Book Review: What I Saw and How I Lied (*National Book Award Winner) by Judy Blundell

Title: What I Saw and How I Lied
Author: Judy Blundell
Genre: YA Fiction
Page Count: 300 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: February 1, 2010

Publisher’s Summary: National Book Award Winner | When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

My Thoughts: I’m going to be honest: I stayed up all night to read this book. Totally threw away any chance at feeling normal and having any energy left the next day. And was it worth it? Heck yes. I even used the last hour the babysitter was here, when I got done with my work earlier than expected, to finish the book. Again, worth it. This is simply a fantastically-written YA noir mystery, full of lust, lies, murder and betrayal…but oh, so subtly, with all the right hints hidden in all the right, tight spaces. I don’t know how the author did it. Noir? In a novel? YA-style? You betcha.

This historical YA book was delicious. The writing was hypnotic. I actually felt like I was watching a black-and-white movie full of Old Hollywood secrets and glamor. It even gave me that same creepy feeling as reading & watching the original “Lolita”. I felt all of Evie’s emotions along with her: her swooning, if not misguided, first love; the burn of betrayal; the guilt and shame of her mistakes, the earnestness in her heart, the pressures of her family and all of their dark drama.  I can’t wait to see what else this incredibly gifted author has written.

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This YA book was not what I was expecting! At least not when it started. I’d seen it on shelves for years, but I think I was expecting a haunted orphanage, third-person sort of fairy tale. When I began reading, I wasn’t prepared for as lovably flawed of a narrator as Jacob Portman, a wealthy Florida teenager who’s trying to get fired from his job. The writing was excellent and the book was, to steal a word from author Aimee Easterling, unputdownable. I was addicted to the story about the strange photographs of creepy children Jake’s grandfather kept, and how Jake witnesses his grandpa’s grisly and mysterious death, and especially his therapy sessions with Dr. Golan, after which Jake and his dad agree to visit the Welsh island of Cairnholm where Jake’s grandfather had once lived as a WWII child refugee.

Riggs’s writing is some of the best I’ve read. The book is enhanced by dozens of strange photographs procured by the author, which help the story unfold and come to life. In the second act, things take a turn for the wackier when Jake discovers a time loop in a cairn and is transported back to September 3, 1940. There, he meets Miss Peregrine -a Minerva McGonagall type of headmistress – and the same peculiar children, all with superhuman powers, from his grandpa’s photographs. This includes the feisty Emma, who was once his grandpa’s sweetheart, but who now has eyes for Jake. The witty dialogue, old-fashioned figures of speech, and U.K. slang really stood out among the new cast of characters, to the point where I felt I could really hear the kids speaking in their accents, each in his or her own unique voice.

I was fairly obsessed with the majority of the novel, until I came to the third act, and it began to play out more like an average YA fantasy novel. I had been more intrigued when Jake was straddling his real, present world and the time-loop world; but once we plunged into the full-fledged peculiarverse, I was ready for a resolution. I don’t plan on finishing this series soon, but I can see why this book is so acclaimed. Ransom Riggs writes with phenomenal skill!

Memorable Quotes

“‘They may love you,’ she whispered, ‘but they’ll never understand.'” – p. 263

“Stars, too, were time travelers. How many of those ancient points of light were the last echoes of suns now dead? How many had been born but their light not yet come this far? If all the suns but ours collapsed tonight, how many lifetimes would it take us to realize that we were alone? I had always known the sky was full of mysteries – but not until now had I realized how full of them earth was.” – p. 338

Book Review: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

shadowwindIn this thrilling and elegantly-written mystery, Carlos Ruiz Zafron vividly transports his readers to the streets of 1940s Barcelona. The Shadow of the Wind chronicles the story of Daniel, the Spanish son of an antique bookseller, whose fascination with a rare antique book unravels deep and troubling mysteries about its enigmatic author, Julián Carax. When Daniel discovers that all copies of Carax’s books are being inexplicably confiscated and destroyed, he’s determined to solve the puzzle, while in possession of what may be the last surviving Carax book.

A gothic tale to keep you up long into the night, with bold and memorable characters, as well as some very poetic and cleverly elegant passages, this story is both haunting thriller and love letter to literature. The Shadow of the Wind also contains one of my favorite literary characters, the eccentric and charming Fermín Romero de Torres. I hardly recall loving another writer’s character as intensely as I loved Fermín! A good read and on my list of favorites.

