestors-past” books like Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic or Octavia Butler’s Kindred, but it most certainly is not. For one, Sophie is white, which takes her even farther out of her comfort zone. For another, Sherman weaves in themes from African mythology to paint a sophisticated portrait of a subjugated people. Linguistically, Sherman’s approach feels very authentic and she never shies away from the discomfiting details that flesh out daily life on the plantation. Sherman does, however, keep things appropriate for a younger audience by writing around some of the more violent aspects of antebellum life. It is still a sophisticated novel and will require a measure of dedication from readers, particularly younger ones. This book won’t have broad appeal, but it’s definitely worth a read.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Melody, Romance

Nobody's Angel by Karen Robards, read by Melody, on 04/28/2014

In Carolina Colony, the community admired Susannah Redmon, plain eldest daughter of the preacher. Her herbal healing skills made her an angel of mercy, her determination held together the family’s farm, and her strong will always got her what she wanted–even the buying of a man.  But no suitor had ever courted her…

Ian Connelly, Marquis of Derne, had been betrayed, branded a criminal, and beaten.  Still defiant, he had been indentured and transported to the Colonies, where a bossy, primly proper woman had bought him!  But he alone saw the strength of her character, the gold in her tawny hair, and, in her eyes, the fire of her long-hidden desire…

Now Susannah “owned” this magnificently handsome rogue, but it was his passion that could free her imprisoned, lonely heart.  From the frontier South to society London or even to hell itself, with her body she would worship him and with her soul she would love him, for she was…Nobody’s Angel.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tracy

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks, read by Tracy, on 04/24/2014

Bertie Wooster (a young man about town) and his butler Jeeves (the very model of the modern manservant)—return in their first new novel in nearly forty years: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks. 

P.G. Wodehouse documented the lives of the inimitable Jeeves and Wooster for nearly sixty years, from their first appearance in 1915 (“Extricating Young Gussie”) to his final completed novel (Aunts Arent Gentlemen) in 1974. These two were the finest creations of a novelist widely proclaimed to be the finest comic English writer by critics and fans alike. 

Now, forty years later, Bertie and Jeeves return in a hilarious affair of mix-ups and mishaps. With the approval of the Wodehouse estate, acclaimed novelist Sebastian Faulks brings these two back to life for their legion of fans. Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgina Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to “help” his old friend Peregrine “Woody” Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. That this means an outing to Dorset, away from an impending visit from Aunt Agatha, is merely an extra benefit. Almost immediately, things go awry and the simple plan quickly becomes complicated. Jeeves ends up impersonating one Lord Etringham, while Bertie pretends to be Jeeves’ manservant “Wilberforce,”—and this all happens under the same roof as the now affianced Ms. Meadowes. From there the plot becomes even more hilarious and convoluted, in a brilliantly conceived, seamlessly written comic work worthy of the master himself.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tracy

The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes , read by Tracy, on 04/10/2014

Juliet Dufresne is a hard-working and smart high-school girl who aspires to make a groundbreaking scientific discovery like her hero Marie Curie. Life in South Carolina with her father, stepmother, and her brother Tuck is safe and happy. But when war breaks out in Europe, Tuck volunteers and serves in Italy—until he goes missing. Juliet, already enrolled in nursing school, is overwhelmed by the loss of her brother, so she lies about her age and enlists to serve as a nurse in the army, hoping she might find him.

Shipped off to Italy at the age of seventeen and thrust into the bloody chaos of a field hospital, Juliet doles out medicine, assists in operations, and is absorbed into the whirlwind of warlife. Slowly she befriends her fellow nurses, her patients, the soldiers, and the doctor who is treating the little-understood condition of battle fatigue. Always seeking news of her brother, her journey is ultimately one of self-discovery.

Both a compelling coming-of-age tale and a moving wartime narrative told with verve and emotion, The Secret of Raven Point is Jennifer Vanderbes at her best.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck, read by Angie, on 04/28/2014

This is a story about a little mouse with no name who lives under the Mews at Buckingham Palace. Everyone is getting ready for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee including the mice. Of course our little mouse gets into a bit of trouble and finds his way out of the Mews and into a bunch of adventures. By the end he has discovered who he is and where he belongs in mouse society. I really don’t enjoy animal books that much and I found this one incredibly slow and predictable. There just wasn’t anything exciting or unique about the story. While I did enjoy the set up of the different mice societies throughout Buckingham Palace I thought the rest was a bit dull and predictable.

hollow city   The story picks up where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children ended with Jacob and his peculiar friends running for their lives from hollows and the wights and trying to figure out a way to save Miss Peregrine. They aren’t sure if there are any safe time loops left or if they have all been destroyed. Can they find someone who knows how to turn Miss Peregrine back into a human? The children travel into war-torn London and come across other peculiar folks along the way. Once again the author uses vintage black and white photographs to illustrate his story creating a different visual experience for the reader.

28. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, read by Angie, on 04/26/2014

In 1957, the Little Rock Nine integrated the Little Rock high schools. In 1958, all the high schools in Little Rock were closed to prevent further integration. Many of the white kids were sent off to attend schools elsewhere, but the black kids had no where to go and were forced to miss a year of school. Marlee is attending middle school so she is not affected by the closures, but her sister Judy is forced to go live with their grandmother to attend school. Marlee is now alone and silent; Marlee doesn’t speak. It isn’t that she can’t, but she is so shy she doesn’t speak hardly at all. Then she meets a new girl in school. Liz chooses Marlee to be her friend and slowly brings her out of her shell. But Liz disappears one day and it comes out that she was a black girl passing as white. This causes all kinds of issues in racists Little Rock. Marlee doesn’t want to give up her only friend and convinces Liz to keep getting together. Tensions arise and Liz and her family are targeted. Marlee starts helping out on a committee to reopen the schools and gets her mother, who was against integration, to help her. 

We have all heard about the Little Rock Nine and many books have been written about them. However, I had no idea the high schools closed the next year to stop integration. I thought it was a very smart choice to tell the story of that year instead of the previous year. I could understand Marlee’s confusion and anxiety as the issue of integration caused problems in the town and in her family. Her father was clearly in support of integration whereas her mother was a segregationist. I imagine there were lots of families like this during this time period. I enjoyed Marlee’s determination to keep her friendship and help move things forward. This was an interesting book about a fascinating time in our history. 

28. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Melody, Romance

Never kiss a rake by Anne Stuart, read by Melody, on 04/27/2014

Bryony Russell and her two sisters are left destitute by the disgrace and unexpected death of their father, a wealthy shipping magnate. He left a cryptic note, and Bryony is determined to find the real villain and clear her father’s name. In disguise as a servant, Bryony infiltrates the home of her father’s business partner to find proof of his guilt…or innocence. It’s not just clues that Bryony finds, but temptation too…

Adrian Bruton, Earl of Kilmartyn, immediately suspects there is something not quite right about his new housekeeper. The brooding, irresistible rake plays along because he has his own guilty secrets, and his venal, scheming wife holds the key to them, trapping him in a hate-filled marriage. But against his will he’s fascinated by Bryony, seeing past the scars on her face to show her the beauty she never knew she had. Bryony must uncover the truth and attempt to preserve her father’s legacy, before things go too far and she falls in love with a man who might very well be her worst enemy.

22. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Romeo Blue by Phoebe Stone, read by Angie, on 04/21/2014

Flissy lives with her American relatives in Maine. She has been shipped off from Britain because of WWII. Her parents, Winny and Danny, are both spies and missing in France. Flissy lives with the Gram, aunt Miami, Uncle Gideon who is actually her father and Derek who has been unofficially adopted by the family. All of the Bathburns seem to be in some type of spy/government work. Gideon is getting ready to head to France and try and rescue his brother Danny and Winny his first love. Miami is being courted by the mailman who is also being shipped off. Derek has decided to try and find his father, but is the man claiming to be his dad really his dad? Flissy loves Derek but does he love her back? Will Winnie and Danny ever make it home?

I haven’t read The Romeo and Juliet Code so I wasn’t up on this story. I don’t think it hurt this book however since the past was rehashed fairly well. This was a slower read and one I am not sure kids will stick with. There is a TON of 1940s slang throughout the dialog which makes it a little more difficult to understand what exactly is going on. I do like the story of Flissy and her family, but I am not sure how kid friendly it is.

21. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Melody, Romance

Miracle Jones by Nancy Bush, read by Melody, on 04/19/2014

SEEK…
Searching for a past that was more lore than truth, part-Indian healer, Miranda “Miracle” Jones, drove her peddler’s cart toward Rock Springs, Oregon — straight into danger. Before she could learn anything about her missing and mysterious father, and carrying the tin box he’d left her – her only memento – she was attacked by highwaymen and sold to Harrison Danner at a drunken bachelor party on the eve of his wedding. Danner meant only to save her. But Miracle, frightened and trusting only in herself, stabbed him – and then, with her herbal potions, desperately sought to save the compelling stranger’s life!
AND YOU SHALL FIND…
Danner was pledged to the daughter of his bitterest enemy; their wedding was meant to end a generations-old feud. Yet he could not resist his attraction for the strong-spirited beauty who had attacked him – and then stole his bartered heart. Though they both fought the wave of passion that threatened to overtake them which could only leave devastation and betrayal in its wake, the truth of their love was undeniable, a force of nature they willingly succumbed to within each other’s arms.

19. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction

In Search of Goliathus Hercules by Jennifer Angus, read by Angie, on 04/18/2014

Henri Bell has been sent to America to live with his Great Aunt Georgie. His father has disappeared in British Malay and his mother has gone to look for him. While staying with his aunt Henri discovers that he can communicate with insects. He suspects Georgie can too. Georgie’s neighbor is the sinister Mrs. Black who takes a peculiar interest in Henri. Henri runs away with the circus and starts working with the flea circus. He decides that he wants to travel to Malay to find his father and to capture Goliathus Hercules, a giant beetle of legend. On this journey Henri starts a metamorphosis of his own…he is turning more and more insect like. He is pursued always by Mrs. Black in one guise or another.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book where Henri learns about his new skills with insects and works with the flea circus. I loved the other characters he met at the circus: Tony, Billy and Robin. I thought it was really interesting how he kept enhancing the show with more varieties of insects with different abilities. Where I thought this story fell apart a bit was the end where they get to Malay and start looking for Goliathus Hercules. First there is Henri’s transformation which is never fully explained. The mystery of his father is cleared up, but we have no idea why the insect communication gift has seemed to occur differently with the members of the family. Then there is the evil Mrs. Black. Her desire for Goliathus Hercules and her pursuit of Henri are never explained at all and we are left wondering what it was all about. Jennifer Angus is a new author and I think she has some really interesting ideas; she just needs to work out the details a little better.

17. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Tracy

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin, read by Tracy, on 04/16/2014

In 1872 the American merchant vessel Mary Celeste was discovered adrift off the coast of Spain. Her cargo was intact and there was no sign of struggle, but the crew was gone. They were never found.

This maritime mystery lies at the center of an intricate narrative branching through the highest levels of late-nineteenth-century literary society. While on a voyage to Africa, a rather hard-up and unproven young writer named Arthur Conan Doyle hears of the Mary Celeste and decides to write an outlandish short story about what took place. This story causes quite a sensation back in the United States, particularly between sought-after Philadelphia spiritualist medium Violet Petra and a rational-minded journalist named Phoebe Grant, who is seeking to expose Petra as a fraud. Then there is the family of the Mary Celeste‘s captain, a family linked to the sea for generations and marked repeatedly by tragedy. Each member of this ensemble cast holds a critical piece to the puzzle of the Mary Celeste.

These three elements—a ship found sailing without a crew, a famous writer on the verge of enormous success, and the rise of an unorthodox and heretical religious fervor—converge in unexpected ways, in diaries, in letters, in safe harbors and rough seas. In a haunted, death-obsessed age, a ghost ship appearing in the mist is by turns a provocative mystery, an inspiration to creativity, and a tragic story of the disappearance of a family and of a bond between husband and wife that, for one moment, transcends the impenetrable barrier of death.

17. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tracy

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson, read by Tracy, on 04/03/2014

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

09. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kristy, Paranormal, Teen Books

The Diviners by Libba Bray, read by Kristy, on 03/09/2014

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

09. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kristy, Poetry

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, read by Kristy, on 03/31/2014

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel, read by Courtney, on 03/15/2014

Peggy Fitzroy, an orphan with a wealthy extended family finds herself in a most unusual position when she encounters the rotund Mr. Tinderflint, who offers her a top secret offer of employment. Through a series of unfortunate mishaps, Peggy finds herself in no position to refuse. It turns out that Mr. Tinderflint is something of a spymaster. His previous charge, Lady Francesca, has recently died. The plan is to send Peggy in her place to the court of King George I. There, she will play the role intended for Lady Francesca; she will be a maid to Princess Caroline. It’s a difficult charge. Tinderflint and his accomplices refrain from telling Peggy what they hope to get from her while she’s at the palace. They also fail to tell her about the interpersonal intricacies that would make her ruse more believable. Peggy, to her credit, excels being a quick wit and assumes the position with minimal obvious difficulty. The longer Peggy stays at court, the more convinced she is that Lady Francesca’s death may not have been a natural one. Peggy will need to maneuver quickly in order to avoid a similar fate.
Palace of Spies is an intricate tale of intrigue. The reader has no more idea of what Francesca was up to than Peggy does. Peggy is tons of fun as a main character. She’s witty and savvy when it comes to dealing with the elite. The language is rich and suits the time period well. The court of King George is brought to vivid life here. The denizens of the court are simultaneously frivolous, conniving and, on occasion, deadly. Readers will sympathize with Peggy, who just wants to survive the ordeal and live life on her own terms.
To say that this book is flawless would be remiss, however. It’s difficult not to take issue with the idea of a stranger being able to literally take over the life a well-known court personality. Francesca had friends, enemies and lovers at court. While it’s not totally unbelievable that she and Peggy could look alike enough to be mistaken for one another (particularly with the amount of makeup and accessorizing that accompanies the era’s fashions), it’s hard to believe that even those close to Francesca fail to notice the difference in both appearance and personality. If the reader is able to suspend their disbelief enough to make this work, there’s still the issue of following the dizzying plot. It takes forever for the reader to figure out what’s exactly going on. There are almost too many mysteries going on at the same time, enough to make the otherwise delightful narrative lag in places. Still, it’s important to note that this is the beginning of a series, so many answers will likely come in upcoming installments. Hand this one to fans of feisty and clever female protagonists. There’s a lot to like here.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Paperboy by Vince Vawter, read by Angie, on 04/05/2014

