Friday, October 30, 2015

The Girl from the Train- Irma Joubert

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Auschwitz. Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.

As World War II draws to a close, Jakób fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They mean to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl’s unscheduled train reaches the bomb first.

Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakób discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her home. For three years, the young man and little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.

But she can’t stay with him forever. Jakób sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families—so long as Gretl’s Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.

Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakób and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.

My Thoughts: To my knowledge, this is the first novel I've read that was translated into English (outside of a few I had to read in high school and have pushed from my memory). For that reason, I had been slightly worried that some aspects of the story would have been lost in translation, either because of differing cultures or else words that had no exact definition in English. I was pleased to find that if anything was lost in translation, I didn't notice.

The Girl from the Train was a wonderful read. While most of the plot takes place after WWII, it was still interesting to see how Europe coped after the war, as well as how the effects were felt all the way to South Africa. My favorite conflict through the story was that between nationalities, languages, and religions that Gretl and Jakob had to navigate in order to survive.

* Now for a spoiler* From the beginning, I knew that the story would have to end in a romance between Jakob and Gretl. It was the only relational conclusion I could picture since Jakob never took up the role as father to Gretl, even though he could have. And while I rooted for it before it happened (it is not the first time I have seen a 15 year age gap), I was not sure of how I felt about it once it did happen. Even though they were a couple, Jakob still bossed her around like a parent and Gretl whined and manipulated him like she was his child. It made it hard for me to believe they were in love.
*End spoiler*

The part I really had issue did not come about until near the end, leaving the rest of the story to enjoy. I hope to see more translations of Irma's books in the future.

I received this book from the publisher through The Fiction Guild in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Raising Dragons Graphic Novel- Bryan Davis and James Art Ville

Raising Dragons was one of my favorite novels growing up and is the first book I ever convinced my brother to read as well. Now that it has been made into a graphic novel, I'm excited to share an interview with the book's illustrator, James Art Ville. If you have any questions for him, please leave them in the comments.

1) What was your favorite part of working with this story?
Storyboarding Example
My favorite part was drawing the thumbnails for each panel/page. This is also called “storyboarding”. Although I have the script to determine the events of each panel, I still muster a lot of creativity when composing each panel to depict each scene in the best and most interesting way. I like to keep them dynamic so that no two panels are exactly alike.

2) Can you tell us about your experience with Kickstarter for this project?
Although I didn’t create this project during the early stages of Kickstater’s existence, I feel like since then I heard more and more news about Kickstarter’s growth and success. It was very easy to create the project and manage it through the Kickstarter project dashboard. The funding period was very tense for me because it was at a time of my life where I had recently become self employed, and the outcome of the project would have had great impact on which path I would take next in my career. Every day I would check to see if more backers had pledged. It was pretty tight in the end and looking back now I can breathe a sigh of relief and I am grateful for where it has taken me, professionally speaking.

3) Which of the illustrations was your favorite?
I always love drawing people more than anything, so my favorite part was drawing the characters. Even more specifically, the more mythical the character, the more I enjoyed it. Bonnie Silver, Clefsphere, and knights in armor were much more enjoyable to illustrate than normal people (sorry Walter :P).

4) How did you come to work with Bryan Davis?
My wife was a fan of Bryan Davis’s books. One summer, Bryan was making an appearance at my local bookstore and Shiloh wanted me to draw something to give him as a gift (fan art, you know?). Bryan was pleased with the drawing. We asked him if he ever considered having his stories adapted as graphic novels. He said it was something that he thought about and I offered to do it, half jokingly. I was quite surprised a few months later to receive a message from him asking if I was interested in drawing Raising Dragons. I was just as giddy about the project as any other die hard DIOM fan. It was a project that the two of us wanted to see happen, even if it meant self publishing.

5) Do you have any other works or webpages you would like to share?
There is another book that I illustrated for Bryan Davis. It’s a children’s book called Beelzebed. It features a young Walter Foley from Raising Dragons as he literally battles with his bed in a humorous tale about bedtime and the battle of the wills. My books and my personal gallery can be accessed by visiting I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and the other socials.

Short Biography:
James Art Ville is a digital illustrator and graphic designer. When he’s not designing
websites for clients, he’s illustrating book covers, children’s books, and graphic novels for both the young and old. He loves super heroes, playing video games, and reading fantasy novels. He and his wife live in Oregon with their three children.