Book Review: Dear America: The Fences Between Us, The Diary of Piper Davis (Seattle, Washington 1941) by Kirby Larson

0-545-22418-7This is one of my favorite DA reading experiences. Piper lives with her father, a preacher, and her brother and sister. There are many Japanese Americans in her neighborhood and school, and her church is mostly Japanese. But after Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, life begins to change for Piper, as now she is considered suspicious and a traitor for associating with her Japanese friends and her father’s congregation, even though they are American citizens. And then, to her horror, her beloved Japanese American friends and neighbors are unjustly forced from their homes into internment facilities.

Meanwhile, Piper’s brother joins the military and each day she worries for him and waits for a letter from him. Her older sister, a grown woman engaged to be married and busy with pharmaceutical school, soon falls out of the picture as Piper relocates with her father to live near the place where their Japanese friends have been relocated, so that her father can continue to minister to them, bring them food and goods, and to do what he knew to be right even in the face of adversity. One memorably frightening scene includes a man in their new neighborhood who knows they are ministering to the confined Japanese, and who stalks them and threatens them for a time, believing them to be traitors.

This book contains much dramatic character development, more than in most DA books. Piper starts out as a schoolgirl with a crush on a boy, resenting being a “PK” (Preacher’s Kid), and absorbed in school dances and the like… but she eventually abandons her childishness, realizes what is really important– helping her Japanese friends and doing what is right, despite what others think–, and she learns to respect and appreciate her father’s noble actions and character, despite what it cost her socially, materially, and emotionally. Also evident in this book are other subplots, such as Piper’s love for photography. I was saddened only slightly by the epilogue, because she did not marry whom I would have preferred her to, but above all, this is a wonderful new addition to the DA series.

Book Review: Dear America: Early Sunday Morning, The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows (Hawaii, 1941) by Barry Denenberg

earlysundayIt is 1941, and just as Amber Billows and her family are beginning to adjust to their new life in Washington, D.C. (after having moved between multiple other cities), Amber’s father, a quirky Harvard-educated reporter, announces that they are moving yet again, this time to the virtually unheard of U.S. territory of Hawaii. Amber is quick to be upset, but is also quick to adjust to her new life in fair-weathered, lovely Hawaii, especially as she makes friends with pretty and popular Kame, a Japanese-American girl from school. Life is quite ordinary, until the fateful morning when Amber is awoken by a deafening, high-pitched droning sound and her panicked mother calling her out of bed. From that moment on, everything changes in Hawaii, from citizens having to build bomb shelters and carry around gas masks, to waiting in hours-long lines for groceries, medical treatment, and gasoline. Worse, however, are the tragic deaths and wounded sufferings of the soldiers who were stationed at Pearl Harbor, as Amber learns while assisting her mother, a nurse, in treating these men at the hospital.

This is a very short book, and like all of Barry Denenberg’s books in this series, seems to end right in the middle of the story, and even the epilogue doesn’t tie up many of the loose ends. However, this is the best book by Denenberg that I have read so far. I enjoyed Amber’s uniquely flawed personality, the original personalities and relationship of her parents, and even the brief interactions between Amber, Kame, and Kame’s aunt. I did find it odd that Amber was so notoriously bad at writing and responding to her friends’ letters and found all sorts of ways to avoid it, yet wrote extremely detailed and long-winded diary entries. (Though perhaps this was Denenberg’s way of demonstrating Amber’s reluctance of closeness with others, as was frequently demonstrated in this narrative.) A surprisingly enjoyable book, and the December 7 entry is powerful and terrifying. The Historical Note is also extremely well-put and I actually learned more about why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor than I previously understood.

Book Review: Dear America: My Secret War, The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck (Long Island, New York 1942) by Mary Pope Osborne

secretwarMaddie Beck and her mother live in a boarding house on Long Island, New York, while her father, a naval officer, is stationed overseas in the Pacific. Out of devotion to her father, Maddie makes friends in her new town and, with her new beau Johnny, starts a group for young people to help with the war effort. Everything seems to be going grand, and Maddie is flat-out enjoying the busyness and romanticism of the war, until near-tragedy strikes her own family, and she realizes that war is devastation, not fun and games. This book was a delight to read and is a great addition to the series.