Sunday, March 25, 2012

Between Shades of Gray

Sepetys, R. (2011). Between Shades of Gray. NY: Philomel.
YA / Historical Fiction
 UPDATE: I created a thirty-second trailer for this book for day 20 of the Holiday Break Reading Challenge. Check it out!

This book is amazing and tells about a period in history that was unfamiliar to me - Stalin, and his Reign of Terror.  Before I even discuss my thoughts, I encourage anyone to view this trailer/book talk by the author.  It's eleven minutes, but it's well worth the time. (you can also go to the Official Book Website for more information)


I was absolutely swallowed-up in this very real story and couldn't put it down.  The style of incorporating flashbacks of her good, normal life as fifteen-year-old Lina is dragged through the atrocities of Stalin's army was a powerful tool to remind readers of the contrast, cruelty, and unfairness to the Lithuanians (Estonians, Latvians, and Finns). My heart ached for these people, and I had to remind myself that the story wasn't really fiction.  Humans had to endure this treatment in the not so distant past.  Even after they were released, those few who survived the injustices weren't able to live freely in their homes or have their lives back.  As recently as the '90s, they still lived in fear.

This is such a powerful story and every bit as important as knowing the story of Anne Frank and Hitler's attempts at genocide.  Stalin was an equal monster.

The Scorpio Races

Stiefvater, M. (2011) The Scorpio Races. NY: Scholastic, Inc.
YA Fiction / Fantasy
Printz Honor Book

I knew absolutely nothing about this book when it came-up as the next SHSU Library Science Book Club read. Having recently purchased an iPad, I also made this my very first electronic book purchase.  As a side note, I found reading and e-book to be just fine, and the perks of being able to hilite text, search for words, bookmark, etc. were icing on the cake.  I'm not going to give up on real paper books - in part because I can't swallow paying $15.00 without having something to put on my real bookshelf - because I love holding a book and being able to whip it out and read it, when I have a six minute block of time waiting for pasta to cook or three minutes while I brush my teeth. Firing up the iPad for that isn't any good.

So, the book. . . I really liked this and gave it 4 out of 5 stars in Goodreads.  The setting was an interesting phenomenon; I really felt like it had to be set in the past - the American, Mr. Holly, seemed old-timey to me - but I think it was that life on the island stood still and perhaps those who visited for the races fell into that same lull. There were intrusions from the outside world with the cars and one character who decided to market her wares by creating a catalog to mail to the mainland. 

After a slowish start, I found it a real page turner, but I wasn't happy with the ending. It was abrupt and though I think this is a stand alone, it seemed to leave it wide open for a sequel. . . Stiefvater swears there is no chance of a sequel but I'm not convinced. I would have liked a little epilogue or something.

The descriptions were excellent and made it easy for me to fall right into the story. I felt like a fly on the wall. Those are some scary horses - picture the color-changing horses in Oz prancing along and then viciously grabbing and scarfing down a Munchkin - and now I'm interested more in the tales from which the author drew her inspiration. 

I would not have picked this up on my own, but I'm very glad I read it.  It has adventure, romance (though not CHEESY romance), strong female and male main characters, and of course the mystery/fantasy element.

Here's the book trailer with music and animation created by the author, Maggie Stiefvater.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Roth, V. (2011). Divergent. NY: Katherine Tegen Books.
YA Fiction / Dystopian
Click here to see the official Book Trailer, which doesn't do it justice!

WOW!  This is an awesome story!  Even after a week of barely any sleep, I had to stay up and finish this book last night.  Roth does a wonderful job of building-up: building-up tension, anxiety, curiosity - you name it.  The premise of the story is an interesting one, and though it's been done before, it's done differently and believably.

The future has us divided into factions, based on which of five virtues is predominant. You are born into the faction of your parents, but at sixteen, you are given an aptitude test that tells you to which faction you should belong. The results aren't always clear. . .and that's dangerous.

As is typical with society and books of this genre, forcing people into neat little boxes generally leads to unrest, which generally leads to rebellion and war.  Beatrice, the main character, is spunky and smart and admirable,  and stronger in her tiny frame than most anyone else in the book.  The supporting characters are well-developed (OOOH, I hate Peter) and Beatrice's relationships with them are equally well-defined (OOH, Beatrice hates Peter).

Guess we have a movie to look forward to, but I'm just happy we have another book in the series to look forward to coming out soon.
Can't get enough? Check out the excerpt from Roth's sequel, Insurgent. (below)

Insurgent Excerpt