Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Book Review:  Under Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall
four-half-stars
Published by Clarion Books on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

 

MY REVIEW

Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies is a contemporary young adult novel that focuses on what it’s like to live with a mental illness.  The novel follows protagonist, seventeen year old Norah Dean, and the day-to-day challenges she faces because she has agoraphobia and OCD.  Up until about four years ago, Norah was living the life of a typical teen – going to school, hanging out with her friends – until one day something abruptly changes and she gets caught in the grips of a terrifying panic attack, an attack so severe that she loses consciousness. When she wakes up, everything is different and she finds herself suddenly terrified of doing all of the things she used to do.  When we first meet Norah, she is basically housebound.  She no longer attends school, instead doing her coursework online, and the only time she ever leaves the house anymore is to attend weekly therapy sessions, which are emotionally exhausting for her, not so much because of the therapy itself, but more so because of the stress having to leave the safety of her home causes her.  Because she has stopped leaving her home, she and her friends gradually drift apart and, by the time we meet Norah, her main social interactions are now with her mom and her therapist.  That is, until Luke moves in next door.  When he spots Norah peeking at him from her bedroom window, he decides to come over and introduce himself.

After a few awkward false starts, such as when Luke catches Norah “fishing” for her groceries out the front door with a long-handled broom because she’s too afraid to step out and retrieve them, Luke and Norah do finally meet and become friends.  At first Norah tries to hide all of the details of her mental illness from Luke for fear of how he will react, but Luke is pretty perceptive and picks up on it anyway.  She still withholds the extent of it, but does start to try to explain what she is going through.  As their friendship slowly develops into something more, Norah struggles with the idea that she really is not worthy of Luke because she may never be able to do “normal” boyfriend/girlfriend activities with him and believes that he deserves much more than she has to offer him.  This creates even more turmoil to Norah’s life as she must decide what she is going to do about Luke – let him in or let him go…

LIKES

Norah – I really adored Norah.  She’s smart and funny, incredibly resourceful when it comes to coping with her illness, and she’s also much braver than she gives herself credit for being.  I found Norah so likeable that I immediately wanted to know more about her condition since agoraphobia is something that I know next to nothing about.  Being in Norah’s head as she struggles through each day made the story especially powerful and gave me a much clearer picture of the illness and how truly crippling it can be.  Norah’s frustration is palpable throughout, especially the fact that she is very much aware that most of her fears were irrational, but still can’t stop their paralyzing effects.  By allowing us access to Norah’s thoughts, Gornall paints an authentic and vivid portrait of agoraphobia and allows us to see beneath the surface of what is often considered an “invisible” illness.

Luke – Luke is just as adorable as Norah is and I especially loved how determined he was to befriend Norah in the beginning of the story, no matter how much she tried to avoid him.  I don’t know that I completely bought into the idea of Luke and Norah as a romantic couple, but I was 100% into their friendship.  I liked that he really wanted to know more about Norah’s condition – not to judge her as Norah had initially feared – but so that he could interact with her in ways that would be most comfortable to her.

Romance is not a “cure” – Even though I didn’t completely buy into the romantic aspect of the story, I did really like how Gornall keeps it real.  Just as it wouldn’t happen in real life, having a boyfriend does not magically cure Norah.  Granted, she does have more of a support system now that she has Luke in her corner in addition to her mom and therapist, but the illness is clearly still there throughout the book.

Humor – Even though Norah’s struggles with mental illness are quite serious, I loved that the author was still able to incorporate some light and humorous moments into the story.  Norah occasionally finds herself in awkward situations, such as when she is shooing an obnoxious bird away from her window one day and new neighbor Luke sees her and thinks she is flirting with him.  As embarrassing as it was for Norah at the time, I liked that later in the book, as Norah gets more comfortable with Luke, she’s able to laugh that moment off and explain to Luke that she wasn’t flirting with him – It was that the bird was messing with her OCD.  Not that OCD is funny by any stretch of the imagination, but I did like that Norah was able to find humor and laugh at herself a bit rather than be humiliated about what happened.

DISLIKES

I can’t really say that there’s anything I disliked about Under Rose-Tainted Skies, although I would have  liked a little more for the ending, mainly because I felt it wrapped up a little too quickly.  I think that’s mainly because I had become so invested in Norah that I just didn’t want her story to end.  I wanted to follow her longer and see how she was doing.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Norah’s story is one that needs to be told and Louise Grovall does a beautiful job in telling it.  If you’re looking for a raw and honest look at the life of someone who is coping with agoraphobia and OCD, you should definitely check out Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

TRIGGERS  

There is mention of self-harm and Norah’s therapist talks to her at length about it.

RATING

4.5 stars

four-half-stars

About Louise Gornall

Louise Gornall in her own words:  

“My name is Louise, and I write YA books. Sometimes contemp, sometimes horror, sometimes thriller. My debut YA contemp, Under Rose-Tainted Skies, will be published by HMH/Clarion (US), and Chicken House/Scholastic (UK) in the fall 2016/17.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies is about this chick, Norah, who suffers from agoraphobia, OCD and depression. Her life is one long blur of cheese sandwiches and trash tv, until she meets the new boy next door, Luke, and he starts to challenge her way of thinking.

I’m represented by the amazing Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary.”

Source:  bookishblurb.com

Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Book Review:  Homegoing by Yaa GyasiHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published by Alfred A. Knopf on June 7th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 305
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

MY REVIEW:

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read and it’s also probably one of the most ambitious.  Homegoing begins by introducing the stories of two half-sisters who are destined to never meet each other due to forces beyond their control.  One sister, Effia, is married off by her family to an Englishman and whisked away to live in a castle in Cape Coast.  Unbeknownst to Effia, her new home is actually a “slave castle” and thousands of her fellow countrymen and women are imprisoned in dungeons right beneath her feet, where they will soon be sold into slavery and transported across the Atlantic.  Included among those prisoners, the half-sister Effia has never met and never will, Esi. The rest of the story then traces the family lines of both Effia and Esi from the 1700s up to present day, demonstrating just how deep the scars of slavery run even today.  While the story is beautifully written – Gyasi is a brilliant storyteller – the journey itself is raw, honest, and often painful.  Gyasi powerfully captures the brutality of the slave traders, the dehumanizing aspects of slavery, as well as the pervasive racism that has continued long after abolition.

STRENGTHS  OF HOMEGOING:

I was completely impressed that Gyasi was able to cover so much ground historically in just 300 pages, but not only does she do it, but she does it beautifully and intimately.  She accomplishes this by using alternating chapters to trace each family line forward in history.  She starts with a chapter on Effia, then follows with one on Esi, and then continues this alternating pattern with each new chapter giving us the perspective of one of Effia’s or Esi’s descendants.  Each chapter is a standalone story, a vignette basically, that serves to provide both an intimate portrait of a descendent and show us how that descendent connects back to either Effia or Esi, and then goes on to provide a vivid snapshot of the racial history at that particular period in time.   In this manner, we are taken through the 300 years of racial history from 18th century tribal wars in Africa, colonialism, and slavery, to the Fugitive Slave Act, abolition, Jim Crow law, Harlem in the 20th century, continued racism, and so much more.

