Monthly Archives: February 2012

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu *Review*

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else. 

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel. 

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

When visiting my grandma as a child, one of my favorite things to do was to hide away in her spare bedroom with a big thick book of fairy tales she kept on a  bookshelf in there.  At the beginning of every chapter there was a black and white drawing of one of the scenes in the story.  I distinctly remember the troll under the bridge in Three Billy Goats Gruff.  The stories were magical.  I wish I had that book today!

As an adult, I don’t read fairy tales anymore.  I have moved on and haven’t had the opportunity to.  When I read the synopsis of Breadcrumbs I knew I had to give it a try to see if I could recapture some of that wonder I had as a child.

From the beginning it is apparent that even though this is intended as a middle grade read, the writing is more suited for someone older than 8-12 years of age.  Not that the story line is too deep or the language too difficult, but the writing is wonderfully descriptive and gorgeously appealing.  It’s not something I can see a middle grader settling into and enjoying the quality of, if you can understand where I’m coming from.

The story itself starts out well.  I enjoy the quality of Hazel and Jack’s friendship and the ease with which they get along to the exclusion of others.  When Jack is taken away by the Snow Queen and Hazel enters the forest to find him and bring him home is where the fairy tale actually begins.  The references to Narnia, Harry Potter and classic fairy tales were fun…at first.  Then I began to feel they were a bit too contrived.  Wolves, and axemen and ballet slippers you will find in many fairy tales and this story has a lot of them.  I began to get bored when I felt the charming elements of the fairy tales from my youth were being crammed in on every page and I began to lose what the story was truly about.

When Hazel finally rescues Jack from the Snow Queen at the end of the story (come on, you knew she was going too!) my heart thawed a little.  Ms. Ursu does write a beautiful story about friendship, betrayal, growing up and changing.    3/5 stars

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best kept secret by Amy Hatvany *Review*

Cadence didn’t sit down one night and decide that downing two bottles of wine was a brilliant idea.

Her drinking snuck up on her – as a way to sleep, to help her relax after a long day, to relieve some of the stress of the painful divorce that’s left her struggling to make ends meet with her five-year old son, Charlie.  

It wasn’t always like this. Just a few years ago, Cadence seemed to have it all—a successful husband, an adorable son, and a promising career as a freelance journalist.  But with the demise of her marriage, her carefully constructed life begins to spiral out of control.  Suddenly she is all alone trying to juggle the demands of work and motherhood.               

 Logically, Cadence knows that she is drinking too much, and every day begins with renewed promises to herself that she will stop.  But within a few hours, driven by something she doesn’t understand, she is reaching for the bottle – even when it means not playing with her son because she is too tired, or dropping him off at preschool late, again.  And even when one calamitous night it means leaving him alone to pick up more wine at the grocery store.  It’s only when her ex-husband shows up at her door to take Charlie away that Cadence realizes her best kept secret has been discovered….

 Heartbreaking, haunting, and ultimately life-affirming, Best Kept Secret is more than just the story of Cadence—it’s a story of how the secrets we hold closest are the ones that can most tear us apart.

Who has not been in this situation before?  Tired after a long day at work you arrive home only to find more work still to do.  Dinner must be made, laundry needs to be done, one of the kids needs to be driven to her soccer game or a church event.  Don’t you just wish sometimes all the demands would go away and you could just relax?  What if picking up a bottle and drinking a glass of wine was a way you could relax?  Okay, as long as it’s one glass with dinner.  But what if it starts taking another glass to calm you…and then another.

Being a mother with a demanding schedule after my work day, I could easily see the draw of a glass of wine .  Seems harmless enough.  But when it starts to spiral out of control, how do you pick up the pieces and return to a normal life that won’t make you insane?

Cadence’s drinking does spiral out of control and she ends up losing her son.  I can think of nothing that would be harder to bear then being away from the one you love the most.  It’s hard for Cadence not to be a part of Charlie’s life anymore and she fights her battle with alcoholism to try to win him back.

