Category Archives: @robinswandering

Progeny: The Children of The White Lions by R. T. Kaelin

In a matter of a few minutes, everything Nykalys and Kenders held dear is destroyed by an evil force.  In order to save themselves, they must run for their lives and leave all they knew behind, including their parents and their older brother Jak.   What follows is the journey Nikalys and Kenders set out on in order to learn the truth of what happened that day.

Progeny
The Children of The White Lions
R.T. Kaelin
Terrene Press
November 2010

After the destruction of their home, Nykalys and Kenders set out on an epic journey.  It is imperative they remain hidden, as Kenders has magical capabilities in a world where magic has been outlawed.  As search for an answer, they are met with living legends, the likes of which neither sibling has never seen.   Creatures that only existed in myth are brought to life, all pitted against one another in a classic battle of good versus evil.

After reading the back cover of Kaelin’s Progeny, I was very anxious to get started!  The main story line hits you right from the start, and from there, things get…interesting.

I am going to attempt to avoid the path of other reviews I have read about Progeny that simply rank the book the way they do because it’s “too long.”  I’m not comfortable with that blanket assessment of why this book sometimes didn’t work for me.   Granted, it is long, but that is simply too generic a reason to score it down in any ranking system.

After the initial destruction, the book takes a downturn for me.  It really took me over 100 pages of plugging through to be able to get to a point where the story picked up.  I do have to qualify that by letting you know I am very much a story driven reader.  It is the progressive motion of a tale that keeps me intrigued.  The better the cliffhanger, the more likely I am to breeze through a book.   I think the trick here is to understand that the destruction of Nykalys’ and Kenders’ home is NOT the central point of this story.   It really is just a  catalyst used to start the journey that will lead them to knowledge of their true selves.  I entered the book with the idea that the siblings were going to be searching for the one responsible and that this would be a mystery throughout the story.  In reality, they are really searching for the WHY of it all, not the WHO (since you learn who did it in the chapter after their home is destroyed).

If you are driven by back story, history, and details, details, details, then you will love Progeny from start to finish.   I actually would liken this to The Lord of the Rings in its focus to detail and creation of the world and history that the characters inhabit.  I struggled through LOTR as I did Progeny, and I read them the same way:  skimming through some of the longer stories and histories to get back to the action.  I feel that this book is written with a specific reader in mind.  I simply am not that reader.

I will tell you that once I was reading sections that were more action driven, I was riveted.   The characters themselves, as well as most of their exchanges, were very well developed.  Kaelin weaves a tale about a group of people who are thrown together by fate and destiny.   His characters are in turns warm, kind, humorous, sarcastic, and, in the case of those on the evil side, down right frightening. Nundle quickly became one of my favorites.  On the opposite side, I am still unsure about the reasoning behind naming the horses and repeating those names over and over.  They weren’t talking horses and didn’t really add anything to the story, so that became a minor irritation for me.

I applaud Kaelin’s efforts to build a new world in his first novel.  Still, in the end, I fall solidly in the middle.  I would love to see where Nikalys and Kenders (and Nundle!) go from here.  I am just not sure that I would move it to the top of my to-be-read pile to find out.

 


Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

 A cancelled day of school leads to an impromptu road trip for Mia and her family.  It is the last thing she remembers before “waking up” to see her family spread across the pavement as the result of a car accident.  Mia then sees herself, mangled after the accident, and realizes she is now in limbo.

What follows is a series of flashes between the past and the present.  Mia, a talented 17-year-old cellist, reminisces about life with her family, her best friend, Kim, and her boyfriend, Adam.   Mia’s parents were very liberal, very loving, and very nontraditional.  They encouraged Mia and her brother Teddy to follow their dreams, not standing in the way of anything they wanted to try.   Kim and Adam helped Mia step out of her comfort zone and try things she might otherwise have avoided.

As she lies in a coma, a result of her injuries due to the accident, Mia must ultimately make the decision to remain with her friends in life or follow her family into death.   As the only surviving member of her family, it is not hard to see why this decision would be such a difficult one.

Gayle Forman creates a dilemma for Mia that anyone would find troubling.  What would you do if you “awoke” from a terrible tragedy to find yourself alone?  Knowing that you will face an uncertain future with no family, would you risk it?