What truly blew me away was how Gyasi was able to craft such vivid characters in so few pages.  Only about 20 pages, sometimes even less, are devoted to each descendent, but in each 20 page segment, Gyasi paints such a rich and vivid portrait of the descendent  that I easily became invested in all 14 characters whose stories we are presented with – their hopes, their fears, their pain, everything.  I actually found myself becoming sad at the end of each chapter because I wanted to follow the characters further, but knew I probably wouldn’t encounter them again because of the way the novel was structured.  But seriously, 20 pages to make me that attached to a character?  Wow. That’s powerful writing!

WEAKNESSES:

Aside from me wanting to keep following each character beyond his or her allotted chapter, I can’t think of anything I would consider to be a weakness.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I honestly think Homegoing is destined to become a classic and I’d love to see it make its way into high school and college classrooms.   It’s an important book because of the history that it covers, and it’s also a beautifully written book, that I think everyone should read.

I very much look forward to reading more from Gyasi because she is truly a gifted writer with a bright future.

RATING:  5 STARS

About Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Her short stories have appeared in African American Review and Callaloo. Her debut novel, is the Homegoing (Knopf, June 2016).

Book Review: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Book Review:  Lucky Boy by Shanthi SekaranLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
four-half-stars
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on January 10th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 472
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen and dazed with optimism when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, CA, dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. This was not the plan. But amid the uncertainty of new motherhood and her American identity, Soli learns that when you have just one precious possession, you guard it with your life. For Soli, motherhood becomes her dwelling and the boy at her breast her hearth.

Kavya Reddy has always followed her heart, much to her parents’ chagrin. A mostly contented chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, the unexpected desire to have a child descends like a cyclone in Kavya’s mid-thirties. When she can’t get pregnant, this desire will test her marriage, it will test her sanity, and it will set Kavya and her husband, Rishi, on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya’s care. As Kavya learns to be a mother–the singing, story-telling, inventor-of-the-universe kind of mother she fantasized about being–she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child.

Lucky Boy is an emotional journey that will leave you certain of the redemptive beauty of this world. There are no bad guys in this story, no obvious hero. From rural Oaxaca to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to the dreamscapes of Silicon valley, author Shanthi Sekaran has taken real life and applied it to fiction; the results are moving and revelatory.

My Review:

Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy is one of the most heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and timely novels I’ve read in a long time.  At its heart, Lucky Boy is a story about motherhood.  At the same time, however, it also focuses on illegal immigration, foster parenting, and fertility and how all of these can lead to heartbreak and broken families.

The novel follows the journey of two women:  Soli Castro Valdez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, and Kavya Reddy, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants.  Kavya is basically living the American Dream – she has graduated from a prestigious college, has a successful career as a chef, and is happily married to Rishi.  Kavya has everything she could have ever wanted in life…until the day she decides she wants a baby.  Kavya and Rishi try for months and months to conceive, even resorting to expensive fertility treatments, but nothing works and their marriage becomes very strained because of the pressure they are putting on themselves.  Still desperate to start a family, Kavya starts thinking about adoption and she and Rishi decide to try the foster parent route.  It is here where Kavya’s life becomes entwined with the novel’s other protagonist, Soli.

Soli is a young woman who leaves her home and family in Mexico and makes the treacherous journey across the border in hopes of making a better life for herself in the U.S. In spite of her undocumented status, Soli is able to find work for herself as a nanny and housekeeper for a family in Berkeley, California. Months after arriving in the U.S., Soli gives birth to her son, Ignacio.  It’s of course love at first sight and Soli pours her heart and soul into being the best possible mother to Ignacio and into working harder than ever to ensure that she can make a better life for both herself and for her baby. Unfortunately, Soli ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is detained because of her illegal status.  When Soli is detained, Ignacio becomes a ward of the state of California and is put into foster care, where he ends up in the care of Kavya and Rishi.

Against their own better judgment since they know he could be returned to his birth mother at any moment, Kavya and Rishi still fall head over heels for Ignacio. They dote on him as they both learn what it means to be parents and are ultimately very hopeful that they’ll be able to keep him.  The story takes an incredibly gut-wrenching turn at this point because it’s a no-win situation. Of course Soli should get her son back because she’s his birth mother and he’s her world, but then you also see how truly loved and well cared for he is by Kavya and Rishi and your heart breaks for all involved because, realistically, no matter who is awarded custody of Ignacio, someone will end up broken-hearted.

Likes:

What I loved about Lucky Boy is that the story is written in such a way that there are no “bad guys.”  You truly feel for both of these women and their love for this little boy.  Soli and Kavya are both flawed characters in the sense that they can be naïve, impulsive, and make rash decisions, but ultimately, they are both extremely likeable because they’re both so real and so relatable.  I was of course rooting for Soli as the underdog because the author paints a vivid portrait showing how Soli truly risks her life just trying to make it to the U.S. There were others who traveled with her that died along the way, so she was lucky to even make it to this country in one piece.  I was rooting for her all the way to find a way to stay in the U.S. and raise her son.  On the other hand, I was also rooting for Kavya as well. As likeable as Kavya is throughout the story, she really comes to life as a character once she becomes foster mom to Ignacio. She pours everything she has into being the mom she has dreamed of being for so long, and it’s lovely to see, and so gut-wrenching since you know she could lose Ignacio at any moment.

Dislikes:

Okay, now let me walk back the whole ‘there are no bad guys’ argument.  There are no bad guys in terms of our protagonists.  The bad guys in this story are those who enforce the policies on illegal immigrants in this country, specifically, in this case, those in law enforcement and those who run and work in detention centers.  Everything about the system just made me so angry as I was reading.  If this is the way illegal immigrants are really treated when they are detained, it’s shameful.  I don’t care if someone is here illegally or not; it does not justify treating them like they are somehow less than human – separating them from their children, giving them inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, not allowing them proper representation, trying to trick them into signing voluntary deportation papers, and the list goes on and on.  When Soli had a court hearing for Ignacio that she needed to phone in for and no one would let her use the telephone no matter how much she begged and pleaded, I was practically raging.  What kind of monsters would show so little compassion to a woman in danger of losing her child if she can’t make a simple phone call?

Final thoughts:

 I don’t want to say anything else because I don’t want to give the ending, but needless to say, Lucky Boy is a book that will definitely play with your emotions and that, most importantly, make you think about what is going on in the world, and especially in the U.S., right now. It’s a hard read because it’s so gut-wrenching, but it’s also so beautifully written and a powerful read that I would recommend to anyone.