Amy Hatvany’s characters are real.  I can feel the disapproving nature of her ex mother-in-law, I can sense Charlie’s pain when he’s afraid his mother is going to pick up a bottle again, my heart hurts for Cadence’s suffering as she realizes what she has done to Charlie and how she may never be able to right that wrong.

It came as no surprise to me that the author has traveled this road herself.  The pain that came through on the page was a pain that can only come from experience.  I applaud her for coming out about her alcoholism and sharing her journey with others.  I have great respect for someone who can not only succeed in the face of adversity but help others do the same.  A very thought-provoking book that has plenty to discuss with your book club (what makes a good mother, can you ever undo a wrong, trust, forgiveness, balancing work and family) I wasn’t surprised to see that 37/39 reviewers on Amazon gave the book a 5 star rating.   Add mine to that…5/5 stars.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin *Review*

Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.

Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter.  When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait–to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.

I have always enjoyed stories of survival against incredible odds.  Although most of the survival books I read are true stories, occasionally I like to delve into something that’s not true…but could be.

Ashfall lets you think about the what ifs.  What if the supervolcano under Yellowstone did erupt?  What if the falling ash for weeks on end killed all wildlife and crops still in the field?  What if there was no clean water to drink?  How would you survive…or could you?

Alex starts out on his trek with nothing more then a few cans of food and bottles filled with water from the back of the toilet tank.  He doesn’t know if he can make the trip to his uncle’s house to join up with his parents but he knows if he stays he will surely die.  Along the way he does meet up with a few communities who are starting to pull life back together.  They are organized and they are willing to shelter him if he joins their work crews to try to forage for food.  Even though the temptation is great, his will to join his family is greater.  So on he moves.

When he is injured by a desperate convict looking for food he is reluctantly saved by Darla.  Her mother, being a Christian, is determined to help feed and clothe him but Darla knows any food they share with him means less for her and her mother.    She wishes he would just leave.  Thankfully, Darla sticks with him and aids him on his journey because this feisty teen ends up saving him more than once!

A mesmerizing  fiction novel about life after a supervolcano eruption, Ashfall receives 3.5/5 stars.

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens *Review*

All her life, Sara Gallagher has wondered about her birth parents.  As an adopted child with two sisters who were naturally born to her parents, Sara did not have an ideal home life.  The question of why she was given up for adoption has always haunted her.  Finally, she is ready to take steps to find closure.

But some questions are better left unanswered.

After months of research, Sara locates her birth mother-only to be met with horror and rejection.  Then she discovers the devastating truth: her mother was the only victim ever to escape a killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades.  But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out about her father is him finding out about her.

What if murder is in your blood?

Never Knowing is author Chevy Stevens second novel and I have to say, I LOVE her!  Her first novel Still Missing garnered a 5 star review from me in December and this one wasn’t far behind.  Ms Stevens has a way of gripping you from the first page and not allowing you to pry your fingers free of the book until the very last sentence.

Sara Gallagher, understandably, is looking for answers.  She has never felt like she truly belongs to the family she was adopted into.  Her mother was great, true, but her father was always distant, demanding and disappointed.  Her younger sister Melanie’s jealousy is also something she has always had to deal with and it has made their relationship strained.

When Sara hires a private investigator to help track down her birth mother the answers she receives are horrifying,  She finds out she is the product of the rape and attempted murder of her mother by the serial killer the Campsite Killer.  It isn’t long before her birth father finds out about her existence and the lives of her birth mother, her fiancé, her daughter, and the rest of her family is in jeopardy.

When the Campsite Killer contacts Sara and wants to meet her she at first denies him the opportunity.  But when, out of frustration, he kills again, Sara knows she really has no choice.  She might be the only one who can stop him…

Never Knowing is a fast paced thriller that makes you wonder if, sometimes, you would be better off… Never Knowing.   4/5 stars