The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Like I mentioned in my IMM post, I became interested in The Cardturner by Louis Sachar because I used to enjoy playing bridge with my college classmates before. Also, I’ve seen some positive reviews about this book and thought it would be a good idea to give it a try even though I haven’t read Sachar’s more famous work, Holes.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When Alton’s ageing, blind uncle asks him to attend bridge games with him, he agrees. After all, it’s better than a crappy summer job in the local shopping mall, and Alton’s mother thinks it might secure their way to a good inheritance sometime in the future. But, like all apparently casual choices in any of Louis Sachar’s wonderful books, this choice soon turns out to be a lot more complex than Alton could ever have imagined. As his relationship with his uncle develops, and he meets the very attractive Toni, deeply buried secrets are uncovered and a romance that spans decades is finally brought to a conclusion. Alton’s mother is in for a surprise!

The cover design for the hardcover (pictured above) is one of the reasons why I decided to buy this book. I liked how clean and simple the design is. I also like the other cover for this book (pictured on the right) because it looks like the back of a playing card and as you can see from the book’s summary, the plot revolves around playing bridge. I can understand why some readers wouldn’t find this book appealing because of all the bridge terminology. I haven’t played bridge in a long time so I didn’t even remember the rules when I picked this up. Also, the bridge that I knew was a lot more casual than the professional kind played in this book, we didn’t even have a dummy when we played and we never played for money. You don’t have to be a bridge-lover to enjoy this book, I didn’t even analyze most of the strategies discussed in the plays and I was fine with that. I focused on the characters and the story itself instead of being bogged down by talk about cards, although I didn’t skip those parts either.

Great-Uncle Lester is rich and sick his diabetes suddenly renders him blind so he needs someone’s hands to play bridge. This is where Alton comes in as the person who actually handles the cards while Uncle Lester directs him. Alton’s parents push him to make a good impression so they’d receive a substantial inheritance later on. Frankly, it bothered me that Alton’s parents were more concerned with the money rather than getting to know Lester Trapp, who is a fascinating person passionate about playing bridge and someone who has a very interesting past as well. Without meaning to, Alton becomes curious about bridge and learns the rules while watching his uncle play. It’s funny that while Alton studies bridge, he also finds out more about himself and life in general. I never thought much about bridge before reading this book. I mean sure you needed to think while playing but since the stakes weren’t high for us, we did it for fun. The Cardturner reads like a book for younger readers even though Alton is a teenager (he even leaves out curses in his narrative) so this can pass off as a middle grade book. It reminded me somewhat of Flipped – a novel with a male protagonist who picks up life lessons from a grandfather-figure. So if you’re a fan of Flipped then I have a feeling you’re going to like this one as well. This is a charming and sweet novel about family, friendship, a bit of romance and of course, bridge. Anyone up for a game of bridge?

Love this quote from the book:

“We may be surrounded by some greater reality, to which we are oblivious. And even if we could somehow perceive it in some entirely new way, it is extremely doubtful we would be able to comprehend what we perceived.”

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
The Library Lurker

Retro Friday: Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I picked up Summer of My German Soldier because I wanted to read its sequel, Morning is a Long Time Coming, which comes highly recommended by my book pusher friend Angie. Good thing I was able to find a bargain copy for just P29 (less than a dollar).

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Minutes before the train pulled into the station in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen knew something exciting was going to happen. But she never could have imagined that her summer would be so memorable. German prisoners of war have arrived to make their new home in the prison camp in Jenkinsville. To the rest of her town, these prisoners are only Nazis. But to Patty, a young Jewish girl with a turbulent home life, one boy in particular becomes an unlikely friend. Anton relates to Patty in ways that her mother and father never can. But when their forbidden relationship is discovered, will Patty risk her family and town for the understanding and love of one boy?

I’m usually not a fan of novels set during wartime – I find them difficult to read because of all the hardships the characters have to endure. This is true in Patty’s case but not because of the war. Her mother and father are horrible parents and I don’t understand why they’re like that. It would’ve made more sense if they’re just bad people in general but they’re mean only to Patty – both of them treat Patty’s younger sister with affection. Her mother is mostly concerned with outside appearances and always criticizes Patty because she’s not pretty enough; while her father doesn’t like her inquisitive ways and believes that Patty should just blindly obey whatever he tells her to do. Her parents made me so mad that I wanted to hit them over the head with something hard. Aside from the family housekeeper Ruth, no one else values Patty and it’s a real shame. No wonder Patty turns to Anton, a German prisoner-of-war, for friendship. He recognizes her as the intelligent twelve-year-old that she is. Anton is several years older than Patty but he treats her like an equal. Patty doesn’t have any real friends either so it was a breath of fresh air for her to have someone like Anton in her life. I felt sad for Patty for most of the book but I’m happy that she found a good friend in Anton.

This book is a lightweight at just 199 pages but it took me a while to finish it because there were times when I had to pause and brace myself for some of the things that I knew will happen. So in a way, you can say that it wasn’t easy to read this book but it’s worth the effort because it’s a beautiful story about how friendships form in spite of nationalities, religious beliefs and pre-conceived notions. Who would’ve thought that a Jewish girl and a former Nazi soldier will hit it off. It’s amazing how so much was packed in such a slim novel – there’s so much depth in this one and I don’t think I’ll be able to justify all of it in a brief review. So many topics were tackled like racism, the complications of war and both physical and emotional abuse. It might sound a little bleak but I’m really glad I read this. Highly recommended for fans of middle grade or young adult historical fiction or wartime stories. If this sounds like something that you’d enjoy reading, please pick it up because I think Bette Greene is an amazing writer and I don’t see her getting featured that often. I can’t wait to read the sequel and I am hoping that things will be a lot better for Patty in that book. She truly deserves to be happy.