Rating:  4.5 stars

Thanks so much to Goodreads, Shanthi Sekaran, and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It was a wonderful read and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more writings from this author!

four-half-stars

About Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran was born and raised in California, and now splits her time between Berkeley and London. A graduate of UC Berkeley and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, she was first published in Best New American Voices 2004 (Harcourt). Her novel, The Prayer Room, will be released in February 2009. “

Book Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #2)

Book Review:  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #2)Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2) by Marissa Meyer
four-half-stars
Series: The Lunar Chronicles, #2
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 5th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 454
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My Review of Scarlet:

The Lunar Chronicles series is definitely one of the most original and entertaining retellings I’ve come across in recent years.  As was the case when I read Cinder, I totally flew through the 450+ pages of Scarlet in just a couple of day because the story being told is just so darn good!  I also love that even though this series is a fairytale retelling, it doesn’t really feel like we’re just rehashing a story that has already been told.  Meyer may use those fairytale characters as the jumping off point for her story and may incorporate a few elements here and there — like little shoutouts to those fairy tales – but her story is truly an original.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before and I love that freshness about it.

As you can probably guess from the title, Scarlet is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, with Scarlet in the Red Riding Hood role (complete with fiery hair and a little red hoodie that she loves to wear).  As with the original Red Riding Hood tale, there is also a grandmother who is in danger, as well as a wolf (well, a character named Wolf anyway).  From there, as I said, the story takes off on a completely original path that eventually ties it in to Cinder’s story from the first book in the series.

Things I Loved:

Strong Women:  I have to say I loved Scarlet every bit as much as I loved Cinder.  They’re quite different from each other in the sense that Scarlet tends to be more brazen and rash than Cinder, but bottom line, they’re both fiercely protective of those they love and are determined to stop anyone who means them harm.  It’s great to have these two strong, smart females leading the series.

The Plot Thickens:  I especially loved how effectively Meyer begins this second book with a whole set of new characters and a whole new storyline.  Scarlet is trying to find out what has happened to her grandmother, who has mysteriously gone missing early on in the book.  Along the way, Scarlet meets this odd Wolf character and enlisted him to help her.  As their story unfolds, Meyer weaves the tale in such a way that it seamlessly entwines with the storyline from the first book in the series, and all of the major players in both books end up working together.

Chemistry:  Let me start here by saying that I think The Lunar Chronicles series so far has been, for me anyway, the perfect mix of action and epic adventure with a hint of romantic potential thrown in to spice things up.  I found Scarlet and Wolf to be just as likable as a potential pairing as I did Cinder and Prince Kai from the first book.

What kind of surprised me though was how much I LOVED newcomer “Captain” Carswell Thorne. who was charming in his own roguish, kind of clueless way and who often provided a bit of comic relief throughout the story.  I think he’s meant to be a minor player, but in many ways, he steals the show as soon as he appears in the story when Cinder comes across him trying to download porn in prison.  He and Cinder accidentally cross paths after Cinder is imprisoned at the end of the first book, and they decide to break out of prison together.  Adventure ensues (as well as a great deal of chemistry, in my opinion).  Even though Cinder clearly has feelings for Prince Kai, I actually have to confess that I found myself shipping her a bit with Thorne.  I’m probably the only reader on the planet who did, but I just loved their banter and found their interactions to be a lot more natural and realistic than I found those between Cinder and Kai in the first book.  I’m curious to see who, if anyone, Cinder ends up paired with, but at this point, I’d be cool with either Thorne or Kai.

Plot Twists:  I don’t want to give any important plot details away, so I’m just going to say that If you like plot twists, you’ll love Scarlet then because it’s full of them!  All I’ll say is that if you thought the idea of Cinderella as a Cyborg was WOW!, wait until you see how Meyer pays homage to the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood.  It’s mind blowing!

Anything I Didn’t Love:

Queen LeVana:  Ugh, I also didn’t think it was possible to loathe Queen LeVana anymore than I did in Cinder, but yep, it’s definitely possible.  She is just pure evil and I can’t wait to read the next book in hopes that Cinder, Scarlet, and their companions finally take her down once and for all.

 

Final Thoughts?

If you’re looking for a truly unique read, definitely give The Lunar Chronicles a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

 

Rating:  4.5 stars

four-half-stars

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

“One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.

When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).

When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.

Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER was my first completed novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around, too.

I married my husband in 2011, two months before the release of Cinder, and we adopted our two beautiful twin daughters, Sloane and Delaney, in 2015. Reading lots and lots of bedtime stories is most definitely a new favorite pastime.”

Marissa Meyer in her own words, from www.marissameyer.com

ARC Review of The Bone Witch

ARC Review of The Bone WitchThe Bone Witch (The Bone Witch, #1) by Rin Chupeco
two-half-stars
Series: The Bone Witch #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on March 7th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

My Review:

The Bone Witch follows the story of a young witch named Tea (pronounced Tay Uh).  Tea wants to train to become an asha.  There are several different kinds of asha, all of whom can weave spells to a certain degree using elemental magic, with the rarest of all ashas being the Dark Asha, or Bone Witches, who have the power to raise the dead.  When Tea accidentally raises her brother from the dead at his funeral, she realizes that she is one of those rare dark asha.  She is then removed from her home and sent to train with an older, more experienced dark asha because she must be trained how to wield the dark asha magic.

 

What I Enjoyed:

What I enjoyed the most about The Bone Witch was Chupeco’s writing and her world building.  – the way Chupeco describes these ashas with their elaborate costumes, their gorgeous jeweled hairpins, their graceful movements, and their painted faces had me envisioning magic-wielding geishas.  The descriptions were just so vivid and beautiful.

I was also really into the story early on because it had such a unique premise.  I loved the idea that there were so many different kinds of ashas, each with their own unique abilities, and I was also intrigued by the idea that the dark asha’s magic was often feared in the various kingdoms, which we witnessed throughout Tea’s training.  I loved the air of mystery it lent to the dark asha.

I was also especially into the story because Tea’s newly resurrected zombie brother now basically follows her around everywhere she goes and is considered her familiar.  It’s totally cute (in a creepy sort of way).

I think my favorite part about the story was how it was structured.  In between the chapters that take us with Tea through her early days of training to be a dark asha, we are given small teasers of Tea in the future.  In these teasers, what we see is that Tea has been exiled to a deserted island and is plotting revenge against those who sent her there.  As part of her revenge, she is also using her dark magic and skeletal remains that are on the island to build herself an army of undead beasts.  These teasers really help to build up the suspense as we’re left to wonder 1) what in the world Tea could have done that was bad enough to yield such a punishment for her and 2) wow, how powerful is her magic that she can build such a monstrous army to unleash on her enemies?  You just know as your reading those teasers that we’re in store for something huge as we continue reading about younger Tea’s training.

