Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper

Book Review:  Stalking Jack the RipperStalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1) by Kerri Maniscalco
four-stars
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #1
Published by Jimmy Patterson on September 20th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 326
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

 

MY REVIEW

Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper is, as its title implies, a retelling of the murderous rampage of infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper.  As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think of it as a cross between the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and then on a more modern note, a little Forensic Files with a touch of Rizzoli and Isles thrown in.  The end result is a novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat and thoroughly engaged.

LIKES

Maniscalco does a wonderful job of fleshing out her main character, Audrey Rose Wadsworth and making her seem so realistic.  She’s fiercely independent, headstrong, and sassy as all get out, which makes her such a fun character to follow.  Even with the overriding creepy serial killer plot, Audrey Rose still managed to make me chuckle quite a few times throughout the novel.   You just never know what she is going to say at any given moment, but you can pretty much guarantee that it will be completely inappropriate based on society’s expectations.  Speaking of society’s expectations, Audrey Rose truly doesn’t give a flip about those and instead is way ahead of her time and wants to pursue a career in forensic medicine.   When the novel opens, she is, much to her father’s chagrin, working as an apprentice to her Uncle, who is an expert in the field. I kept thinking to myself “She’s like a Victorian Era Maura Isles” (from the popular series Rizzoli and Isles).

Maniscalco also adds a character flaw or two, which serve to further humanize Audrey Rose.  Recklessness, in particular, seems to be a hallmark trait of hers.  While it’s easy to admire how passionate Audrey Rose is about catching this serial killer who is on the loose, at the same time, I wanted to scream at her at times for lurking around in shady areas of the city and putting herself in harm’s way trying to catch him in the act.  It was downright infuriating actually. For someone who is clearly supposed to be quite intelligent, Audrey Rose definitely doesn’t always make the smartest choices.

Speaking of infuriating, let me talk about another main character, Thomas Cresswell.  Cresswell is another student of Audrey Rose’s uncle and may actually be the most arrogant and annoying person on the planet.  However, he is as brilliant as he is arrogant and annoying and somehow the combination actually works to make him incredibly charming. Weird, right?  As they study the Ripper’s victims, Cresswell’s powers of deductive reasoning are so astute that every time he spoke, he reminded me of a young Sherlock Holmes.  From the moment they meet, he gets under Audrey Rose’s skin and their chemistry is off the charts.  I don’t know if I would ever buy into them as a couple, but they are quite the dynamic duo as they work together to solve these murders.

Aside from these two entertaining main characters, Maniscalco also does a brilliant job of making the reader feel as if they are truly in 19th century London and that there really is a killer on the loose.  It was clear Maniscalco did her research on every aspect of the story.  The descriptions of the city feel authentic and the atmosphere at night is utterly creepy.  You can practically sense the danger lurking around every corner, which makes for a real page turner.

 

DISLIKES

I think my only real dislike was that even though this was a retelling and so the author had creative license to make Jack the Ripper whoever she wanted him to be, I still had the murderer figured out way too soon. In that sense, I was a little disappointed.  The murderer’s reasoning for the killings was quite another matter though. Totally did not see that coming and liked the unexpected Dr. Frankenstein-ish twist.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I very much enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in historical fiction, anything to do with the crimes of Jack the Ripper, or even an interest in forensic medicine or 19th century society’s expectations for its young women.  I would issue a word of caution to anyone who doesn’t like to read about blood and gore, however. As is probably expected since we’re dealing with the Ripper and his victims and we’re examining the victims from the vantage point of forensic scientists, the descriptions of the victims are quite graphic and stomach-turning.  It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.  If that doesn’t bother you though, it’s a fascinating read.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

Book Review: Our Chemical Hearts

Book Review:  Our Chemical HeartsOur Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland
three-half-stars
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on October 4th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  John Green meets Rainbow Rowell in this irresistible story of first love, broken hearts, and the golden seams that put them back together again.

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

 

MY REVIEW

Our Chemical Hearts is an engaging story about first loves. Author Krystal Sutherland takes her readers on a journey to explore the highs and the lows of falling in love for the first time.  We follow Henry Page, a young man who has never been in love before.  While finding the girl of his dreams is definitely on his radar, Henry is content for the time being to focus on his school work and on his work at the school paper.  He has devoted himself to the paper for years and is hoping to land the Editor job as he begins his senior year.  When he meets Grace Town, the new girl at school, however, his life is turned upside down.  He wouldn’t have expected a girl wearing oversized boy’s clothing, with a bad haircut and questionable hygiene to be the girl of his dreams, but there’s just something about Grace and so he begins to pursue her, learning very quickly that there’s way more to Grace than meets the eye and much of it is tragic.  Even though he senses the relationship is probably trouble, Henry falls head over heels for Grace anyway and so their roller coaster of a journey begins….

