Kathy Kacer’s To Look a Nazi in the Eye, reviewed for Netgalley

To me, this book is divided into two parts: the good and the bad, so I will divide my review into two parts.

The Good…

To Look a Nazi in the Eye is a very important book for young people to read. The horror of the Holocaust cannot be adequately described in a book review, but it stands as the most atrocious act of genocide in the history of the human race. Our younger generations need to understand the level of cruelty, hate, and inhumanity that fed into the Holocaust. They need to know about the Nazi extermination campaign and the amount of planning that went into trying to wipe out entire populations for not fitting Hitler’s “preferred profile” of an acceptable human being.

The chapters that contain testimony and personal statements from both the perpetrator and the victims of the Holocaust are very important. I found myself examining Oskar Groening’s testimony, dissecting every sentence and trying to find an ounce of remorse or shame. I saw no evidence of either, but readers will have to reach their own conclusions on that just as the survivors who listened made theirs.

Testimonies from the victims are the most important part of the book. It is essential that younger generations understand the brutality and suffering endured by Holocaust survivors. They were beaten, starved, experimented on. Some lost every living relative. The suffering did not end when the war did, and trials such as Groening’s are their only chance for even the tiniest slice of justice. The book could have been much improved with the inclusion of more survivor testimonies and input.

The Bad…

Jordana. Everything having to do with that self-serving narcissist was intolerable.

I found her to be overdramatic, overly emotional, and selfish. Instead of coming off as an intelligent young woman in college, she came across as a bratty teen getting something she didn’t deserve. I see no purpose in her attending the trial. All I could think as I read was that she had taken a seat at the trial that should have gone to someone who had survived a concentration camp or lost a loved one to the Holocaust.  Someone who had a true purpose and right to be there.

She was terribly naïve and her reactions to the people around her were childish and ridiculous. She admits to being bored at the trial, as if the entire affair is for her entertainment purposes. With her inflated sense of self-importance, she somehow managed to make the trial all about herself instead of the real focus: a Nazi who helped murder hundreds of thousands of people and the survivors who came in the hope of seeing justice done. Her personality was a distraction to the important court case and overshadowed the bigger message of this book.

So, my advice is read the book for the survivors. Read the book for the trial and its outcome, but skip as much of Jordana as possible.

Burning is snuffed out by poor plot development

Burning by Danielle Rollins

Reviewed for Netgalley

SPOILERS

Sometimes when I am reading a book that just isn’t holding my attention, I start a premature review to collect my thoughts on why exactly I am not loving it. So here goes…

First impressions:

Angela Davis is three months away from being released from a juvenile detention center when a new inmate and some sketchy so-called philanthropists show up and strange, unexplained things begin to happen. With her safety threatened, Angela must find a way to free herself and friends before it’s too late.

“Readers will be rooting for Angela and her friends to find the truth and save themselves in this spine-tingling story rich with secrets and conspiracies.” (The book’s blurb) Yeah, that’s what I thought too. That I would be rooting for them to overcome the creeps and weirdness and save themselves. Except, so far, there is nothing to save themselves from because the pace of this book is glacial. I’m 80 pages in and still wondering when things are going to get interesting.

So far, new girl and possible paranormal presence Jessica has arrived, Angela has gotten some hard to explain burnt fingers, and Dr. Gruen and her Stepford-wife assistant have shown up on the grounds of Brunesfield with a paper thin cover story about some science program for gifted young girls. And here is the first major problem with the story. I have a bit of experience working with juvenile offenders, and I can tell you this: while some of them may not have “book” smarts, they all have street smarts. I don’t think a single one of these girls would fall for the SciGirls lies. Why would a program that seeks out exceptional young women start with girls in juvie? They wouldn’t. They’d start in colleges and prep schools and high school honor programs, and the characters in Brunesfield should know this. They are far too smart to fall for such obvious lies.

Final impression:

Burning is a hot mess. For a story that took so long to get going, it wraps up in a quick meltdown of clichés and underdeveloped plotlines. Makes me wonder if a pending deadline forced too many cuts in the writing. There were simply too many half-baked plot points. How can a girl make fire appear out of nowhere and then wield the flames as a weapon? There were hints of illegal human experimentation under Dr. Gruen and her SciGirls, then a claim that the ability is a contagious infection, but I guess we’ll never know.

