Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Reviews: Winter Break 2013

This time in five lines or less. I read a couple of books over break, but I also bit the bullet and bought an Audible subscription. Basically, you pay for credits, credits can be traded for books, most books are one credit. I got the two credit subscription because I listen to audiobooks so fast. I'm not schilling for Audible (unlike some of my favorite podcasts), but they have markedly improved since their inception and they're much easier to work with since being bought up by Amazon.

Anyway, on to the reviews. All cover images courtesy of Amazon.

Title: Allegiant.
Author: Veronica Roth
Review: The final chapter in the Divergent trilogy. We pick up with Tris and Four as they revealed the truth about the factions, that when there are enough Divergents they should leave the city. Four's mother, the leader of the Divergent makes things difficult. As Tris and Four escape, the truth they find on the outside is enough to shatter their whole world again. A good end to the trilogy, it nicely wraps up all the loose ends.
Good for my library: yes, although it did feature one allusion to adult situations (and much talking about kissing, too much really).

Title: China Road
Author: Rob Gilford
Narrator: Simon Vance
Review: As National Public Radio correspondent Rob Gilford prepares to move from China, he takes a
road trip along Route 312, the longest highway route in the world's most populated country. Gilford weaves stories of his journey with history as he discusses the future of China. Equal parts hope and doubt as we wait to see what the powerhouse nation will become.
Narrator Review: I really struggled with Vance's accent. Several times I had to go back and listen to the story again because I had missed major points. I wonder why Gilford didn't just record it himself, considering he was a radio journalist.
Good for my library: maybe for the older kids, although they would need to have a more basic version of Chinese history before they delved into this discussion.

Title: Child 44
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Narrator: Dennis Boutsikaris
Review: Leo Demidov is a stalwart member of Stalin's State Security Force in 1950's Soviet Russia. When he comes into contact with a murderer who the state won't even admit exists, he questions his purpose and is forced to come to terms with who he is fighting for. Smith's depiction of Soviet Russia is horrifying and poignant. He is able to paint a portrait of the world and recreate the absolute moral degradation that Stalin encouraged.
Narrator Review: Boutsikaris incorporates an excellent Russian accent. His narration does tend to be a bit flat at times, but really shines when there is heavy dialogue.
Good for my library: No, mostly because it's such a niche topic and you would really need to have a firm understanding of Soviet history to help create the background for where and when the novel takes place.

Title: The Secret Speech
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Narrator: Dennis Boutsikaris
Review: After the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union had to come to terms with the actions of their former leader. The so-called Secret Speech of Nikita Khruchev dissolved Stalin's State Security Force and put all former members in the crosshairs of citizens who had been punished on trumped-up charges and fabricated confessions. Leo Demidov's past comes to haunt him and he must travel from Moscow, to the Siberian Gulags, to the Hungarian revolution to help save his family and pay for the crimes of his previous life. Smith again crafts the world of the Soviet Union, this time in flux as their current leader completely denounces the leadership of the past.
Good for my library: nope

Title: Avoid Working on the Great Wall of China!
Author: Jacqueline Morley
Illustrator: David Antram
Review: Life during the Ming Dynasty was difficult. Either you paid your taxes to the emperor, or you were sent to work on his great wall. When you got there, you usually worked until your debt was paid off, then continued to live there because you could never afford to get back home or worked until you died and were buried in the foundations of the wall. This colorful graphic novel explores life as a farmer during one of the great ancient eras, even capturing the horror of life, although in a lightened tone.
Good for my library: yes, I would aim this at grades 4-6, since it contains reference to the general horrific death and slave labor that built the Great Wall.

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