What I Didn’t Like:

My biggest issue with The Bone Witch is that even though I loved the descriptive writing, overall there was just too much description and not enough action.  Once Tea found out she was a bone witch and left to begin her training, it just didn’t feel like much else happened. Tea spends what feels like forever working as some kind of indentured servant before she actually even starts training. Then once it is determined she can finally start training, more time is spent describing a shopping spree to buy her the proper robes (referred to as hua) and jeweled hairpins than is spent describing what she’s learning.

Then once the story does start to focus more on the training, we have long descriptions of dance moves she is learning and instruments she is learning to play and we just breeze through other elements of the training, like fighting, that probably would be more interesting.  As much as I loved the descriptive passages early on, I really started to get bored with the lengthy descriptions of the patterns on asha’s hua.  This continued to be an issue for me throughout the book.  Every outfit that each asha wore was described in such great detail, but in comparison, a terrifying attack that kills 20 soldiers is just a blip on the radar. It seemed like, in so many cases, the main action of the story really took a backseat to descriptions of items that didn’t seem nearly as important.

Who Would I Recommend The Bone Witch to?

I think I would recommend The Bone Witch to readers who don’t mind a very slow build to what could perhaps end up being a truly phenomenal series.  Those teasers that we get of Tea on the deserted island hint that big things are going to happen and those big things are going to be pretty darn exciting.  Even though I was disappointed with the lack of action in this first book, I definitely see myself continuing with the series because I feel like the second book has the potential to be a great read.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and Rin Chupeco for providing me with an e-galley of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Rating:  2.5 stars

 

two-half-stars

About Rin Chupeco

Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.  She is represented by Rebecca Podos of the Helen Rees Agency.

Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Book Review:  A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas
four-half-stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 624
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

My Review:

I have to confess I’ve been putting off reading A Court of Mist and Fury, partly because I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses so much that I just didn’t think the second book could possibly live up to the impossibly high expectations I had for it.  I finally broke down and read it this week for the Beat the Backlist challenge I’m participating in and all I can say at this point is WOW and OMG, how long do I have to wait to get my hands on the third book?!

I had actually managed to avoid spoilers for ACOMAF so I had no clue what to expect going in and man, was I shocked! Based on the events of ACOTAR and the direction I was anticipating the series moving in, in my mind, this entire book was a giant plot twist.  And what a glorious plot twist it was! I truly loved pretty much everything about it.

Here are a few of the biggest highlights for me:

 

Rhysand!

Rhysand was actually one of my favorite characters from the first book and I remember lamenting that I wished there had been more of him in that story. Well, I got my wish in A Court of Mist and Fury because Rhysand and the Night Court feature prominently in this book.  As much as I adored him as the handsome but amusing rogue we met in A Court of Thorns and Roses, my love for him grew tenfold as we got to actually learn more about him and the sacrifices that he has made for his people.  He may present himself as a devilish figure, but there’s really just so much more to him than that.  He’s a fierce warrior, a loyal friend, and a compassionate ruler.

Theme of Female Empowerment:

The theme of female empowerment really resonated with me in this book.  As much of an epic romance as Feyre and Tamlin seemed to have in A Court of Thorn and Roses, they are clearly not the same two people they were after everything they went through “under the mountain” at the hands of Amrantha.  After nearly losing her, Tamlin becomes so overprotective of Feyre that their relationship takes a very unhealthy turn and he basically imprisons her in his home, perhaps the worst thing he could have done to someone who is already reeling from having been imprisoned and forced to do things she never thought she would have to do.  As sad as it was to see their relationship fall apart, I liked that Maas had Feyre make a conscious choice to walk away from the unhealthy relationship that is practically suffocating her.  I thought that was a positive message for Maas to send out there to her female readers.

And even though she does end up in another relationship, this time it’s a healthy relationship where she is allowed the freedom she needs and where she is treated as an equal, not as some pretty plaything that needs to be protected and sheltered.  Plus, it wasn’t as though she just rushed from one to the other; it took nearly the entire book for her to embrace the idea of beginning a new relationship.  I found the way the relationship developed to be very realistic and I really loved Feyre that much more once she evolved into an even fiercer version of the Feyre we met in the first book.  She’s a real badass by the end of A Court of Mist and Fury!

Rhysand’s team:

OMG, I love these guys so much!  One of the things that really makes a book work for me is when the author creates a fantastic group of secondary characters and Maas really outdoes herself here. ACOMAF probably has one of the best I’ve read in recent years with Mor, Cassian, Aziel, and Amren.  I loved the dynamic between them.  They could laugh and poke fun at each other in one breath, but when it mattered, they would clearly fight to the death to protect one another.  They are so much more than just the High Lord’s chosen team; they are his family.  Each character was so unique, fascinating, and so well fleshed out that I found myself wishing Maas would give each of them spin-off series of their own.  I’d totally read them if she did!

So Much Action!

I don’t want to give away any details, but this book clearly isn’t just about Feyre recovering from what happened to her in the first book and finding love with a different man than we were expecting her to.  If you like lots of action, epic battle scenes, unexpected betrayals, and lots of plot twists, you’re going to love this book because it’s all here.  The book starts off at a fairly slow and steady pace as we watch Feyre begin her recovery, but once she leaves Tamlin, the pace really picks up and by about the halfway point, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Anything I Didn’t Like: 

As I said, I loved pretty much everything about the book. That said, however, I was a little disappointed in the direction that Maas chose to take Tamlin in.  He wasn’t my favorite character by any stretch in the first book, but it bothered me that he was made so unlikeable in this one.   I kept wondering if that was really necessary.

Who Would I Recommend A Court of Mist and Fury to?

I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone who enjoys fantasy that is filled with action, adventure, and complicated relationships.  I’d personally probably only recommend it to older readers of YA fiction just because it does contain some pretty graphic sexual encounters.  It’s a great read though so I’d highly recommend it to anyone else.

 

Rating:  4.5 Stars

four-half-stars

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, will release on September 6th, 2016.

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

ARC Review – Piper Perish

ARC Review – Piper PerishPiper Perish by Kayla Cagan
three-half-stars
Published by Chronicle Books on March 7th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and into art school in New York City, the better. It’s been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power, even if it means giving up what she’s always known?

Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this ridiculously compelling, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

* * * * *

 

My Review:

Kayla Cagan’s debut novel, Piper Perish, is what I would consider to be a coming of age story.  It follows high school senior and artist Piper Perish and her best friends, Kit and Enzo, also artists, as they navigate the trials and tribulations of that final year of high school and prepare for what comes next.  As the novel opens, we’re already at the halfway point of their senior year, and we learn that Piper, Kit, and Enzo have devised a plan where they will all leave Texas after graduation and move to New York City to attend art school together.  While it sounds like a fantastic plan in theory, it leaves a lot to chance.  What if they don’t all get into the schools they apply to? Will they be able to afford it, etc.?  All of the ‘What ifs’ weigh heavily on Piper’s mind throughout the novel because moving to New York to study art has always been her dream. She doesn’t know how she’ll cope if things don’t go according to their plan.  I know it sounds like a heavy read at first glance, but don’t let that fool you. It’s actually quite fun.  The bright, artsy cover was what initially caught my eye and,  after reading the synopsis, I picked it up because I was looking for a light contemporary read to offset all of the heavy dystopian fiction I’ve been reading lately and it sounded like Piper Perish would fit the bill.

What I Enjoyed:

I’d have to say that Piper herself is probably my favorite part of the book.  Piper’s passion for art, her obsession with artist Andy Warhol (She’s totally a ‘What Would Andy Do?’ kind of girl), her quirky flair for fashion, among other things, just make her someone that you wish you knew and could just hang out with.  Written in the form of a diary, the novel really lets us inside Piper’s head and heart as she pours all of her thoughts, dreams, and frustrations, into her diary. I thought Cagan did a tremendous job of creating an authentic high school experience and in giving Piper an equally authentic and vibrant teenage girl voice.  As I read Piper’s thoughts, I was transported back to my own high school senior year and could vividly remember going through so many of the same experiences.  Piper is a very relatable character precisely because she does represent so many things that we all went through in high school:  the dreams, the worrying, the self-doubt, and so on. I found myself starting to care about her from that very first page and really wanting her to push through all of the obstacles standing in her way so that her dreams could become a reality.

What I especially liked about Piper was watching her really grow up and mature throughout the second half of her senior year.  She is definitely not the same girl at the end of the novel that she is when we first meet her. Yes, she’s still quirky, fun, and lives and breathes art, but she’s also braver, more willing to stand up for herself and fight for what she wants, and she definitely has a greater sense of who she is and where she belongs.  I really liked the evolution of her character.

Aside from Piper, I also really liked all of the themes that the book covered. In addition to the everyday dramas of high school, it also tackles bigger themes like friendship, family, and love.  Piper spends much of her senior year learning what it means to be a friend through thick and thin as she and her friends each encounter obstacles, some of which put them at odds with each other.  Piper also spends a lot of time reflecting on the different degrees of love as relationships around her evolve and change  – the love of a boyfriend and girlfriend, the love between friends, the love of family members no matter how frustrated you get with them (or in the case of Piper’s sister, Marli, how much they deliberately try to make you miserable).

The discussion of art also fascinated me as I read this book.  I’m about as artistic as a rock, so I loved watching the creative process at work as Piper, Kit, Enzo, and their fellow classmates worked to create their senior projects.  I actually found myself wishing I had a paper copy of the book rather than an e-galley as well because there are little sketches here and there throughout the novel that I’m sure are much cooler in full color.

Anything I Didn’t Like:

I have to say I wasn’t big on the way the book was put together. I did love the first person point of view because I think it really helped me connect with Piper better. The diary style just didn’t really work for me.  It did at first because it really felt like I was reading the diary of a teenage girl, but then it started to feel less like a diary or journal and more just like a standard first person narrative broken up by dates. I never kept a diary or journal myself, but I still just couldn’t imagine that one would contain whole conversations between people quoted verbatim or that it would contain complete emails that Piper was receiving from her friend Silas. I can’t say that it took away from my enjoyment of the story at all, but I did feel like it had me pondering the structure of the book more than I would have liked.

I hate to say it, but I was not a big fan of either Piper’s sister, Marli, or of their parents.  Marli, who has just moved back home because she got pregnant while away at college, spends the bulk of the novel storming around screaming and yelling at anyone and everyone who crosses her path, especially Piper, who seems to be her favorite target.  I found it incredibly frustrating that Piper’s parents basically allowed Marli to verbally abuse Piper on a daily basis and that all of them, including Marli’s baby daddy once he moved in with them, simply tiptoed around her to try to keep the venomous raging to a minimum.  Most of the time their parents just chalked her outrageous behavior up to pregnancy hormones, but every once in a while particularly when Piper was really about to lose it and really go off on Marlie, then they would admit that Marli has been like this her entire life.  My question at this point is then why haven’t her parents done more to get her help – her behavior is clearly not normal.  I’m not a psychologist or a therapist, but it seems like Marli is living her life with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I was sympathetic to Marli in that sense and really wanted something to happen to acknowledge that she was going through some kind of mental health issue. Nothing did though so I ultimately just found her very hard to stomach because as she was presented, she was little more than a constant source of over-the-top drama.

As much as Marli bothered me, I think her parents actually bothered me more — not just because of how they let things go with Marli, but also because they were overall so unsupportive of Piper and her dreams.  Throughout the course of the book, they were probably the biggest obstacle that Piper faced because everything Piper wanted took a back seat to Marli and her drama and then to her parent’s poor planning when it came to their children’s college funds.  If you know your daughter has been dreaming her entire life of moving to New York City to study art, and she is clearly a gifted artist, wouldn’t you be doing everything you possibly can to try to make that dream a reality?  I hate to judge, but I was just very disappointed in their parenting abilities.

One other minor quibble I had with the storyline was how conveniently some obstacles were wrapped up in the closing pages of the book.  I can’t say much without giving away major plot points, but I just thought that what happened to Piper was something that would never happen in real life.  Younger readers will probably love it, but the jaded old lady in me was just like ‘Umm no, that would never happen in real life.’

Who Would I Recommend Piper Perish to?

I would most definitely recommend it to teenagers. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and I think teens will easily related to Piper’s journey.  I honestly can’t decide if this is one of those YA books that translates well for older readers though. I could see some older readers finding it a little over dramatic at times and thinking  “Kid, you think your life is stressful now, wait until you’re out on your own.”

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Chronicle, and Kayla Cagan for allowing me to preview this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Rating:  3.5 Stars
three-half-stars

About Kayla Cagan

Kayla Cagan is from Houston, Texas. Piper Perish is her debut YA novel, with a second novel on the way from Chronicle Books in 2018. Her short plays and monologues have been published by Applause Books and Smith and Kraus. She has also contributed comics and essays to assorted collections, including Girl Crush Zine, Womanthology, and Unite and Take Over: Stories Inspired by the Smiths. Cagan lives with her husband, screenwriter Josh A. Cagan and their dog, chihuahua Banjo L. Cagan, in Los Angeles.

Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Book Review:  Practical Magic by Alice HoffmanPractical Magic by Alice Hoffman
three-stars
Published by Putnam Adult on June 13th 1995
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 244
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  The bestselling author of Second Nature, Illumination Night and Turtle Moon now offers her most fascinating and tantalizingly accomplished novel yet — a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman’s reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America’s most captivating storytellers.

When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.