Gruen is a predictable, stereotypical villain with no character development. In the end, she attempts to kill both Jessica and Angela, yet leaves before she confirms that they are dead. Sorry, but I am not buying that. This lunatic was hell bent on covering up her dirty, soot-covered tracks, yet she doesn’t make sure that her trap actually kills them? She isn’t that sloppy.

Why, when Angela’s brother is brought to the prison for a visit by Dr. Gruen, does she not warn him to stay away from Dr. Crazy? She knows at this point that the doctor is not who she says she is, yet she gives her beloved brother no warning whatsoever?

And where in New York are they that wolves are a huge threat and where a group of girls wearing orange prison clothes can walk through the woods for days without encountering another human being or a convenience store or basically any other lifeform but can find a working telephone in an abandoned shack? Bye-bye, reality!

Underdeveloped and disappointing. Skip this one.

The New Year is off to a bad book start

Happy New Year, Readers! Hope your 2016 is filled with happiness, adventure, and loads of good books. Thanks for following this blog. 2015 was a bit sporadic with posts, but I am hoping to do better in the new year.

So far, I am not off to the best start with my Netgalley picks, the first of which is Playing by the Book by S. Chris Shirley.

As I have mentioned before, I have a rule that if I am not completely hooked by the 50th page, then I toss the book in the Did Not Finish pile and grab another one. There are too many good books in this world to waste time on one that doesn’t hold my interest.

Unfortunately with Playing By the Book, I didn’t even make it to the 50th page. The main character, Jake, is so brainwashed by his religion that both his internal and external dialogue are offensive. No one who is 17 years old is this ignorant about social norms, kissing, sex, and how his narrow-minded religion would come off to LGBT people. Furthermore, the characters are total clichés. Jake’s preacher father is the overbearing family ruler whose word is law. His mother is the meek mouse counterpart. There’s a crazy aunt in the mix, and Jake is the country bumpkin who goes to the big city and is overwhelmed by all these sophisticated folk. No joke, when he meets his turban-wearing roommate Raj, his thought is, “I’d never seen a real live Muslim before.” As opposed to a fake dead Muslim?” Come on! There is sheltered and then there is this unbelievable character. And not to get on a soapbox, but turbans are not worn only by Muslims and do not always indicate a religious affiliation. Numerous religions and cultures wear turbans for different purposes. His reaction was just too much of a  “dumb, uncultured hick” stereotype for me to tolerate.

Then began the “hey, I’m attracted to a fellow student who is also a guy. I am such a filthy sinner. I better get out my engraved bible and read it until my soul is clean again.” Excuse while I choke on all the sanctimonious hypocrisy spewing from this guy’s stream of consciousness.

Jake’s ignorance was unbearable! In the end (or should I say the beginning since I didn’t make it anywhere near the end), I just couldn’t take all the preaching and bible thumping. Tossing this one on the DNF pile and reaching for another book.

Lara Avery’s A Million Miles Away brings death, deceit, and love close to home

Reading this book is like standing on train tracks and watching the train come closer and closer, listening to the whistle blow, and still being unable to get off the tracks. You know the impact is coming, you know it is going to be ugly, but you just can’t stop.AMMA

After the death of her identical twin sister, Kelsey makes the worst decision imaginable and pretends to be Michelle when a Skype calls light’s up her deceased sister’s laptop. It’s Michelle’s deployed boyfriend, Peter, and Kelsey just can’t bring herself to tell him the terrible news. Instead, she begins a months long deception and ends up falling in love with Peter as Michelle instead of as herself.

Right off the bat, I wanted to hate Kelsey. What she did was despicable. Listening to Peter confess his love for Michelle and never telling him that Michelle died within hours of dropping him off at the airport. But I couldn’t hate her because she was doing it for all the right reasons. Peter is in a hellish war zone. His Army brothers are getting killed. He is witnessing horrors and doing things he never thought himself capable of. Michelle is the one thing keeping him going. If Kelsey tells him the truth, what will happen to him? It’s one thing for Kelsey to be distracted from her studies or from her friends, but being distracted in a combat zone will get you killed, so she keeps lying. First for his sake, then for her own sake because she realizes she never truly knew her own twin and this is a chance to connect with Michelle, and then because she comes to love Peter. So the lies pile up but so do the good memories and the laughter and the moments where she feels okay for the first time since her twin’s death.

Of course, it can’t continue and it doesn’t. The truth comes out and the aftermath is terrible for all involved.

