ARC Review: The Button War

button-warThe Button War // by Avi
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Genre: Upper MG, Historical (WWI)
My Rating: 4 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: It’s August 1914 in a small village in Poland. The Great War has begun, but Patryk and his six friends are caught up in their own Button War… to see which boy can find (read: steal) the best button from the uniforms of the various occupying soldiers. Little do they know that this war is going to have deadly consequences.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Thank-you, Mr. Avi, for putting “August 1914” before the first chapter. It set the scene right off the bat. I knew exactly what time period I was reading about.

2) I love learning something new. This story takes place in Poland at the outset of the First World War. The inciting incident involves an aeroplane dropping a bomb. Now, I always associate bombs with WWII, not WWI, so I found this an extremely interesting plot point. (And I did some research. Yes, bombing did happen during WWI.)

3) The bickering between the boys. I love how this is portrayed, especially early on in the book. I reminded me of Stand by Me… the Polish version! The sausage-eating Wojtex… Drugi, the one who asks all the questions… Jurek who keeps telling everybody that he’s the descendant of King Boleslaw… and the narrator, Patryk, who’s trying to keep everything balanced.

Next moment, Wojtex said, “My father told me that more Russain soldiers were coming. Maybe Cossacks.”

Jurek said, “Love to see them.”

“Why?” asked Drugi.

Jurek said, “They’re the best fighters in the world.”

Drugi asked, “Who are the Russian going to fight?”

“Germans,” said Wojtex. …

There was a moment of silence. After which Drugi asked, “What’s the war about?”

We were silent. No one knew the answer.

(Chapter 7)

4) The buttons! Maybe because I’ve always had a thing about buttons, I loved the collecting and the descriptions.

5) I love how the button contest echoes what happening with regards to the Great War. The boys are vying to be Button King, just as the nations of Europe were going to war to be king of the world. You have Jurek, the bully who will stop at nothing to be king, dragging the rest of the boys into the Button War, whether they want to or not. And then, really bad things happen.

6) The foreshadowing is just… wow. I didn’t catch all of it, but peeking back at earlier chapters after completing the book, I definitely saw various instances of foreshadowing. Like the the mention of the Cosacks… And the fierce look in Jurek’s eyes after Patryk throws away the first button.

7) The ending is very sad. Although, it’s not necessarily an “unhappy” ending. The last quarter of the book or so, there’s a lot of bloodshed (off screen). Jurek’s claim at the very end is troubling; sad because it’s also so empty. Like, doesn’t he realize what has happened.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The super short chapters. Argh! I don’t understand why authors choose to write super short chapters.

2) I found the names to be difficult at times. I could not always remember who was who. This might have been partly because of all the Polish names I wasn’t familiar with, but it’s also because there are seven boys. And not all the boys are as important to the story as the others are, so it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was who.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book, if “enjoyed” can be a word to describe it. The book deals with some very troubling aspects of war. Actually, come to think of it, it has some overtones of Lord of the Flies. Very interesting on the historical side of things and I would recommend this to anybody who wants to read something something a little different about World War I. Definitely this book is meant for a more mature reader.

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ARC Review: Hidden Women

Hidden-WomenHidden Women  // by Rebecca Rissman
Genre: MG, Non-Fiction (ages 8-12)
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 4 Stars*

*Note: I received a copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Basic Plot: This is a non-fiction book about the African-American women who did the math that launched rockets into space… From Katherine Johnson to Dorothy Vaughan to Mary Jackson to Miriam Mann and others.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Each chapter deals with one of the women who worked at NASA during the years of the Space Race. It was a nice way to organize the information. For the most part, Rissman tells one main story per woman. For example, Katherine Johnson’s story is that of John Glenn insisting that they “get the girl to run the numbers” before he is launched into space. He knew he could trust HER where he didn’t know what to think of this new IBM computer contraption.

2) There’s a nice balance of NASA history interspersed with the history of desegregation. Again, Rissman chooses a vignette to illustrate. The story she uses is that of Miriam Mann’s quiet defiance against segregation in the cafeteria.

3) I thought Rissman did a nice job explaining the high (and low) points of the Space Race. I actually learned some things I didn’t know before.

4) I like the pictures scattered throughout the book. And the graphics that incorporate the math and physics involved in rocket science are nicely done. We get to see old photographs of the women who worked at NASA, alongside photos of the rockets and astronauts they helped launch into space.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Sorry, but I am NOT crazy about the title of this book. It certainly invokes the book Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. But that title IS clever. I’m guessing that since this book is for kids, they decided to go with a title that is more on-the-nose. Which is okay. It’s just not great.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a nice dive into the history of these women at NASA. For ages 8-12, it’d be a great resource for any classroom!