Foreman creates such an astounding dilemma, it is not hard to see why this novel garnered such acclaim.  I have to honestly tell you, however, that I do not understand previous book critics’ desire to relate this novel to either The Lovely Bones or Twilight.  While the story obviously has a “supernatural” element, as Mia is having an out of body experience, that is really its only tie to The Lovely Bones.

And with no sparkly vampires and an obvious lack of shape-shifting Native Americans, the only reason that this would appeal to readers of Twilight is because both books are in the Young Adult genre.

Forman’s novel would be better related to those of Paige Harbison or Lauren Oliver, minus the “you must get this right to get out of purgatory” idea.   If you have to minus, then it is probably best to allow a novel to stand on its own and to give the writer her own applause.

All in all, this was a great novel.  Forman creates the tension and leaves Mia with such a troubling choice, you keep wondering which she will choose.  It is well thought out and well-written, with the right balance of past and present and shifts between each that do not leave you dizzy.

Be forewarned, there are several instances of harsh language, and some parents might not be thrilled with the informality of the relationship between Mia and her parents.  For me, the language is not a major issue and the relationship is clearly one of love, so it doesn’t matter that it isn’t the cookie cutter idea of how parents and children should interact.

I really enjoyed this book, and I had actually gone in search of it because I had received the sequel Where She Went.  I read this one first, loved it, and quickly moved on to the next (review  forthcoming).   It is a quick, thought-provoking read, one that I could certainly read again.

 


Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Fury by Elizabeth Miles

Sometimes sorry isn’t enough

Emily cannot wait for the holidays!  Even though her best friend will be on a family trip, Em is excited about the prospect of getting a little closer to the boy she’s been eyeing for some time.  The only catch?  He’s her best friend’s boyfriend, Zach.

Chase lives a lie.  He’s from the “wrong side of the tracks,” but he is Ascension High School’s star quarterback.   He does everything he can to be the perfect golden boy.  But things, like always, are never what they seem.  Actions from his past are coming back to haunt him.

The phrase “what goes around, comes around” is the basis for Elizabeth Miles’ tale of three beautiful women who choose those who will find retribution for their past deeds.

In this case, Emily and Chase have been chosen.

With her cautionary tale for teens, Miles seems to be creating work in the trend of Lauren Oliver and Paige Harbison.  Miles, like the others,  is attempting to teach teens to be nicer, asking them to  remember that what they do now could haunt them later.

That is essentially where the similarities end.   From nearly the beginning, you sense something a little more sinister in Miles’ story.   As I was reading, there were points where I had chills up my spine, a sure sign of that anticipation that keeps me on edge when I am reading.   What is also unique about Miles’ book is how she has built reality into her fiction, in that not everyone gets a second chance to get it right.  In life, we don’t always get a chance to right our wrongs, so it might be helpful to prevent the wrongs in the first place.

I found I had to  keep reading to see where Miles would take me.   As the story built, I became wrapped up in the lives of her characters, wanting to quickly find out what happened.  However, it’s important to note that this is the first in a trilogy, so quick is not the pace of this novel.  There is, as in any first of a series, quite a bit of back story.    Since I know a story is going to build, I don’t find this bothersome at all.

Miles has done a great job of starting this series.  I can’t wait to see where she heads next!

 


Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Orphan Sister by Gwendolen Gross

 As a triplet, Clementine Lord has always been a part of a set.  A quirk of biology left her sisters an identical pair and Clementine the odd one out.   When a secret their father has been harboring comes to light, the careful family fabric they have woven begins to unravel.   Clementine questions the secrets and the lives that each of her family members have lived.

Gwendolen Gross’s story takes us from Clementine’s past and the relationships she’s had with her sisters, mother, and father.  We learn about her greatest love, which was also her greatest loss.  As Clementine seeks to make sense of all that has happened, we are taken through her life as she tries to navigate an uncertain world.

I am going to be very honest here.  I wanted to like this book, I really did.  I had grand hopes for how it started out.  In the beginning, I expected Clementine to be very introspective and to be searching to find her answers and find her place.  After about 200 pages, she still hadn’t done it.  I didn’t feel like she had even gotten started moving on and taking control of her own destiny until around page 271 of 283. There were glimpses earlier that led me to think she would get there sooner.