Lara Avery does such a great job of portraying the inner turmoil for Kelsey. Her confliction with what she is doing verses what she is feeling practically comes off the page it is so strong. I liked that Avery could make me sympathize with a character whose actions were terrible to me. Kelsey is young, she’s human, she’s making terrible mistakes, but she’s also grieving and healing, and trying to find what’s left of herself in the wreckage. She’s relatable and that’s why I didn’t hate her for her bad decisions.

It’s been a while since a YA story drew me in. I’m glad this one did.

When it comes to Gruen’s Waters, I’d choose Elephants over Edge

After reading Water for Elephants which was so beautifully written and had wonderfully crafted characters, I thought I would like anything that Sara Gruen wrote, but I really struggled to read At the Water’s Edge. The writing was just fingruene, but the characters were detestable. . I hated Ellis. He was shallow, insecure, and rude as well as being a useless drunk and drug addict. I couldn’t fathom what had ever attracted Maddie to him in the first place. Hank wasn’t much better, and I had a lot of trouble respecting Maddie because so much of the situation she was in was her own fault. Really, the story is about Maddie finally growing up. You can be married and the wife of a “well-bred” man and still be as naïve as a baby.

I liked the Scottish characters very much and even grew to like Maddie eventually, though I wish she’d had more of a backbone when it came to dealing with her husband. The story is well written even if one of the major “twists” is quite obvious almost from the get-go. The best aspect of the book is that it takes place in a tiny town in Scotland with World War II having as much presence as any of the characters. In the end, it’s a decent read though if I was limited to one Gruen book, I’d choose Elephants over this one.

All the Rage is a novel of losing oneself and finding out what is left in the aftermath of tragedy

All the Rage. There’s plenty of it. It eats away at Romy like termites feast on wood. She’s been raped, ostracized, and made into a social pariah. All for the damnable sin of liking a boy and a having a few too many drinks at a party that went terribly wrong.

Romy is a hard character to get to know and a hard character to like. Yes, terrible things have been done to her, things that no girl (or person for that matter) should ever suffer, and she’s turned her shame and her hate in on herself. She’s suffered and agonized and tried yet failed to contort herself into another girl, an unraped girl who hides behind an armor of red nail polish and red lipstick, but as the story went on I found my sympathy for Romy being replaced by anger at her. Her stubborn refusal to tell anyone what happened to her, what she knows, what’s eating at her started to really grate after a while. I wanted her to stand up for herself, for Penny. I wanted her to fight back, to go after the one who made her the way she is, but she kept hiding in her silence.

The writing is strong. The descriptions of pain, of what Romy feels on the inside are vivid, and author Courtney Summers finds a unique way of bringing forth the internal turmoil and struggle. I liked the way the characters looked at life. Caro with her realization about her unborn child, and Romy’s own mother when she realizes everything that Romy carries and won’t share with those who would help her. Romy’s discovery that she is praying Caro’s baby isn’t a girl. Little thoughts and scenes that build and reflect the overall theme that winds its way through Romy and Penny and the town of Grebe where everyone knows everything and nothing all at once.

Despite my frustrations at Romy’s decisions (and sometimes lack there of), the ending was satisfying. It felt like just the right place to leave the story. I definitely recommend this book. I read a lot and sometimes books all seem the same and blend together until I can barely remember one from another, but this one definitely stands out.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers, St. Martin’s Griffin Books, 2015.

Richard Natale’s Cafe Eisenhower is a quick, endearing read

cafeCafé Eisenhower is a heartwarming story of life after loss, and the extremes one sometimes goes to in order to move on. After the love of his life dies, Matthew Robins inherits an apartment and a business in Eastern Europe from a distant great uncle whom he’s never met. Deciding that this is the change he needs in his bleak life of mourning, he sets off on an incredible journey where he discovers that he and his long lost uncle have more in common than Matthew ever imagined.

Richard Natale crafts a tale that is rich in personalities, culture, and family, no matter how anti-nuclear or dysfunctional that family may be. He made me laugh out loud seconds after I felt like crying. Switching between the present and the past which Matthew discovers in some old notebooks of his uncle’s, Natale slowly unwraps a secret that has been hidden for almost half a century. While some of the notebook scenes felt dry and a bit detached in the style in which they are conveyed, the rest of the story more than made up for it with great personalities and friendships that endure despite distance and deceit.