Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Book: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Published: September 10, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Rose Justice is a girl from Pennsylvania, who grew up next door to the Hershey Chocolate factory and captained the basketball team. But her knowledge of piloting planes, her determination to help with the war effort, and a stupid stunt over France have landed her in a German concentration camp.

There she will discover how low she and her fellow prisoners can sink. Huddled together with three and four other women in a single bunk, deprived of food, water, and clothing, and reduced to a number, she finds everything that has ever made her Rose Justice is stripped away.

She also discovers her own strength, and that of the women she is imprisoned with. From the girls who go to their deaths with their heads held high to her bunkmates who create a little family in the most morbid of conditions, Rose sees the durability of the human spirit.

But human spirits are sheltered in human bodies, and human bodies are frail. In a system which famously slaughtered millions, Rose and her friends have very little chance of making it out alive.

At one point I put down this book and wondered why I was reading it. I’m a wimp, really. Stories of privation and torture and hardship are not my cup of tea, especially when I’m so aware that they actually happened. Then I realized that I was in it for Rose. I wanted to be there to witness what she went through, as if she were a personal friend. You know that she made it out, because the conceit of the story is that she's relating it after being saved. But you become terribly, terribly concerned for her friends in the concentration camp. Who made it out? Who died? They're all so carefully drawn that their fates hit you almost as hard as Rose's.

There’s a macabre Hogan’s Heroes feel to Rose's relation of their endless schemes to keep themselves alive. They manufacture riots to cover up condemned prisoners escaping into hidey-holes. They switch out ID numbers to befuddle the guards. They use dead bodies to make the roll call come out right. It’s almost funny, until you remember why they’re doing it, and then you feel a little weird about giving the book an approving grin as they outsmart the guards one more time.

Like Wein's earlier novel, Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is about female friendships in wartime, and not the hand-holding, brave-smiling homefront portrayals that we normally get. These are women who are fighting the same war as their brothers and fathers and husbands, and showing just as much courage and spirit.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Book Review: The Rules by Stacy Kade

Book: The Rules
Author: Stacey Kade
Published: 2013
Source: ARC borrowed from a friend

Ariane lives by the rules. 1. Never trust anyone. 2. Remember they are always searching. 3. Don’t get involved. 4. Keep your head down. 5. Don’t fall in love.

They’re all that stands between her and discovery. If anyone learned that she was different in any way, the evil GTX corporation would recapture her and drag her back into the bowels of their research division. Yes, recapture. Because Ariane lived the first six years of her life like a mouse in a maze, showing GTX what she could do. And why was what she could so much more special than any other child?

Because she’s not fully human.

Built of human and alien DNA to be GTX’s pet assassin, she was freed at age six by the man who now calls himself her father, and it’s his rules she lives by. She never thought Rule 5 would be a problem - Don’t fall in love - until she starts to get involved with Zane. Popular Zane. Gorgeous Zane. Sweet, gentle, fascinating Zane. The son of the local sheriff, who wants more than anything to get in good at GTX.

This . . . might be a problem.

Like her prior Ghost and the Goth series, this is written in a dual POV, something that’s happening a lot in YA lately. Often, I don’t really know why. In this book, it pretty much works, because Zane and Ariane have very different viewpoints of GTX, but also of their friends, schoolmates, and obviously, each other. Ariane doesn’t trust Zane (for good reason, because his friend Rachel is as mean as a snake). Zane is fascinated by the formerly mousy Ariane’s buried strength, as well as being very concerned about her home life. Seeing the way that their views gradually change was one of the things that kept pulling me through this novel.

There are some things that don’t hold up. For instance, how is it that this girl lived 10 years in the same town with GTX, with her father working for them, and never once thought, “You know, this isn’t the smartest place for me to be.” There’s a spoileriffic reason for that situation, but her unquestioning acceptance of it is what makes me do the simple-dog head-tilt. Plus, Ariane is very delicate, bruising and breaking bones easily, which is part of the reason Zane becomes convinced she’s being abused. How does that work for an assassin, even if she can kill people with her brain?

Overall, however, I liked this book. I’m told (by Goodreads, and if we can’t depend on that, then who can we depend on?) that this is the first in a series. I feel as if it could have just as well been a standalone, but I’ll try out the next one.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: August 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 16
Tween: 3
Children: 5

Review Copies: 9
Library: 13

Teen: Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
In lesser hands, this could have been a standard, soapy girl-power revenge plot. But Han and Vivian are good at characters, brimming with flaws. While I sort of cheered on the girls' vengeance, I also saw their victims as real people who were really getting hurt by their actions and may or may not have wholly deserved it. I had to immediately start reading the sequel.
Tween: The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin
A mother away in Iraq, changing relationships, and the dumb things you do for your first crush perfectly captured the general topsy-turvy of t
hose first shaky steps into the teenage years.
Children: Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
On a family visit to Taiwan, Pacy struggles with being in a place where she feels like an alien but is expected to feel right at home. For every kid who's ever been caught in the middle and had to carve out their own place, this is for you.

Because I Want To Awards
Almost a Standout: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst
The first half of this book is so confusing, because the character herself is so lost and confused, that I really had to hang in there and trust the author. Luckily, the second half came together.
Most Batshit Story Element: Gated by Amy Christine Parker
This story of a girl breaking free of a murderous, apocalyptic cult held me captivated, except that every time I came across one of their core beliefs--that the earth was going to reverse its rotation--I looked up from the book and went, "What?" Okay, maybe I'm nitpicky, because they also believed that they'd been chosen for survival by benevolent alien overlords, but boy did that bump me out of the story.