LIKES

I think Sutherland’s biggest strength in this novel is her ability to craft wonderfully complex, flawed characters that immediately grab your attention and your heart and don’t let go.

Henry.  I loved Henry Page.  He totally reminded me of someone I would have been friends with in high school or maybe even dated.  He’s funny and charming in a semi-dorky kind of way, the word “adorkable” comes to mind actually. Henry has also never been in love before, so he has an innocent, almost vulnerable, quality about him that made me feel very protective of him, especially once he started falling so hard for Grace Town that he started to neglect his school work and his editorial duties at the school paper.  Even though Henry could see that the relationship probably wouldn’t end well, he was still drawn to Grace like a moth to a flame.  I knew he was in trouble as soon as he started snooping, and found Grace’s Facebook page.  The Grace he sees on Facebook doesn’t even remotely resemble the Grace he knows.  Facebook Grace is smiling, wearing feminine clothes, and looks like every bit the social butterfly.  Henry is even more fascinated by Grace at this point and he becomes obsessed with trying to “fix” her.

It was so frustrating to watch him on the path he was on, but at the same time, it made his character feel all the more authentic because we’ve all been there at some point.  You can’t help who you fall in love with, even if it’s just your idea of what that person should be, and sometimes broken hearts are a rite of passage when it comes to love and romance.

Grace.  I can’t say that I loved Grace Town the way I loved Henry, but I was initially drawn to the same mysterious qualities about her that initially attracted Henry to her.  Grace is an incredibly complex character, mainly because of all of the details about herself that she tries to hide from everyone around her.  Like Henry, I found her fascinating and wanted to know more about her. The more I learned, however, the more my heart just broke for her.  Her eccentricities are not just her trying to be quirky and mysterious, but instead run so much deeper than that.  I don’t want to give away any specific details, but I will say that Grace has recently suffered a huge loss and that she feels so responsible for that loss that her life has become little more than her trying to atone for her “sin.”   I was so torn about her relationship with Henry because even though he was neglecting his school work, etc, because of her, I could also tell that she desperately needed a friend and Henry is such a good guy that I knew he could have been a great friend to her.  Just seeing their hilarious conversations on Facebook was proof of that.  Even though Grace was still full of secrets, she still opened up to Henry more than she opened up to anyone else around her.

Henry’s Circle of Friends.  As compelling as the two main characters were, I also adored Henry’s friends Lola and Murray.  Not only were they wonderful friends to Henry, but they also provided a lot of levity to balance the seriousness of what was going on with Grace.  Murray is from Australia and has found that doing endless Crocodile Dundee impressions surprisingly serves him quite well when he wants to woo the ladies. Lola works on the newspaper with Henry and their relationship is especially entertaining.  Lola was the first girl Henry ever kissed and not too long after that moment, she came out and announced she was a lesbian.  Ever since, they have had the long-running joke that Henry’s such a bad kisser that he turned Lola gay.  I just loved the banter and the overall dynamic of this circle of friends, especially how they had Henry’s back when it came to Grace.  They could tell the relationship was probably a bad idea but ultimately knew all they could do was be there for Henry no matter what happened.  These friendships were probably what I enjoyed most about the book.

Henry’s Parents:  Kind of a sidebar here, but if Henry is ”adorkable,” he definitely gets it from his parents.  They were so cute and so corny. I loved it every time they turned up in the story, especially when they would go out of their way to embarrass Henry in front of Grace.

DISLIKES

I won’t really call them dislikes, but there were a couple of things about the story that knocked my overall rating down a little lower than it might otherwise have been.

Grace and Henry’s afternoon ritual.  Once they start hanging out, every afternoon Henry walks Grace home, Grace then hands Henry the keys to her car and he drives them both back to his house. Then Grace leaves her car at Henry’s house and walks off in the opposite direction of where she lives, with no explanation as to where she’s going.  It’s another mysterious to Grace, of course, and while it does end up being relevant to Grace’s backstory, I got a little bored reading about it day after day.

