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review 2018-12-09 10:53
Recommended short feel-good Christmas story set in the Regency period.
A Chance at Christmas - Beppie Harrison

Thanks to NetGalley and to Candem Hill Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novella that I freely chose to review.

This is a Regency romance that I decided to read in part as research for a project, and also because it sounded and looked a bit different to many of the books in the genre (no couple on the cover, and, especially, no bare-chested male). Indeed this is a ‘sweet’ or ‘clean’ romance, although as some reviewers have noted, the strongest relationship in the story is that between Catherine, a young orphaned girl whose financial circumstances are extremely precarious at the beginning of the story, and her brother, John, a couple of years her junior, who fell from a horse when he was a child and now suffers from physical disabilities that make a normal life impossible. (He can move about with some difficulty and needs assistance to complete some complex tasks, although he is a fighter and manages better than people think when they meet him). The little money left by her parents has almost gone and she is wondering about the future. Although she is hopeful about getting a position for herself, she cannot see any options that would allow her to carry on looking after her brother. When an invitation to spend Christmas with a wealthy school friend arrives, Catherine starts making all kinds of plans in her head.

The story is short but manages to paint a detail picture of the conditions Catherine and her brother live in, of the arrangements she has to make to try and make do by modifying her mother’s old dresses, and then also about the huge contrast between their lives and that of her friend Katie and her family. (At times it made me think of Dickens but without going to extremes).This allows readers to see things from Catherine’s point of view and to appreciate the huge gap that existed in the society of the time between the haves and the have-nots. (It also reminded me of one of my favourite stories by Louisa May Alcott, An Old-Fashioned Girl, which I recommend). We also realise how unforgiving and intolerant the society of the time was of those suffering any type of disabilities, and it is impossible not to cringe at some of the comments the siblings have to endure.

The story shares some characteristics with a fairy-tale (there is something of Cinderella about Catherine, although at least she does not have a cruel stepmother), and also with a morality-tale, where Catherine’s innocence and her devotion to her brother are rewarded in the end.

The Christmas part of the story works well, and we hear about a Christmas log, there is a trip to find mistletoe, carollers come along to the mansion, and we have some wondrous descriptions of foods of the period.

As for the love story… Well, we soon realise Katie’s brother seems interested in Catherine, although she has not been exposed to society and cannot work out if he is flirting, laughing at her, or really interested. There is a misunderstanding that has the most wonderful consequences for all involved (one hopes, anyway), but while we get some sense of who Catherine is and some indication of her brother’s thoughts and feelings, we do not get to know the rest of the characters too well, but the indications are positive.

In sum, this is a short read, full of detail about the contrast between high and low-income lives at the time, set during Christmas, and it does a good job of bringing to life the Christmas spirit. It might not satisfy those looking for a passionate love story although it shows strong sibling relationships and has a likeable and self-sacrificing heroine (think Melanie in Gone with the Wind), and there is no sex or bad language. Recommended if you’re looking for a short feel-good Christmas story set in the Regency period.

 

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review 2018-12-05 01:13
Heavy material in a light package
Sunny Side Up - Matthew Holm,Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny is looking forward to her awesome summer vacation going to the beach with her best friend...and then she gets sent off to stay with her grandfather at his retirement community in Florida. What Sunny views as a punishment is actually her family trying to shield her from her brother's trip to rehab. Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm looks at substance abuse from the viewpoint of a younger sibling which is rather refreshing and ultimately important when a child is trying to find books that relate to themselves. (I don't know anyone with a picture perfect childhood so it's a good idea if children's literature reflects that.) The references to substance abuse are rather oblique for the majority of the book so it's not heavy handed in the slightest. For the most part, we see Sunny acting pretty snotty as she comes to terms with the fact her summer is not going to be anything like she had planned but intermixed with that is a healthy dose of fear, anxiety, and shame. Remember she has no idea what has caused her family to send her away but she think she must have done something terribly wrong. (Also, her grandfather is the mack daddy of the retirement community and it's hilarious.) She does manage to make a friend of commensurate age though and the two of them develop a mutual interest in superheroes and comics. 

 

It's hard to say where the author lands in terms of keeping family secrets (they experienced something similar to Sunny in reality) but what the reader does see is Sunny learning about the difficulty of maintaining secret identities as she gets into reading comics. By the end, she is told what has happened with her brother and the reader (if they hadn't already figured it out) sees all the puzzle pieces fall into place. Because the reader is seeing everything through the eyes of Sunny the reading experience is quite different from some of the realistic fiction on this topic that I've read before. I think from that standpoint this is quite a unique and important book especially for children who have experienced this and are feeling quite alone and isolated. In fact, at the end they tacked on a bit about talking to someone if you know a family member is struggling with substance abuse. If you're creating a booklist for your students and you're looking for material that touches on substance abuse and/or family dynamics you could do a lot worse than picking Sunny Side Up. 8/10

 

The illustrations reminded me of Sunday newspaper comic strips. [Source: Scholastic]

 

What's Up Next: 5 Worlds Book 1: The Sand Warrior by Alexis & Mark Siegel and illustrations by Boya Sun & Matt Rockefeller

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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text 2018-04-15 10:11
New short meme

1. What's your birth order?

First born, first girl.

2. Did you ever want more/fewer siblings?

Yes, I would have loved to have at least two more.

3. How many siblings do you have?

Two. A younger sister and a younger brother.

4. Favorite fictional siblings?

Maybe the two siblings in A wrinkle in time? But I also like the four in the Narnia books. Actually, I'm sure I have other favorites, but I can't think of any others right now.

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review 2018-04-06 04:33
Rich portal fantasy with a dreamy pace
Blue Window - Adina Gewirtz

Disclaimer: reviewing uncorrected digital proof via NetGalley

 

I'm not too sure how to review this one. On the one hand, it's very well written, has many strong points, and is generally enjoyable. On the other, it consistently put me to sleep every night and took about 5x longer to read than my usual pace, so . . . I guess it's good fantasy, and most definitively does not follow the contemporary thriller-pacing that we're seeing more of in YA and MG books. Recommended for young readers who enjoy the classics of kid lit, rather than reluctant readers or those who prefer fast-paced stories.

 

This is a portal fantasy, in which five siblings ranging from early to late elementary age tumble through a window into another world where they discover powers. The third-person narrative lends itself to exploring the world from each character's perspective, allowing for insightful character writing and meaningful personality development, but also feels distant. The journey-of-discovery format means the pace is dreamy and meandering, although there is a clear goal that ties it all together (get home again). There is dark/violent/disturbing content, which may push the edges of younger children's comfort level, but is in line with content from many children's classics. Lots of descriptive writing creates a detailed high fantasy world with some interesting philosophical underpinnings.

 

In summary, there's lots to like here, but for me personally, it just didn't quite come together. Maybe I was just overtired. Again, I'd recommend this for young readers (and other fans) of dense, fantasy doorstoppers and classic storytelling. Rated 5 for quality, 3 for personal taste.

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review 2018-01-17 20:59
Stolen Hearts (Stolen Hearts) by Sasha L. Miller
Stolen Hearts - Sasha L. Miller

Нудная середина и нудный конец. Я ожидала больше, чем "она его за муки полюбила, а он ее за состраданье к ним".

 

The "comfort" bit of hurt/comfort was overdone, trying to compensate for falling in love, I guess. Once Callisto's new charm was in place to stabilize his condition, everything slowed down to a crawl.

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