Sadly, she didn’t.

Gross did a great job of building her story.  I just feel that the building continued for far too long.  It was like the anticipation that you feel when you are riding a roller coaster.  The cart climbs higher and higher.  The butterflies build and build, until you reach the summit and begin racing down.   This roller coaster never reached that summit.  You can only read so much “woe is me” before you look for your main character to begin to heal and move on.

Instead of getting this in the main character, you get it in Odette, one of her sisters.   Odette is the one who decides that she will no longer allow their father’s sins to dictate how she will live her own life.  She stops focusing her life on what he has done and how they will repair the damage to focusing on her new child and her own family.  Odette’s story is one I would like to read, as I prefer female characters who work to get over their struggles and tragedies and move forward.  They don’t forget the experiences, but they do work to use those experiences to become stronger.

Clementine would have gotten there.  Eventually.

 


Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

After a battle with infertility, infant loss, and finally, a very tumultuous pregnancy, Jude Farraday gave birth to twins Mia and Zach. From that day on, Jude did everything she could to make sure her children were protected. She learned all of their friends, provided a place for them all to be together (under her watchful eye), and involved herself in nearly every aspect of their lives.

On the first day of high school, Mia befriends Lexi Baill, who has recently come to live with her Great Aunt after being shuffled from foster home to foster home most of her childhood. As they grow closer, Jude welcomes Lexi into her family. Eventually, Zach even admits that he has loved Lexi since he met her, and the three grow even closer.

One night. One poor decision. Everything changes, and lives are altered irrevocably.

What follows is a story that could easily be a “Behind The Scenes” look at the wake left behind when a tragedy occurs.

Prior to Night Road, I had not read any of Kristin Hannah’s novels. This is an oversight that I am glad I have rectified. The story that Hannah weaves is so intricate and detailed that you feel as though you have stepped into the lives of her characters. You feel the emotional turmoil; you are invested in how (if at all) repair can happen.

Hannah is most certainly a master at her craft. As her story progresses, you find yourself relating to those on both sides, unable to decide who is “right.” She takes you through the tragedy and the aftermath, leaving it up to you to draw your own conclusions.

If there is one downside to her story, it’s that it didn’t come with a warning label. I highly recommend having a box of tissues on hand for this one. You will certainly need them.


Robin Gwaro describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Wildefire by Karsten Knight

Wildefire
by Karsten Knight
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
July 2011

Ashline Wilde is a goddess.

Not in that “every woman is a goddess” kind of way, but in the “no, a REAL goddess” one.

Adopted as a young child, Ash works to find her place as the only Polynesian student in her high school. Unfortunately, her wayward older sister Eve returns to wreak havoc on the fragile peace that had settled since she ran away.

When the dust settles, Ash finds herself at a private school located in California. Just as she believes she has finally found the path to a new life, strange things begin to happen. One night, after rescuing a fellow student, Ash learns her true nature and the nature of some new friends: they are all gods and goddesses.

Sadly, Ash and her friends do not have very long to understand their gifts before Eve returns to again create trouble.

In Wildefire, Karsten Knight has created a gem. With tons of stories about vampires and werewolves, Knight has chosen to take a different route in this supernatural novel. There aren’t a great many books discussing ancient deities in teenage form out there, so kudos to Knight for taking it on!

To put it simply, this book is fantastic! Knight creates a story that is engaging from start to finish, which can be hard to do in a series opener. The first book in a new series will normally devote a great deal of time to introducing characters, telling backstory, etc. While Knight does some of this, he also lets his story unfold on its own. He seemed to realize that if he’s going to create a series, then he is going to need to keep readers enraptured. We need to be wondering “What’s going to happen next?? Knight does this exquisitely.

That wondering can be a two-edged sword. A writer must both give readers enough to keep us reading but not so much that we have no reason to read anything further. Again, Knight understands and delivers on this balance.

Knight also does something that many writers of YA fiction fail to do. While the majority of his cast of characters are teenagers and that is his target audience, the novel is not completely riddled with melodramatic teen angst. He smoothly interjects the daily battles teenagers face without making it tedious for others outside that age range who might pick it up.