A young boy in 1959 Memphis takes over his friend Rat’s paper route for the month of July. For any other boy this would not be a problem, but this boy stutters and has a hard time communicating with people. They often assume he is slow or stupid or try to finish his sentences for him. On the paper route he meets Mr. Spiro, a merchant marine. Mr. Spiro likes to chat with the boy and doesn’t mind that it might take a while to get the words out. Each week with the paper collection he gives him a piece of a dollar bill with a word on it: Student, Servant, Seller, Seeker: the four parts of your soul. He also meets a beautiful but sad housewife who drinks too much and is in an unhappy marriage. Then there is TV boy who just stares at a silent TV all day long; it isn’t until the end of the summer that we learn he is deaf and learning to read lips.

The paper route is set against the backdrop of this boy’s home life. His parents are gone a lot and he is being raised by Mam, the Black housekeeper. Mam doesn’t treat him any different because of his stutter either. She helps him and guides him. There is trouble with a junk man who seems to be connected to Mam and who is taking the boy’s things. He also finds his birth certificate and realizes the man he calls his father is not his father. But he realizes this man makes the time to play pitch and catch with him and be his father even though he doesn’t have to. We finally learn the boy’s name at the end of the book. He never says it because it is impossible for him to say with his stutter.

This is a wonderful story about a young boy dealing with a difficulty. I like the fact that it is based on the author’s own life and struggles with his stutter. He never overcomes it, but he does learn to live with it. I thought the racial issues worked themselves into the story very well. This was the segregated South on the eve of integration and racial tensions were everywhere. I did think the story with the junk man seemed a little extraneous to the main story, but it didn’t take away from the story. I would recommend this book.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow, read by Angie, on 04/06/2014

Ivan is a 12 year old boy living in Leningrad when the Germans start bombing the city during WWII. Soon the city is cut off and supplies are running out. People are starving and freezing every day. Ivan lives with his mother in an apartment building in the city. Their upstairs neighbor Auntie Vera moves in with them when her apartment is damaged during a bombing. Auntie starts teaching Ivan all about how to survive during wartime, lessons she learned during WWI. Soon Auntie and Ivan are going to leave the city. Ivan’s mother works in a factory that is being moved to the Ural Mountains. Auntie and Ivan are going to take the ice road over the lake and out of Leningrad. They end up with Auntie’s sister-in-law in Vilnov. Soon they have joined the partisans, the people fighting against the Germans throughout Russia. Ivan catches the attention of Major Axel Recht because he plays the concertina so well. Ivan is moved into the Nazi headquarters and also starts taking care of Recht’s two German Shepherd puppies Zasha and Thor. Ivan is completely attached to the puppies and wants to save them from Recht. When the time comes to leave Vilnov, Ivan and the partisans take the puppies with them. They escape to Uncle Boris’s cabin in the woods where they spend the rest of the war.

I didn’t realize this was a prequel to another book until I was finished reading it. I guess the sequel takes up the story of Zasha and what happens to her after she is taken at the end of this book. I found the historical aspects of this story interesting. The Russian side of WWII is not one we in the west hear about a lot so a different perspective was nice. However, I didn’t find Ivan that great of a character. He was fine except for the role he had to play. I didn’t believe he could be a partisan; he just wasn’t sneaky or calm enough. He acted on his emotions too much and put the mission in danger several times. I also found it a little far fetched that this group would welcome him in so quickly and completely. I enjoyed his attachment to the dogs but also thought that was a bit over the top as well. The first part of the book was all excitement and adventure, but the back half really slowed down as the final years of the war passed. Some kids will stick this one out but it is not for everyone.