But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment — Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best.

My Review:

Practical Magic is the second book that I’ve read from Alice Hoffman. I read her 2016 release Faithful last fall and fell in love with it, so my sister, who is a huge Alice Hoffman fan, loaned me this book as well as several other Hoffman novels. I chose Practical Magic since it was the one I had heard the most about, primarily because of the movie of the same name.

Practical Magic tells the story of Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters who are orphaned at a young age and are taken in by their eccentric aunts. We soon learn that the seeming eccentricity is actually magic and that the aunts are apparently witches of some sort.  They are, for the most part, shunned by the people in the community, unless of course, someone is desperately seeking help in the form of perhaps a love potion or some other magical concoction.  Superstitions abound when it comes to these aunts and, as Sally and Gillian now live with them, the superstitions soon surround them as well and they spend their time either being mocked relentlessly or else avoided entirely by their classmates.  That is, until they hit puberty and Gillian, in particular, becomes quite the magnet for boys.  Without even trying, she practically has them falling at her feet. At first, this comes across a little silly and over-dramatic until it clicks that these girls probably have some magical powers of their own that they’re unaware of.  Gillian eventually runs off with one of her many suitors and begins her adult life basically moving from city to city, following man after man when each relationship doesn’t ultimately work out.  Sally, who spent much of her time in Gillian’s shadow while she was living at home, eventually finds someone who falls madly in love with her as well and they live happily with the aunts and begin their own family. But then tragedy strikes and the young man is killed. Looking for a fresh start and a “normal” life for her children, Sally too leaves the aunts behind and moves to a new city.  Sally grieves for her dead husband for a long time but eventually starts to feel more like herself and starts living again. All goes smoothly until one fateful night when Gillian shows up on her doorstep unannounced, bringing a world of trouble with her.

 What I Loved:

What really stood out for me in Practical Magic, even more so than the actual magic, is the authentic portrayal of the sisterly relationship.  In these relationships, Hoffman is a master of really getting the reader inside the mind of her characters and then perfectly capturing all of the emotional complexities of what it feels like to have a sister: the love, the jealousy, the rivalry and competitiveness, the protectiveness and loyalty, and even the occasional disappointment that sisters feel for each other.  Sally is often jealous of Gillian because of her incredible beauty and her ability to attract male admirers without even trying.  When Gillian leaves home and basically falls man after man around the country, Sally is incredibly disappointed in her and is not at all happy when Gillian turns back up on her doorstep years later looking for help.  But ultimately that sisterly love and sense of loyalty wins out and Sally takes her sister in.  The relationship between Sally’s daughters, although a minor part of the book in comparison, is still portrayed with that same sense of authenticity.

I also really liked the book’s main theme, which centers around the importance of family.  No matter how hard Gillian and Sally try to avoid their past and escape from the embarrassment of being associated with their aunts and whatever magic they may possess, they still ultimately need them when the going gets tough.  And even though both girls basically abandon their aunts because of that embarrassment, the aunts come running, no questions asked, as soon as they hear the girls are in trouble and need their help.  Just like no matter how upset Sally is at Gillian for showing up on her doorstep and bringing trouble with her, she still loves her and would do anything for her, without question, even if it means turning her own life upside down.  That’s what family is all about.

When it comes to this theme, I actually found the synopsis of the book to be quite misleading.  Practical Magic is described as “funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic.” That’s not how I would describe the story at all.  While I did find it to be haunting and almost eerie at times, especially because of the trouble Gillian brings to town, I didn’t find the book to be especially humorous at all. As I’m sitting here thinking about the story, I can’t even recall a single funny moment actually.  And while the two sisters were definitely seeking love, I can’t say that I found this to be “shamelessly romantic” either.  The synopsis makes it sound like it’s going to be a light-hearted romantic comedy, but I found it to be a much heavier, more dramatic read, which for me is a good thing since I’m not typically big on romantic reads or chick lit of any kind.

Misleading blurb aside, another element of Practical Magic I loved was the writing itself.  Hoffman’s writing is just atmospheric and mesmerizing– vivid and lyrical – but without being overdone or overly wordy.  The writing doesn’t move at a fast pace, but the sentences just glide from one to the next, smooth as silk.  As I was reading this story, I kept wondering if she has ever written any poetry because if so, I’d certainly love to read it. I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful.  Below are a few sample lines from Practical Magic:

“Do you ever just put your arms out and just spin and spin and spin? Well, that’s what love is like; everything inside of you tells you to stop before you fall, but for some reason you just keep going.” 

“You can never tell about a person by guessing…that’s why language was invented. Otherwise, we’d all be like dogs, sniffing each other to find out where we stood.” 

“Some things, when they change, never do return to the way they once were. Butterflies for instance, and women who’ve been in love with the wrong man too often.” 

What I Didn’t Love So Much:

 I have to say that I didn’t particularly care for the way the novel was structured.  Instead of being broken into manageable chapters, it was organized into 4 or 5 lengthy sections.  Since the read isn’t a fast-paced read, I found myself getting a little bored at times and wanting to find a good stopping point.  Since there were so few natural breaks in the story, I often found myself just leaving off mid page at the end of a random paragraph because I’d just give up trying to make it to one of the breaks.  The section titles – Superstition, Premonitions, etc.  – were great in the sense that they really added to the book’s slightly supernatural atmosphere, but I still definitely would have preferred more chapters.

The structure also tended to make the different points of view more confusing to follow than I think they would have been if the story had been organized differently.  The point of view jumped back and forth quite a bit between the different characters so that I sometimes had to backtrack to see who I was reading about and, in some cases, to figure out if the event being depicted was in the present or if it was a memory.  I had that problem several times with Gillian as she kept randomly thinking back on her time with her abusive ex Jimmy.

Who Would I Recommend Practical Magic to?

From other reviews I’ve read, many readers who have watched the movie Practical Magic think that the movie is actually better than the book.  I haven’t watched the movie so I can’t attest to that, but I saw similar comments enough to say that I’d probably recommend the book to someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet.  Even with my issues with the way it was structured, I still found Practical Magic to be a solid and entertaining read with realistic characters and relationships but also with that little added magical twist to spice things up a bit.  It’s also such an atmospheric and, at times, almost spooky read that I kept wishing I had saved it to read in October.  It would make for an excellent Halloween read.

 

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Alice Hoffman

alice hoffman

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston.

Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of twenty-three novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Hoffman’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman’s recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. Her most recent novels include The Third Angel,The Story Sisters, the teen novel, Green Witch, a sequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fairy tale, Green Angel. The Red Garden, published in 2011, is a collection of linked fictions about a small town in Massachusetts where a garden holds the secrets of many lives.

Hoffman’s work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay “Independence Day,” a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her teen novel Aquamarine was made into a film starring Emma Roberts. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Times, Architectural Digest, Harvard Review, Ploughshares and other magazines.