Other than the fact that I will have to wait until 2012 to read the next book, there is nothing about Knight’s novel I didn’t like. It was a quick read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys supernatural fiction.


Robin Gwaro describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Then Everything Changed by Jeff Greenfield

What if…

At some point in our lives, we will ask ourselves at least one question that starts with those two little words. We question the decisions we make, wondering what might have happened had we made different choices or taken a different path.

But what about fate? Destiny? The moments that were out of our control?

These are the moments that Jeff Greenfield examines in his alternate history, “Then Everything Changed.”

In the book, Greenfield rewrites the history of President-elect John F. Kennedy. In his history, Jackie and Caroline do not wave to JFK on a Sunday morning as he leaves for church. An assassin’s conscience is not impacted by the presence of a wife and child, and JFK is never sworn into office. The country is thrown into a state of mourning and the government is left trying to create a contingency plan. In the end, Lyndon B. Johnson takes the presidency and guides the United States through the Cuban Missile Crisis and into the Vietnam War.

In a second narrative, Robert Kennedy escapes the assassination attempt on his life by a narrow margin and elects to speak to demonstrators, earning him favor with the people of the United States and, eventually, the presidency. RFK attempts to head a country pulled apart by a war not favored by the people (Vietnam) and escalating class and race concerns.

Finally, Greenfield gives Gerald Ford an opportunity to erase a critical error made in a Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. He then goes on to win the election.

While reading the first two rewrites, I was riveted. There were times when it did drag slightly, but it was not significant enough to keep me away from the book. The tension between LBJ and RFK was palpable. You can tell that there is no love lost between the two leaders, even when Johnson attempts to extend the olive branch after JFK is assassinated. Greenfield is adept at making you feel like it is entirely possible for these events to have happened exactly as he wrote them. You believe that he could have been in the room while meetings occurred, capturing even minute details and delivering them in stark clarity.

As for the third tale, it feels more like fiction than the other two. I didn’t find it quite as dynamic as Greenfield’s first two historical rewrites. It does not feel quite as feasible to me as the previous two do, as it alters much of the history of the time.

All in all, this was a fantastic read. I will be very honest that those who are most enamored with political history may not like this as much as I did. However, my love (and knowledge) of history runs more to Colonial America, so I did enjoy reading Greenfield’s rewrite.

It really does make me wonder how much of our history, and our lives, could have been changed with just a small alteration. One decision, one thought, one moment in time that occurred differently could alter the textbooks our students read every day.

What if…


Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Paws and Tales: God Cares for You DVD (+ Giveaway!!!)

From the Publisher: Using colorful animation, fun characters, and great lessons, Paws & Tales is an exciting tool for helping build godly character into kids. Based on the “Paws & Tales” nationally broadcast radio program presented by Chuck Swindoll’s Insight for Living, the Paws & Tales videos communicate biblical truth and show kids how they can apply it to real life. Kids will be captivated by the adventure, caught up in the laughter, and carried away in the fun . . . and the whole time they’ll be on their way to understanding solid Bible theology. This first DVD in the series, based on Psalm 23:1 and Proverbs 10:25, teaches kids that God cares for them. The DVD features two full-length animated episodes, music videos, an e-book, activities, and parent resources.
Chuck Swindoll comments to parents: “Laying a good spiritual foundation in your children is essential . . . and even better when it’s reinforced early and often. Paws & Tales is a great tool for helping you build godly character into your kids.”

When this DVD arrived at my door, my four-year-old excitedly awaited the opening of the package (as he does with every package we get). Once he realized it was going to be for him, he turned into a gumball machine bouncing ball and wanted to watch the DVD right away.

Colorful packaging catches the eye of children right away; however, without stimulating content, my child’s attention span will wain and that is the true testament of how something will rate for him.

The first time we watched the two episodes included with this DVD, my son was enthralled. He paid very close attention to what was occurring and really seemed to enjoy it. When we watched the music videos included, he danced around the living room.