Other reviews:
The Children’s War
Bookfoolery and Babble
The Book Fetish

Nobody’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner

I’ve had my copy of Esther M. Friesner’s Nobody’s Princess since last year but I haven’t had a chance to read it until recently, when I was craving for a story with a princess who gets to kick some serious butt. I have loved Greek mythology ever since I first discovered kiddie versions of the stories back when I was younger. In high school, we discussed Mythology by Edith Hamilton for English and we even put up a play of The Iliad during my senior year.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Not one to count on the gods — or her looks — to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with steely determination and a sassy attitude. That same attitude makes Helen a few enemies — such as the self-proclaimed “son of Poseidon,” Theseus — but it’s also what intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the famed huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi.

I expected Nobody’s Princess to be YA historical fiction but it’s written more for middle grade or younger YA readers. I know I keep saying this for just about every book written for a younger audience that I read but I think I would’ve loved this as a child. I’ve always been interested in learning more about Helen of Troy (she’s still Helen of Sparta in this book) because there must be more to her than just a beautiful face. In this retelling, she’s a headstrong young girl who’s more interested in keeping up with her brothers in sword fights than joining her dainty twin sister Clytemnestra in sewing clothes. Helen’s a pretty child and she was surprised to discover that people tend to treat her better than her sister because of her looks. I liked that even as she found out about her beauty, she didn’t let it get to her head. She wasn’t a spoiled princess. As the years go by, she becomes a typical awkward adolescent and that’s fine by her. Beauty’s not much help in the adventures that she wants to face anyway.

I prefer Esther M. Friesner’s version of Helen because she’s a more fitting princess of Sparta, which is a nation of warriors, than the famed beauty that I remember from The Iliad. It seems like the author was inspired by Tamora Pierce’s Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series in the sense that Helen dresses up as a boy to tag along with her brothers’ lessons. Helen is determined to make her own choices in life and there are times when she tends to be reckless, heading straight into dangerous situations even when the people around her are doing their best to protect her. Good thing she’s a clever girl who always manages to find a way out of the scrapes that she gets into. I recommend this book to anyone who’s curious about historical fiction steeped with Greek mythology. I enjoyed reading this one even if it’s a bit young for my taste, I think I would’ve enjoyed reading about a teen Helen more. If you have other historical fiction recommendations, I’d love to hear them. I feel like I don’t get to read enough books like this.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Reading Vacation
The Story Siren
Squeaky Books

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

I got Flipped as a Christmas gift from a good friend and decided to read it since it seemed like a fun and light read so I decided to give it a try.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The first time she saw him, she flipped. The first time he saw her, he ran. That was the second grade, but not much has changed by the seventh. She says: “My Bryce. Still walking around with my first kiss.” He says: “It’s been six years of strategic avoidance and social discomfort.” But in the eighth grade everything gets turned upside down. And just as he’s thinking there’s more to her than meets the eye, she’s thinking that he’s not quite all he seemed.

If I had to describe this book in one word, I’d probably go with cute, and I mean that in a good way. Flipped is a he-said, she-said kind of novel for middle grade and younger YA readers and I believe I would’ve loved it if I read it when I was younger. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this now because I did, I just feel like I would’ve been able to appreciate it more if I was the target audience for it. It was so funny how different Juli and Bryce’s perspectives were! I liked that the story spanned several years starting from when Bryce moved in as Juli’s neighbor in second grade all the way up to eighth grade. I think the portrayal of the characters as kids and then young teenagers was very realistic. It was hilarious that Bryce couldn’t grasp what chickens, hens and roosters are and how they differ. At first, Juli only wanted to be friends with someone her age because she doesn’t have any neighbors to play with. But when she first saw Bryce’s brilliant blue eyes, she was mesmerized and she’s been after him ever since. It doesn’t matter that Bryce has been running away from her, Juli just thinks he’s shy. Both Juli and Bryce grew and developed as characters as the years passed by although in Bryce’s case, it was more towards the end of the book.

I loved Juli’s nutty family and how her parents are so supportive of the kids while Bryce’s dad was the opposite of that. It’s not surprising that it takes time for Bryce to become a better person because his dad is kind of a jerk and of course, Bryce looks up to his father. Juli’s dad is such a sweet and compassionate character and he really listens to Juli when she tells him her problems. He kind of reminded me of my dad and how I felt like I could talk to him not just as a dad but as a friend. I can totally understand why Juli thinks her dad is the best dad ever. Yay for awesome parents in YA! This is a story about puppy love, friendship, family and learning to see beyond people’s appearances to who they really are inside. I recommend it to fans of younger YA books or to anyone who’s looking for a quick read because this one is a lightweight at 224 pages but still manages to have some depth.

Thank you, Joy, for giving this as a gift. I love getting books as gifts and I really enjoyed reading this one. I’m now curious about the movie and I wonder if it’s as charming as the book is.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
One More Page
Guy Gone Geek
Truth Be Told
Super Reader Girl’s Book Reviews