Raising Dragons Description:
Graphic novel based on the bestselling book Raising Dragons. This book brings to life in 150 pages of colorful illustrations the beloved fantasy novel by Bryan Davis.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Mistress of Tall Acre- Laura Frantz

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: The American Revolution is finally over, and Sophie Menzies is starved for good news. When her nearest neighbor, General Seamus Ogilvy, finally comes home to Tall Acre, she hopes it is a sign of better days to come. But the general is now a widower with a small daughter in desperate need of a mother. Nearly destitute, Sophie agrees to marry Seamus and become the mistress of Tall Acre in what seems a safe, sensible arrangement. But when a woman from the general's past returns without warning, the ties that bind this fledgling family together will be strained to the utmost. When all is said and done, who will be the rightful mistress of Tall Acre?

Triumph and tragedy, loyalty and betrayal--readers find it all in the rich pages of this newest historical novel from the talented pen of Laura Frantz. Her careful historical details immerse the reader in the story world, and her emotional writing and finely tuned characters never cease to enchant fans both old and new.

My Thoughts: I'm starting to notice a trend where the description on the back of  the book is more like a summery of the final fourth of the book, not the actual plot. Is it because the rest of the plot sounds far lest gripping? I don't know, but it seems a little deceptive for any reason. So, I've descided to write my own book description (which I never do).

~Five years after assisting General Seamus Ogilvy's wife in labor, Sophie Menzies is the disgraced daughter of a Tory. Deserted by her family because of her Patriot believes and shunned by her town because of her family, Sophie has found her self in financial ruin. To make matters worse, her childhood home has been confiscated and is to be turned over to a soldier she has never met.

Now that Seamus has returned as a widower and single father, Sophie finds herself the recipient of his kindness. What first begins a friendship turns to an arrangement of convenience, one that fills both their needs. All except for that of love.

When a woman from Seamus' past shows up in the Tall Acre parlor, it is a matter of time before they discover just who will be the Mistress of Tall Acre.~

Now, I must say that just who this mysterious woman from Seamus' past was surprised me. I was expecting a completely different person, but was pleased with this end result. Getting to this point in the novel did drag a little bit. There were scenes that I felt were not needed and I wish that other parts had been drawn out more. Yet the story was still interesting to read and I finished it in couple of days.

Overall, I believe that Mistress of Tall Acre was well worth the read, even if it was not exactly what the description said it was.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Memory Weaver- Jane Kirkpatrick

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: Eliza Spalding Warren was just a child when she was taken hostage by the Cayuse Indians during a massacre in 1847. Now the young mother of two children, Eliza faces a different kind of dislocation; her impulsive husband wants them to make a new start in another territory, which will mean leaving her beloved home and her departed mother's grave--and returning to the land of her captivity. Eliza longs to know how her mother, an early missionary to the Nez Perce Indians, dealt with the challenges of life with a sometimes difficult husband and with her daughter's captivity.

When Eliza is finally given her mother's diary, she is stunned to find that her own memories are not necessarily the whole story of what happened. Can she lay the dark past to rest and move on? Or will her childhood memories always hold her hostage?

Based on true events, The Memory Weaver is New York Times bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick's latest literary journey into the past, where threads of western landscapes, family, and faith weave a tapestry of hope inside every pioneering woman's heart. Readers will find themselves swept up in this emotional story of the memories that entangle us and the healing that awaits us when we bravely unravel the threads of the past.

My Thoughts: The description of this novel hints at a story in which an adult Eliza struggles to weave her memories of past hurt with current memories of hope while living in the very place she fears. This was the premise I was expecting, but not the one I found. In reality, The Memory Weaver begins in Eliza's teen years, and it is not until halfway through the book that even the first of the two children mentioned are born. It is farther still until Eliza and her husband move back to the place she was taken hostage.

While Kirkpatrick's way with words is beautiful and often times perfectly descriptive, I found the story lacking in any form of interesting plot. Toward the middle, there is a conflict between her and her husband which I found compelling and would have liked to take part more in the narrative. Outside of that, there were moments of interesting dialogue and interaction between characters, but it was overall mundane, daily activities only colored by Eliza's way of look at them.

The reason I give this as high as three stars is because Kirkpatrick's writing is beautiful in its conveyance of everyday life. As well, there were moments that genuinely held my interest and attention. However, for myself, the pretty descriptions were not enough to make me care about Eliza Warren. I have read other novels based on true historical figures in which I felt like the story came to life. The Memory Weaver did not do this for me.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Hive- John Otte

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: A pregnant cyborg and a teenage boy fight against intergalactic governments to protect the unborn in this novel from a Christy Award-nominated author.