ARC Review: Surprise Me

imagesSurprise Me // by Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Adult, Chick Lit
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 3 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: When Sylvie and Dan find out that (medically speaking) they’re going to live into their 100s, they begin to worry about what that will mean for their marriage. In order to combat what they fear will be a life-sentence of boredom, Sylvie comes up with a game where they each try to outdo one another with surprises. But surprises have potential to bring dark secrets into the open…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The story is told through first-person narration (the voice of Sylvie). Sophie Kinsella tends to do this quite well and I felt Sylvie comes across as very sympathetic.

2) I love Sylvie’s workplace at the historical society! I love the quirkiness of her boss, and even the nephew who comes in to upset the balance of things. (I’m still not quite sure, though, why she doesn’t want to stay on with them by the end of the book. Why?! This didn’t make sense to me.)

3) Sylvie definitely grows up during the course of the story. She’s so proud of how she and Dan finish each other’s sentences. (Yes, they’re that couple!) But the book is about how she matures. As a person. And I love how this is symbolized by her long “princess hair”.

4) I loved the friendship Sylvie has with her neighbour, Tilda. There was a nice mentor-thing going on there. Tilda warns Sylvie about the whole “Surprise Me” idea. And she’s right. But she doesn’t rub it in when so many of the surprises turn out badly… (Many are quite relate-able, like the one involving the lunch with Claire.)

5) The secrets and surprises revealed in the book definitely keep us reading. I had my suspicions about a few things. Although, there were some twists I didn’t predict.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I didn’t understand why Dan and Sylvie keep freaking out about 68 years of marriage. As if the doctor is a fortune teller or something. Why are they worried that they’ll become bored with each other?

2) I didn’t understand the apparent need of the subplot regarding the other neighbour, John. It seemed unnecessary to the story. Like it was thrown in because “you have to have a gay couple in the book.” Why??

3) Warning about the foul language. This is one thing I hate about these types of books. It’s no better/worse than in other Sophie Kinsella books (although, for some reason, I don’t remember this from the Shopaholic books). I just glaze over these words.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, this book is a fun and engaging read. It has some delightful moments. But it also touches on the real need for communication in relationships.

ARC Review: Skavenger’s Hunt

1942645805Skavenger’s Hunt // by Mike Rich
Release Date: November 2017
My Rating: 3 Stars*

Basic plot: Henry finds himself back in 1885 on a great scavenger hunt. From New York to St. Louis to Paris, France… he and his rag-tag group of friends are trying to solve the clues to find Mr. Skavenger’s treasure.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really like the time travel scene. Mike Rich does a really nice job describing how the room changes from the present day to 1885. Very nicely done!

2) The book cover is well-suited to the story. I like the little drawings of various hints and clues, all within Henry’s silhouette.

3) The initial interaction between Jack and Henry is priceless. Especially once Henry realizes who Jack is.

4) This is a Westing Game meets The 39 Clues type of book. If you love to solve riddles and figure out clues, you’ll probably like this book.

5) The stakes are clearly outlined. I definitely felt the “ticking-clock”. And while the other kids (Jack, Ernie, and Mattie) just want to find the treasure, Henry’s stakes are a little higher. He wants to get back to his own time!

6) I loved the cameo appearance of a certain author in the middle of the book. Especially the fact that he doesn’t know why they are in his stateroom and how that plays out. This for me was probably the highlight of the book.

7) I loved how Henry sometimes got the clue wrong due his not knowing his history. Particularly with the clue in Paris.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish there was more character development between Jack and Henry. It was okay, but I’m not sure I buy Jack’s position at the end of the hunt. I think it needed some real heart-to-heart connection between the two boys. We get that a little more with Henry and Mattie (but in my opinion, we don’t need this to happen with Mattie).

2) Which brings me to Mattie. Not sure she was even completely necessary to the book, other than to have a female character. Ernie could have been a Mattie. I liked her character well-enough, but I just didn’t really care too much what happened to her or when she was in danger.  And then… at the end I was completely confused by her character.

3) Now this is a nit-picky one, but I was overwhelmed with all the CAPITAL LETTERS. I realize that this is to indicated SHOUTING or EXCITEMENT (and I didn’t mind the odd one), but it was TOO MUCH!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – This was my first ARC* review and it was fun! This book isn’t without faults, but if you love clue hunts, this book is for you 🙂

*Note: I received a copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.