Monday, May 26, 2014

This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl (et al.)

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Publication date: 2014
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 431
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 14+

When Esther died from thyroid cancer at 16, she left one goal unfulfilled--to be a published author. Her parents made that goal come true with this book as they use letters she wrote, her journals, and emails, along with stories from friends and family, to create this book. We learn about the last year or so of Esther's life as she reaches out to people and inspires them to make a change.

I first learned about Esther through the online community started by John and Hank Green called "nerdfighteria." Reading this book made me realize what exactly it was about Esther that was so compelling, and why she was so loved. I feel that this is a unique look into someone's life that we rarely get--to be able to read her own words, and realize that she got angry, and hated her cancer, but that she worried about her relationship with her family and God, too. Even though I knew how her story ended, I still found myself crying along with the rest of her family, mourning a girl I never knew.

I feel that it is hard to share my criticisms, because I'm afraid that it might seem that I'm criticizing Esther, her journey, and her family. I'm not in anyway. I think she was incredible. She went through everything with grace. My criticism is actually toward the editing. Having worked in documentary editing, I understand the need to balance clarity with staying true to the original document, but as I was reading it I kept being drawn out of Esther's story by poor editing choices. Whether it was the way certain things were grouped together, or that it wasn't clear who was writing what, or the inconsistencies in headings, dates, etc. That's the only reason I gave this four stars, because otherwise I think everyone should get to know Esther and the good she inspired in the world--and how she still lives on in the lives of others and her family's foundation.

*I am not compensated by Amazon in anyway.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

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Publication date: 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 261
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 16+

Zoe is a teenager living in England. Stuart Harris is a prisoner on death row in Texas. They have one thing in common--as Zoe puts it in her first letter to Mr. Harris: "I know what it's like . . . Mine was a boy. And I killed him three months ago." That begins a one sided correspondence in which Zoe shares both the present and the past as she deals with the guilt and grief she's feeling.

I really like Zoe as the narrator. She's honest and straightforward. She's able to wind together both parts of the story she's telling, how her actions in the past affect her present. It's a little hard to tell her age--I would guess about 16, but at times she seemed younger than that to me.

Ketchup Clouds puts forward some interesting ideas and questions about guilt, death, capital punishment, and love. It's easy to see how something can turn out so differently if you had only made a different choice once out of a hundred little times. But in the end, you can't go back and change it.

There are somethings that I feel were never really resolved, though I didn't necessarily want the book to be any longer. It was mostly issues in Zoe's family, but I suppose that really that was just background and over the year the novel takes place not everything could be resolved so well. There are some scenes of a sexual nature, but very little to no swearing (I didn't notice anything).

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

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Publication date: 2013
Publisher: Blink
Pages: 395
My rating: 2 stars
Ages: 14-16

After McKenna's aunt leaves her Scottish cabin to McKenna in her will, McKenna and her best friend Veronica decide to spend the summer after high school graduation there. Veronica needs to get away from her mom and her ex-boyfriend--and the visions of a strange boy in a kilt she has been having. When two rings lead the friends across a bridge into the mythical land of Doon, they must prove that they aren't witches, while being pulled to Doon's princes.

While I felt that the story held a lot of promise--digging deeper into the story of Brigadoon, the town that only appears once every 100 years--I was sadly disappointed by this book. It took me a long time to read because I wasn't drawn to it and the only reason I finished it was because I knew that to give a fair review I would have to. While the story is told both from Kenna's and Vee's point of views, there didn't seem to be any pattern of which chapter was told by whose point of view. The viewpoint only seemed to change to Kenna's point of view when the authors thought that we needed to know something and Vee wasn't there.

As for the writing: It was predictable and cliched. The romances were unbelievable, and every romantic scene kind of made me roll my eyes. The backstory of Doon was convoluted and hard to follow. And then I discovered that it was the beginning of a series, which is always disappointing to discover when you aren't expecting it. I did give it two stars instead of one because the writing is technically good--the story just wasn't delivered well--and because I think that middle school girls would like it (handsome princes, falling in love, the girl saving the guy, soulmates, etc.), but for a more mature reader, this is a pass.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to Acting English by Shappi Khorsandi

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Publication date: 2009
Publisher: Ebury Press
Pages: 309
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 16+

When Shaparak's family first moves to England from Iran, they are only going to be there for a couple of years. But while they are there, there is a revolution, replacing the Shah with the Ayatollah--what, at first, seemed a good change. But with this change comes extreme laws and another revolution. Shappi's father, a satirist, is wanted by the Ayatollah and so the Khorsandis become refugees.

This is an interesting memoir, told from the view of a child between the ages of 3 and 13 in the late 1970s and 80s. The innocence and naivety that Khorsandi uses to tell the story of her father and the unrest in Iran is a great story telling technique.

However. The narrative was hard to get into. Part of this might be the expectations I had going into it, and part could have been that Iran and Farsi are something that I know next to nothing about, so I had no frame of reference. I found myself wishing that there was a glossary of Farsi terms in the back, because Khorsandi would use words and phrases without really explaining what they meant--leaving me to figure it out, which pushed me out of the narrative.

In spite of this, I've been telling people about the story and what I've learned. As I said, I knew very little about Iran and the revolution, the Iran-Iraqi war, or the Ayotallah regime (which came across so much like the Nazi regime in WWII that it was frightening), so I found the subject matter and Khorsandi's first hand experience as a child really fascinating. I think those with an interest and better understanding of the Middle East and its history will find the book a better read than I did.

*I do not receive any compensation from Amazon.