Why is Zain pregnant? She belongs to the Hive, a collective of cyborgs who choose to live apart from the rest of human society. At times, the Hive rent out some of their females to produce tailor-made children for paying couples. But Zain is an engineer, not a breeder. When she finds herself separated from the Hive, she decides to find the person who she thinks ordered the baby. Surely they’ll help her find her way home.

Matthew “Scorn” Nelson has spent the better part of his teenage years cracking computer systems, causing mischief and havoc wherever he can. But the night of his greatest triumph turned into a painful memory, one he wants to erase. But that night was also his first step on a road to faith. When Zain arrives on his doorstep, Scorn is horrified. What’s he supposed to do with a pregnant teenage cyborg?

Unfortunately, he’ll have to answer that question on the run. Zain’s people want to reclaim her and terminate her pregnancy. And both the Ministrix and the Praesidium, two intergalactic governments in a constant state of cold war, want Zain’s baby for their own reasons. Will their enemies run them down? Or will Zain find a new Hive for both her and her child?

My Thoughts: The Hive deals with (at least on some level) the idea of whether or not a child can be born an accident and then if the child can be aborted for the mother's benefit. It is a great theme, especially with the social issues in America today. Tangled with this was also the idea of taking responsibility for our actions and looking out for more than just ourselves. While I think that these themes could have been explored more, I still enjoyed reading about something pertinent to modern culture even if set in the future.

My one true complaint was that I felt Zain's solution to their problem came about a little too easy. I thought it would have taken a bit more effort, especially after the ordeal Mat and the others had just gone through for her. Maybe if she had contemplated this solution before, I would have found it more believable.

That said, I loved the intricacies of the politics Otte has created for his world, as well has his use of a hive to symbolize the way Christianity should work. With everyone working to the greater good it the Kingdom, supporting and helping each other without question, but with the freewill to chose. I hope to see a sequel coming soon, or else another stand alone in this world.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Traitor's Heir- Anna Thayer

My Rating: 3 Stars

Description: In an epic and mystical tale that resonates with modern times, the young Eamon Goodman goes on a journey of discovery. A journey which sees him taking an increasingly pivotal role in the battle between the rival forces of the king and the master, and takes him from being a young soldier in his home of Edesfield to being a fast-rising hero in the dense and rotten city of Dunthruik.

Under the watchful eye of Lord Cathair, in the loving arms of Lady Alessia Turnholt, and torn between enemy forces, Eamon’s experiences lead him to question the nature and true meaning of some of the most important things in life - love and friendship, loyalty and honour, and who he really is. But will the answers he finds lead him to become true to himself and true to his name? Will they lead him to become a good man?

My Thoughts: When I first saw The Traitor's Heir available for review, I thought it was going to be an enthralling read. The description and cover were fascinating, with a premise I wanted to see explored. Unfortunately, it did not fully live up to my expectations. While there is a good bit to commend about the novel, there is also enough to critic that I was not captivated.

For starters, Eamon is fairly likable character. He is people pleasing and honorable, even at the cost of himself. While those around him insist he look out for himself, he instead looks out for those around him. He is also relateable in his desire to do something worth while and struggles with contradictory messages in the world around him.

Yet as likable as Eamon is, most of the other characters have nothing that sets them as enjoyable characters. The true King has the unfortunate depiction of being a mortal king, who has now power to see the future or any other "divine" characteristics, and yet shown as so perfect (as a symbol of God) that he followed almost without question. I found it hard to care about him one way or the other, and found no worthy reason for Eamon to serve this mortal king.

As to the Master, who is clearly a symbol of Satan, there was also some issues with his depiction. I spent much of the book confused as to whether or not he was mortal as well (as he seems to have powers and has lived for at least 200 years). Other than his Hands, who are depicted as sickly in color, and his attempts to stamp out all followers of the King, he did not seem like a despotic ruler. His people lived in peace and prospered, so that if he were a mortal king and not daemonic, I think he would have been a better ruler than the King.

With a story so laden with symbolism, I would have expected the exact nature of the King and Master to have been more clear, with the Master's reign far more vile. While Eamon is a likable and relatable character, I did not quiet buy into the world. Knowing this, I believe that readers could enjoy The Traitor's Heir, it simply was not for me.

I received this book through Bookfun in exchange for an honest review.