Toni Morrison calls The Dovekeepers “.. a major contribution to twenty-first century literature” for the past five years. The story of the survivors of Masada is considered by many to be Hoffman’s masterpiece. The New York Times bestselling novel is slated for 2015 miniseries, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, starring Cote de Pablo of NCIS fame.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things was released in 2014 and was an immediate bestseller, The New York Times Book Review noting, “A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…”

Nightbird, a Middle Reader, was released in March of 2015. In August of this year, The Marriage Opposites, Alice’s latest novel, was an immediate New York Times bestseller. “Hoffman is the prolific Boston-based magical realist, whose stories fittingly play to the notion that love—both romantic and platonic—represents a mystical meeting of perfectly paired souls,” said Vogue magazine. Click here to read more reviews for The Marriage of Opposites.

ARC Review of Gilded Cage

ARC Review of Gilded CageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1) by Vic James
three-stars
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Published by Del Rey Books on February 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

My Review:

Vic James’ debut novel Gilded Cage is a novel that I’ve been looking forward to reading for months now.  The premise – that a form of slavery is alive and well in England and that the ruling class uses magic to keep this unfair, dehumanizing system in place – intrigued me from the moment I first read the book’s synopsis and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publisher, and Vic James for providing me with an e-galley of Gilded Cage in exchange for my honest review.

So, what did I think of it?  Well, honestly, my thoughts about Gilded Cage are a bit all over the place.  There were definitely plenty of things I liked about the book, but that said, I also encountered a few problematic areas.

Let’s start with the good.

What I Liked:

Slavery vs. Rebellion:  I was intrigued by the class-based society where magic-wielding “Equals” ruled over a non-magical citizen body and where each member of the non-magical citizenry is required to submit to a decade-long period of servitude called ‘Slavedays.’  While serving a Slavedays term, an individual basically relinquishes all of his or her legal rights as a citizen and becomes a slave to the Equals until your ten years are up.  The concept of the Slavedays was quite fascinating because although the decade-long sentence of slave labor is mandatory, each citizen is able to choose when they serve their sentence. Some choose to serve fresh out of high school or college, while others choose to postpone it as long as they can. Families, if at all possible, are also allowed to serve their sentences together, and even if it’s not possible to keep all family members together, young children are required to be kept with a parent.

James’ readers get to see Slavedays up close and personal as we are introduced to some of the novel’s main characters, Luke and Abi Hadley, as they and their family members prepare to enter their Slavedays.  Older sister Abi has deferred her acceptance to medical school to go ahead and serve her sentence and, as part of her deal, has managed to secure her family a pretty decent gig serving out their Slavedays at Kyneston, a magnificent estate owned by one of the most prominent Equal families in England, the Jardines.  Compared to the alternative, a grungy, smog-filled industrial city called Millmoor, Kyneston sounds like a dream.  Things don’t go according to plan on the day they are supposed to depart for Kyneston, however, when what appears to be a clerical error separates Luke from the rest of the family and he is sent by himself to Millmoor.  We thus get to see both Millmoor and Kyneston as we follow both Luke and Abi on their very different journeys into Slavedays.

As expected, Millmoor is pretty much a nightmare filled with cruel supervisors, back-breaking labor, unhealthy food, and just an overall demoralizing atmosphere.  What I liked about seeing the inside of Millmoor though was that the reader is immediately presented with covert signs of rebellion.  I was so glad to see this because up until this point, I had been sitting here thinking “Why the heck are these citizens just voluntarily giving up ten years of their lives, selling off their homes and possessions, just because some uppity ruling class says that’s the way it is?”  It was great to see that some folks weren’t just lying down and taking it without offering any kind of resistance.  As Luke joins the resistance, we get to see more and more brazen acts of defiance and it’s pretty exciting to read and root for this band of underdogs that Luke has joined up with as they are clearly gearing up for a rebellion.

In contrast to the horrendous living and working conditions Luke and his fellow Millmoor inmates are  subjected to, Abi and her family are given fairly nice housing to live in at Kyneston, ample food to eat, and their workloads are quite manageable as well as respectable, especially considering they are serving the same kind of sentence Luke is.  Abi works as an administrative assistant to one of the Jardine brothers, her mother works as a nurse for an elderly family member, her father does maintenance work on vehicles on the property, and little sister Daisy is providing child care for Gavar Jardine’s daughter.  Apparently all Slaveday terms are not created equally.

Politics:  In addition to seeing that Slavedays is quite different depending on where you are assigned, we also get to see the flipside of things as we follow Abi and the rest of the family into the heart of Equal society and all of its political games.  I’m a bit of a political junkie anyway so I found the goings on within the Equals’ ruling body to be quite fascinating. There are apparently a lot of ambitious and ruthless people within the Equals. There are power plays to be Chancellor, a small but vocal faction who supports the abolition of Slavedays altogether, and all sorts of other exciting things at play as Parliament is in session.  If you’re into reading about politics and all of its behind-the-scenes machinations, there’s definitely a lot for you to enjoy in Gilded Cage.

Cloak and Dagger:  I also really liked how James kept me guessing as to what side many of the characters in Gilded Cage were even on.  It was never safe to assume any particular character was pro- or anti- slavery just based on their standing in society.  There were several jaw-dropping surprises throughout the novel as it became clear that the rebels weren’t necessarily who I thought they were.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

Too Many Points of View:  Where I’m somewhat conflicted about Gilded Cage has more to do with how the book is structured and the lack of explanation about certain key elements. First of all, there are so many points of view that without the book’s synopsis singling out three characters, I really had a hard time distinguishing who the main characters were supposed to be. You have the points of view of several members of each class –  Abi and Luke, who are regular citizens beginning their period of servitude, and then you have several points of view from those who are considered Equals, such as Silyen and Gavar Jardine, who are brothers in one of the most prominent Equal families. While it was definitely interesting to see the class dynamic and the rebellion from both sides, it just made for a confusing time trying to keep track of everyone and it also made it hard to really connect with any of the characters.

Why Are Characters Doing What They’re Doing?

Characters’ motivations also weren’t clear to me. Aside from the general wrongness is the idea of mandatory servitude, why is Luke so quick to jump on board with the rebellion? Even though we’re in his head seeing what he’s doing from his point of view, there is still no real explanation for why he starts participating. It’s basically just one minute he isn’t, the next he is.

There were similar instances with the Jardine brothers as well. Silyen is, by far, the most fascinating character in the book and all of his schemes are so intriguing. He almost appears to be playing both sides against the other, but it’s not entirely clear why he’s doing what he’s doing. Is he truly an abolitionist even though he’s an Equal? Is he trying to create chaos and disruption so as to stage a power play and overstep his older brother to become his family’s heir? I’m hoping all of this will be become clear in the next book because I definitely found Silyen to be the most interesting character in Gilded Cage.