The true test of anything is if my son will watch it again. After we finished the first viewing, he asked to see “the sheep” again. The first episode on the DVD finds our central characters going to help on a sheep farm, caring for the sheep as God cares for us. This is the lesson being instilled in children through the story. My son has asked to watch this episode again and again since the first time. His favorite character? The sheep (he’s four and an animal lover, what can I say?). As to if he has really learned anything, I am on the fence. I have talked to him about the meaning, and he can repeat what we’ve discussed. Parrotting doesn’t equate to understanding in one as young as him, in my opinion. I think with time and continued discussion, he will come to understand the true meaning of the story. However, I think if you expect complete understanding from a very young child, you may be disappointed.

We would certainly watch other DVD’s of this series, as they kept my child entertained and teach him the principles I would like for him to learn. As with anything, I will still work to gear that understanding in a way that I find fitting for our family. However, the DVD’s provide a good starting point for having children understand.

I would recommend this to parents of small and elementary school children, bearing in mind that it will simply be an entertaining video for younger ones. It is important to note that it is basic animation, so please don’t watch it expecting to see Disney/Pixar quality. It is still quite good and shouldn’t be discredited simpy due to formatting.

**Bonus Giveaway** I will be drawing one winner to receive a coupon good for a copy of a Paws and Tales DVD for your very own! You can enter by leaving a comment, RT on Twitter, or by clicking Like on the review at Facebook. The drawing will occur on Tuesday, March 1st.

For more information about Paws and Tales, visit here.

You can also view a clip of the video here:
"Paws and Tales: God Cares for You on YouTube"

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

In 1940, while World War II was devastating Europe, some Americans were resting easy in the knowledge that President Roosevelt had promised we would have no part in it. Our boys would never have to cross the ocean and fight a battle that was not ours.

Frankie Bard is in the midst of the bombings in London, working diligently to bring the stories of war into the homes of Americans through her radio show. She knows that it is imperative for those who can hear her to get the real stories of war, not just what the censors want listeners to hear.

Across the ocean, in the small town of Franklin, Massachusetts, two women listen to these stories, riveted by the bold honesty and real-life drama unfolding a world away. Iris James, the postmistress and protector of the town’s secrets, and Emma Fitch, the doctor’s new wife, cannot tear themselves away from their radios during Frankie’s show.

It is a letter, a seemingly innocuous piece of paper that will change their lives and bring them all together.

In her novel, The Postmistress, Sarah Blake creates a connection between three women that might never have crossed paths otherwise. Her prose is so compelling and capturing, that you are drawn in, just as Iris and Emma are into Frankie’s radio show.

You find yourself in the trenches, in a bomb shelter, among the wounded, on the train, and in the homes of each character in this book. Sarah Blake pulls you in and you cannot pull back until you have completely finished this novel.
In turns harrowing and heartwarming, The Postmistress is a novel that will keep you engaged from start to finish. There are no snags or lulls in the story. Blake perfectly captured the era, desperation, hope, and tenacity of each person in her story. You MUST get a copy of this book. You will not be disappointed.

It is, in a word, exquisite.


Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

Allison Glenn was the perfect daughter. She made good grades, played soccer, and had a bright future ahead of her. The future her parents wanted and expected her to have. One night changes all of that. In an instant, Allison finds herself in the back of a police car. Her life left shattered, her future uncertain.

Now, five years later, Allison is leaving prison and returning home to start over. While in prison, she has attempted to reach out to her sister Brynn over and over.

Brynn has spent the last five years trying to escape that night. With Allison gone, her parents expected her to step into the role of perfect daughter. When it all became too much, Brynn escaped her parents’ house and went to live with their grandmother. Brynn wants nothing more than to put the last five years behind her and forget her sister even exists.

What follows is a story with unexpected twists and turns, leaving you wondering just how you might go to protect someone else.

Heather Gudenhauf’s tale is compelling from start to finish. It was very hard to put down, and I finished it fast enough to read it a second time before writing the review. I spent the entire time both wondering how Allison could keep such a secret and how Brynn could let her.

What surprised me most is that while reading, I could empathize more with Allison than be angry at her. That was probably the most confusing emotion of all. I wanted to be completely appalled at her actions. Instead, I found myself heartbroken due to the difficult position in which she found herself. The story will draw you in and keep you guessing until the very end.

Gudenkauf writes a tale that few would dare. Her voice is unique and captured me from the very beginning. This book obviously stays on my read again list, and I will be looking for her other novel as well.


Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Support BookGateway.com by purchasing this book through Amazon: These Things Hidden