Grace’s living arrangements.  It’s probably just me that felt this way, but I thought the mention of Grace’s awkward living arrangements near the end of Our Chemical Hearts made her story feel a little less believable.  Up until that point, everything that had happened felt so completely authentic – an experience any of us could have.  But then this implausible living arrangement was mentioned and we were unexpectedly given a tour of Grace’s home environment and that part just felt over the top to me.  It didn’t ruin the story or anything but it just felt like an unnecessary dramatic element.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a solid contemporary read about first loves, broken hearts, friendship, and the idea that you can’t choose who you fall in love with or how long that love may last, then definitely give Our Chemical Hearts a try.  Even with the couple of issues I had with it, I still very much enjoyed the read overall.

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

three-half-stars

About Krystal Sutherland

In her own words:

“Hello. It’s me.

I am Krystal Sutherland, writer of books. Or, more specifically, I am the writer of one book, Our Chemical Hearts, which was published in October 2016 by Penguin in the US and ANZ, Hot Key in the UK, and various other publishers in more than 20 countries around the globe.

I was born and raised in Townsville, in the far north of Australia. Since moving to Sydney in 2011, I’ve also lived in Amsterdam, which was awesome but cold, and Hong Kong, (though I speak neither Dutch nor Cantonese).

Growing up, I never dreamed of being a writer. I wanted to be a) a florist, then b) a volcanologist, then c) an actress. It wasn’t until shortly after my 18th birthday that I sat down to write my first (terrible) novel.

Our Chemical Hearts, thankfully, is slightly better than that hot mess. Nonetheless, I’m notoriously bad at explaining what it’s about, except to say that it involves the terribly tragic and awful experience of falling in love for the first time.

I have no pets and no children, but in Amsterdam I owned a Dutch bicycle called Kim Kardashian. It was somewhat difficult to get along with; I was fond of it regardless.”

Source:  krystalsutherland.com

 

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Book Review:  The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
five-stars
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 28th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:   Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.  But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

MY REVIEW

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter, a teenager who is basically caught between two completely different worlds, the economically depressed community she has grown up in and the affluent, mostly white high school that she attends.  In Starr’s mind, these two worlds are incompatible and so she has compartmentalized each and crafted two separate identities for herself so that she can exist in each world.  Although she switches back and forth between these identities with relative ease, she still spends the majority of her time pretending in an effort to fit in.  The end result is that she can’t really be herself and, at the point we meet her, has begun to question if she even knows who the real Starr is anymore.  What brings Starr’s struggle to figure out who she is to a head is when she witnesses her childhood friend Khalil being killed by a police officer during what appeared to be a routine traffic stop.  Protests erupt and soon the shooting garners media attention.  Everyone wants to know what happened that night and some are starting to fill in the blanks themselves, maligning Khalil’s character and referring to him as little more than a drug dealing thug.  Once the media begins reporting on the shooting, Starr’s two worlds collide because now even her rich, privileged schoolmates are talking about it.

Starr, as the sole witness, is the only one with the power to speak up and secure justice for Khalil, who was unarmed and did absolutely nothing to warrant being shot.  Will she remain silent and continue to hide who she really is because it’s easier that way or will she be brave enough to find her voice, step up into the spotlight, and try to get justice for Khalil?

LIKES

The Hate U Give is, by far, one of the most powerful books I’ve read in recent years.  It’s powerful not just because it’s inspired by and shines a light on the the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement and because it exposes the systemic racism that continues to pervade our society, but also because it does so much more than that. It’s a beautifully crafted coming of age story as well, and it’s also a book about the importance of family and community.  Angie Thomas beautifully weaves all of these elements together into a compelling story that hooked me from page one and that I can’t stop thinking about now that I have finished reading it.  I don’t even think I really have the words to do justice to how wonderful a read this is.  All I can say is that it’s one of the few books I’ve read in my life that I wish I could hand out copies of to everyone I come across and encourage them to read it and then share it with someone else.

I tend to measure how good a book is by how many emotions it makes me feel while I’m reading and The Hate U Give is off the charts in that respect.  It made me sad and brought me to tears several times, it made me frustrated and angry, and it even managed to make me smile and laugh a few times along the way as well. I also felt the love between Starr and her family, as well as the love that held her community together.  What I say it’s a powerful read, that’s what I’m talking about.  This book is just so real and honest and raw that you feel EVERYTHING the characters are going through.

