Book Reviews: Overturned by Lamar Giles and The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke @LRGiles @Scholastic @HistoriaFrankie @JollyFishPress

Overturned
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-81250-4
Hardcover

I am always seeking books that will immediately intrigue ‘my’ students. Many times, I’ve been sucked into a suspense-filled, action-packed, heart-pumping mystery…surrounding a subject they could not care less about. Aptly, of course, young adults are not the intended audience—I am.

But.

Young adult readers deserve thrilling books.

Mr. Giles seems pleased to provide. And now, I may be the only person looking forward to school starting. I cannot wait to share Overturned.

The setting: the very casino where 16-year-old Nikki Tate works…as well as resides, stimulates the reader’s senses. At a blush, that life-style—for a high-school student—sounds kinda fabulous. And it was. Once.

Without her dad around to run things, the responsibility falls straight through her mother’s trembling fingers into Nikki’s own hands. She can handle it. Has to. Knowing, with her whole heart, that her father is not capable of murder doesn’t keep him off death row. Someone has to support the family—not just the three of them; the trusted and treasured employees of Cosmos matter, too.

Otherwise, she would never consider running her own after-hours, under-the-table card games. Which were not really a big deal. There’s only one human better at poker than Nikki and he’s not here right now. Gavin may still be in his teens, but his bulk makes him the perfect bouncer. Maybe he has a few butterflies when her invitations are extended to some shady characters, but Nikki knows she’s got this.

Until something even odder than the initial arrest and murder charge. New evidence, and an attorney more than pleased to represent Mr. Tate, appears. Conviction overturned and Mr. Tate is head of his casino once again.

Nikki’s delight with his return was fleeting. She once believed he was always there when she needed him. Now, his presence is so far past smothering, she seethes when they share the same space. Determined to make up for the lost time, and hoping to find the sweet, happy Babygirl he remembers; her dad dives deeper into her life.

Although Nikki doesn’t see it at first, Mr. Tate is not as angry as he is horrified and frightened by what he finds. As dad works diligently to get his daughter out of the quick-sand she doesn’t know she’s standing in, Nikki consistently (albeit unintentionally) blocks his way with a combination of teen-age infatuation and obligatory rebellion.

Overturned by Mr. Giles is absolutely every single thing I wish for when I want to wow ‘my’ students with a Book Talk.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

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The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure
Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-239-6
Hardcover

I don’t know if Ms. Durkin and Ms. Cooke colluded to create a tiny tome that would call to all; from the self-dubbed non-reader to the basic bookworm, but that’s exactly what this groovy graphic-novel does.

Filled with fascinating facts, in the same way a teeny car contains a multitude of clowns, this was a particularly pleasing read for me. An at-a-glance timeline from 5,000 BC through 30 BC took up only a tiny portion of a page, but was packed with information. I had no idea that Egypt was divided and reunited so many times! Nor could I have fathomed the complicated process of turning papyrus into paper.

The “novel” is in the narration. The Histronauts, a quirky crew, complete with a cat, needed an indoor activity on a rainy day. Their museum visit morphs into an adventurous Egyptian exploration. As the kids take in the sights and ask amazing questions, I am completely captivated, learning about ancient Egyptians and their way of life. And if all of that isn’t enough, there are even activities through-out. From making jewelry to flatbread or simply solving puzzles, these were engaging additions.

I believe that reluctant readers will enjoy this because of the tantalizing trivia and the graphic-novel-format seems to be more appealing for shorter attention spans. I think avid readers will be reeling from the intriguing information. I was totally into it. And truly, who knew there more than 2,000 ancient Egyptian gods? Or that music was such an imperative part of their lives?

The Histronauts also embark on a Roman adventure and I am already looking forward to joining them.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

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Book Review: Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

Ice ForgedIce Forged
Gail Z. Martin
Orbit, January 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-09358-3
Trade Paperback

Edgeland is a penal colony across the seas from the Medieval kingdom of Dondareth. Only the worst—and those with powerful enemies—are sent to this prison on the frozen edge of nowhere. And so Blaine “Mick” McFadden, guilty of killing his father who richly deserved to die, is sent there to serve out the rest of his life. However, in a twist, convicts who survive for three years—and not many do—are allowed to become homesteaders and to better their position. Against all odds, Blaine does survive and together with fellow convicts and friends Piran, Dawe, Verran, and Kestel,making some sort of life for himself. The penal colony depends on ships from Dondareth to bring supplies, but then, in the midst of erupting volcanoes and horrendous storms, the magic that has sustained the planet runs wild. Magicians are destroyed, leaders, including the king are killed, and no one knows what to do. And now it’s up to Blaine and his friends to get back to Dondareth and rein in the remaining magic before all of humanity expires.

Gail Martin has built a wonderful fantasy world in this, the first book of a new series dubbed The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Her writing and plotting is excellent. The characters, including a sect of vampires that are some of the good guys, will draw you into their world and not let go. Blaine especially, appeals. Kestal is a favorite, as is Piran. Connor, who shows up in the story as Dondareth begins its fall, also manages his part in a strong way. I’m already looking forward to the next installment in this series.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion, May 2012
ISBN 978-1-4231-5219-4
Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-4231-5325-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

 

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

 

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Queenie, daughter of an upper-crust family, is a wireless operator captured as an Allied spy and facing execution if she survives six weeks of medical experimentation in a Nazi camp. In an odd twist of fate, she is being interrogated in Ormaie, France, where she used to visit her grandmother and where her great-aunt still lives and is a part of the French Resistance. Maddie is a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying planes and pilots but never allowed in a combat zone until the fateful flight that ended in disaster. Maddie is Jewish. In any circumstances other than war, these two women would almost certainly never have known each other and yet they have become the best of friends and trust each other completely. That trust will lead to a moment of devastation and sheer love.

KISS ME , HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!

To say this is an engrossing story is to put it mildly. Much has been written fictionally about World War II but there is always room for more because we’re so fascinated with that piece of history. Having the horrors and the everyday routines of wartime built into the friendship of two women who find themselves in unbearable circumstances is nearly too much and I literally could not stop reading until I’d finished and then I wished for more.

Ms. Wein tells a great tale and she does so by making the reader feel that these two women are much like most of us, willing to do our part in a bad time but still just ordinary people. Little things make the story come alive, such as the detail of the first successful ballpoint pen, licensed to the RAF in 1943 and manufactured for pilots who needed a way to write at high altitudes where increased pressure frequently caused fountain pens to leak. There are also the women’s lists of top ten fears which, not surprisingly, change as they learn what is really important to them. Above all, this is the story of what one person can mean to another and the sacrifices they’re willing to make for each other. Even Verity’s Nazi interrogator has shades of humanity, something the author didn’t have to do but still a touch that lifts this book above many other World War II novels.

Is the ending of this tale a happy one? Most would say “no” but it’s an appropriate ending, one which will remain with me for a very long time. I’ll be including Code Name Verity in my top 5 books of 2012.

KISS ME , HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2012.