Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean

When I go to pick out historical fiction novels, I generally stick to a few periods in history. One of those periods is World War II, and because so many readers enjoy reading about that time period, there are plenty of novels to choose from in that category. It can be hard to stand out, but A Bridge Across the Ocean managed to provide what felt like a fresh take on the genre. A few things I loved about this book: multiple perspectives, a supernatural element, and it actually taught me something new about that period in history. The story follows three women and switches back and forth from 1946 to present day. Two of those women are survivors of the war: one a German ballerina, the other a traumatized daughter of a French Resistance member. Both end up traveling together on the RMS Queen Mary as war brides waiting to be reunited with their American husbands. The third woman, Brette, is living in modern-day California. Brette is unusual in that she can see ghosts. A series of circumstances lead Brette to the Queen Mary, where she comes across a ghost who, for the first time in Brette's life, compels her to engage with her gift rather than ignore it. 

Multiple perspectives plus jumping time periods can be tricky, but Meissner pulls it off seamlessly in this novel. I was drawn in right from the start and really interested in each character's story line. I also loved learning about the war brides and how the Queen Mary was used to reunite couples who had met during the war and held out hope during those difficult years. I don't want to give anything away, but I there were definitely some twists towards the end of this book, and I loved that it surprised me. It was one of those books that I enjoyed for every minute of my time spent reading it, and left me with happy feelings -- not a super common resolution for WWII-era novels. Recommended for fans of The Seven Sisters (one of my top ten favorites from 2016). This novel will be released on March 14, 2017.

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: A Bridge Across the Ocean
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher: Berkley Books, 2017
ISBN: 045147600X
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

Friday, February 17, 2017

Children's Review: Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School #3)

Last week we went from an almost-sixty degree day to three straight snow days -- granting me a five-day weekend and a subsequent case of cabin fever. Before the restlessness set in, I was super excited to tackle some of the books in my to-read pile for this month and I ended up spending two days reading the first three books in the Fairy Tale Reform School series, a new-to-me middle grade series. I had originally signed on to review the third book, but as I am a strict consecutive-order reader, that meant I still needed to experience the first and second installments before diving into the third.

Now, after having finished all three, I would still recommend reading the series in order, but I will say that I thought the third book was the best of the series so far and slightly redeemed it in my eyes. Would I highly recommend this to middle grade readers? Probably not. It wasn't a series that hooked me. However, we all know that sometimes a book isn't the right book -- for a specific person. I was not the right reader for these books. I tried really hard to get engaged and feel invested but, alas, it felt like work to get through these.

I tend to shy away from giving harsher reviews on here (authors, I feel for you), so first I want to share what drew me into the book. Of course, that cover. It's whimsical and cute and definitely eye-catching. It's also a fairy tale series, and we all know that's one of my favorite genres. I thought the premise was creative too: a reform school for criminal fairy tale characters (think the Evil Queen, the Big Bad Wolf, etc.), and a redeeming main character. Gilly Cobbler is a petty thief, true, but she only does it to help her family survive. Her large family lives in an old boot, and demand for cobblers is low in the kingdom of Enchantsia. After stealing one too many times, Gilly is sentenced to Fairy Tale Reform School (FTRS). There she meets a gang of friends, including an ogre and a fairy.

In the first two books, Gilly and her friends manage to save Enchantsia from doom, and Gilly battles with a newfound hero complex and some friendship troubles. In Tricked, the third installment, Enchantsia is once again threatened -- this time by Rumplestilkskin. It's up to Gilly and her friends to complete a quest in order to stop him.

What I wasn't such a fan of: the characters. They felt so shallow and despite incredibly obvious clues being dropped with reckless abandon, realizations seemed to jump out of nowhere, making it seem like characters had really limit thought processes. I really felt like (as a teacher of the middle-grade audience) that not enough credit was given to readers. They catch on a lot faster than you might think, and this all felt a little fake. There were some great themes in the books, but none were very well developed so the lessons weren't very impactful -- both for the characters and the reader. I liked the plot of Tricked -- the adventure aspect was the most compelling part of the reading experience, but in the end the series fell a little flat for me overall.

In terms of recommending the Fairy Tale Reform School series, I'd say it's worth a try for middle grade readers who enjoy this type of book in general. It may be that, as an older reader, I'm reading it from too much of a teacher perspective. Tricked will be available for purchase on March 7th, and is available now for pre-order.

Bottom-Line Rating: 2/5

Title: Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School #3)
Author: Jen Calonita
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
ISBN: 1492637955
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with a copy of this text by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!