Abi’s Inappropriate Flirtation:

So those who regularly follow my reviews know I’m not big on romances randomly being inserted into a storyline where it’s unnecessary.  To James’ credit, it does take a back seat to the rest of the action of the story but it’s still there so I have to comment – mainly because again, her motivations are unclear.  Abi works very closely with one of the Jardine sons and becomes attracted to him. First of all, it’s not appropriate since it would basically be a master-slave relationship. Second, she is supposed to be working diligently to try to get her brother out of Millmoor and back with them, so why is she sitting around letting herself get distracted by a cute boy?

I’m all about strong female characters so in this sense, Abi was kind of a letdown if she really is supposed to be one of the main characters. She does do something risky and heroic at the end of the novel though so I’m hopeful this means she will step up and be the strong character I want her to be as the series continues.

The Verdict:

All in all, I found Gilded Cage to be an entertaining if somewhat confusing read.  With a few of the kinks worked out regarding point of view and starting to explain why some of the characters are behaving as they are, it’s got the potential to be a great series.

Rating:  3 Stars

three-stars

About Vic James

Vic lives in London’s Notting Hill, but her life is more action-adventure than rom-com.

She studied History and English at Merton College, Oxford where Tolkien was once professor. Relocating to Rome, she completed her doctorate in the Vatican Secret Archives (they’re nothing like The Da Vinci Code), then spent five years living in Tokyo where she learned Japanese and worked as a journalist. She now writes full time.

Vic has scuba-dived on Easter Island, camped at Everest Base Camp, voyaged on one of the last mailboats to St Helena, hang-glided across Rio de Janeiro, and swum the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. But there’s little she loves more than lying in bed till midday with a good book and a supply of her favourite biscuits.

Re-ReadIt Challenge: Review of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Re-ReadIt Challenge: Review of Invisible Man by Ralph EllisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
four-stars
Published by Vintage on February 1st 1995
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 581
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:

First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be.

As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.

My Review:

I chose to re-read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as my January entry for the ReReadIt Challenge hosted by Ashley at Inside My Minds.  I wanted to re-read this literary classic because I originally read it when I was a teenager and I don’t think I fully appreciated it on that first reading and so wanted to give it a second look.  I was also curious to see how relevant its themes still are today.  I’m glad I did choose to revisit Invisible Man because it truly stands the test of time as a literary classic and I actually believe its themes are more relevant than ever.

At its heart, Invisible Man is a powerful coming of age story.  An anonymous black man tells the story of his journey to adulthood as he tries to discover who he is and what his place is in an American society that makes no attempt to even hide its racist tendencies.  What kind of identity and sense of self-worth can he have in a society that refuses to see him and acknowledge that he does in fact, have any worth at all?

What I think makes Invisible Man such a powerful read is that the story is told in first person by the Invisible Man himself.  Seeing firsthand what he sees and experiences as he tries to make his own way in a society that is often hostile, at best confusing, and quite often filled with betrayal, really drives home the message of how dehumanizing life can be if those around you refuse to acknowledge that you are a human being and that you matter just as much as they do.

One vivid example that sticks out in my mind is when our unnamed narrator is a senior in high school and is chosen to give an important speech. Word gets out into the community about his oratory skills and about what a stellar student he is, and so he is invited to give his speech in front of an important group of white men in the community.  When he arrives, he is blindfolded and thrust into a ring with many other similarly blindfolded men where they are forced to fight each other like animals until the last one is standing.  This is of course pure sport for those white men who have organized this “entertainment” for themselves and completely humiliating and degrading for our young narrator.  It is especially heartbreaking seeing it from his perspective because he naively has no idea what they have in store for him, has come to the event all dressed up, and is diligently practicing his speech in his head right up until the moment he’s blindfolded and tossed into the fighting ring.  Afterwards, the white men excuse away their behavior by then allowing the narrator give his speech and then awarding him with a scholarship to an all black college.  What a painful and confusing message to give a young man!  “Here, we recognize that you are one of the best and brightest, but we we’re still going to go out of our way to put you in your place.”

We follow the narrator from his hometown and his university in the Deep South until he gets expelled from university.  His crime?  He was tasked with driving one of the school’s white trustees around while they were visiting the campus.  One of the places the trustee asked to visit turned out to be an unsavory part of town that sits right on the outskirts of the university.  According to the headmaster, our narrator irreparably damaged the school’s reputation and therefore had to leave.  The headmaster decides not to be completely heartless though and sends the narrator up north to Harlem, armed with a handful of sealed recommendation letters, to secure a job with someone connected to the university.  The narrator arrives in Harlem and starts dutifully dropping off the recommendation letters, determined to find a job as soon as possible because he is hoping to make the most of this opportunity for a fresh start since he can’t return to school.  The narrator’s bubble is quickly burst, however, when it is ultimately revealed to him that the letters he is handing out are not, in fact, recommendation letters at all, but instead, they are letters condemning him so as to sabotage his job searching efforts.

The rest of the novel tracks him as he continues to try to make his way in the world.  Every step of the way he encounters either hatred and bigotry or else people like the self-serving “Brotherhood” who recognize his oratory gift and want to use him to make speeches that advance their own causes. They promise they’re going to turn him into the next Frederick Douglass or W.E.B. DuBois, but then proceed to change the rules at every turn and use him as a scapegoat each time things don’t go according to plan.  Each experience only serves to strip away a little more of his innocence and his self-worth until he ultimately flees and turns to life underground, off the grid, which is where we find him when the story begins.

Invisible Man is not an easy read, by any stretch.  I won’t even classify it as entertaining because there’s nothing entertaining about racism and bigotry. I will classify this as an incredibly important read though because it gives a voice to those in society who have no voice. This is echoed in the final lines of the novel:  “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak to you?”  The idea of giving voice to those who have no voice is just as relevant today as it was when Ellison wrote the book, especially when considered in light of the immigrant ban in the U.S.  It seems like more groups than ever are being made to feel invisible.

Note:  If you do read Invisible Man, I highly recommend reading it with the audible narration by Joe Morton from TV’s Scandal. I listened to this narration while I read and thought it really added a lot to the overall story.  Morton delivers a powerful reading that really highlights the nuances that might otherwise be missed – the initial innocence followed by increasing sarcasm and biting humor that develops as the narrator becomes further disillusioned with life.

 

Rating:  4 stars

four-stars

About Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison was a scholar and writer. He was born Ralph Waldo Ellison in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, named by his father after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison was best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986). For The New York Times , the best of these essays in addition to the novel put him “among the gods of America’s literary Parnassus.” A posthumous novel, Juneteenth, was published after being assembled from voluminous notes he left after his death.

Ellison died of Pancreatic Cancer on April 16, 1994. He was eighty-one years old.