I fell in love with Starr right away.  She’s immensely likeable right from the start – funny, smart, sassy, and also a wonderful daughter and sister — and it broke my heart to watch her feel like she always had to hide half of herself in order to fit in.  It also broke my heart to learn that she has already witnessed so much violence and death in her sixteen years.  I mean, seriously. She is 16 years old – her biggest concerns in life at that point should be where she’s going to college, who she is going to date, what color dress she is going to wear to the prom.  Having to decide whether or not to speak out to defend her friend who was shot by a policeman should not be a part of her reality.  The fact that it is the reality for some young people makes Starr’s journey all the more poignant.

Speaking of Starr’s journey, I loved watching her change and grow throughout the novel.  She has some hard decisions to make.  I don’t want to give away any specific details here but I’m just going to say that watching her decide what she’s going to do and then finding her own voice and true self was one of the most beautiful parts of the story for me.

It wasn’t only Starr that I fell in love with though. I loved her family too and I loved how important their role in the book was too.  Her parents are so supportive of her every step of the way and vow to stand by her no matter what choice she decides to make.  Their love, support, and the lessons they have taught Starr and her siblings are what ultimately help Starr make her choice:  “Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr. It means you go on even though you’re scared. And you’re doing that.”

In many ways I connected with the parents even more than I connected with Starr, I guess because I’m a parent too.  I cried when I read the passage about how there are two important lessons that Starr’s parents taught her and her siblings: 1) the birds and the bees, and 2) how to behave if you are stopped by a police officer so that no harm comes to you.  As a parent, it just ripped my heart out to think there are fellow parents out there who have to teach their kids that second lesson.  As a mom, I have always taught my son that the police are who you go to when you need help.  No parent should live with the fear that their children are in danger if they come into contact with the police.

I also connected with the parents because even when they were at odds with each other about how to best raise their family, I understood exactly why they each felt the way they did.  Starr’s mom desperately wants to get her babies out of this community and into a safer one.  She’s a momma bear protecting her cubs all the way and I was right there with her.  That said, however, I was also right there with Starr’s dad, Mav.  What he said make perfect sense too.  He doesn’t want to abandon his community.  His view is how is anything ever going to change for the better if everyone just leaves and he has made it a crusade to save the community one child at a time.  If he hears of a teen who has gone down the wrong path and ended up in a gang but then wants out, Mav makes it his mission in life to get them out of that life and back on the right path.  I thought Angie Thomas did an amazing job of bringing these real parental fears to life and making it so easy for any parent to relate to and to sympathize with.  Every parent can understand that fierce need to keep their babies safe, whether it’s by moving them somewhere else or by trying to change the community itself so that all kids are safe.

DISLIKES

I have absolutely no complaints about The Hate U Give.  My only dislike is reading the character of Hailey and knowing that there really are people out there in the world like her, who are either racist or just completely oblivious about how hurtful and stupid some of the things they say are.  I cheered when she finally got the smackdown she deserved, although she clearly still learned nothing from it.  I really hope that everyone will read this book and learn from it and that we’ll end up with a few less Haileys in the world going forward.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve barely scratched the surface on why I think this book is so incredible.  All I can say at this point is GO READ THIS BOOK!  It’s eye opening and sobering, honest and raw, riveting and sometimes painful, but it’s also filled with love and hope, and I promise you that it’s one of the most important books you’ll ever read.  Its message will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

RATING:  5  STARS

five-stars

About Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

Beat the Backlist Book Review for Jellicoe Road

Beat the Backlist Book Review for Jellicoe RoadJellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
four-stars
Published by Penguin Australia on August 28th 2006
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 419
Source: Library
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis: 

I’m dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs – the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor’s only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother – who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

The moving, joyous and brilliantly compelling new novel from the best-selling, multi-award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca.

MY REVIEW

I think I’m probably the last person on the planet to read Melinas Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road.  I’ve always heard wonderful things about it and actually know a couple of people who say it’s one of their favorite books. But yet, there it still sat on my TBR pile, getting buried deeper in the pile by newer books as the years went by.  Well, finally, thanks to the BeatTheBacklist challenge, I can finally say that I’ve read this beautiful book as well.

Jellicoe Road is not an easy book to read, by any means. It starts off very confusingly, tossing out a lot of seemingly random information that doesn’t appear to fit together in any meaningful way.  There are territory wars taking place between townies, military cadets, and the students at a boarding school, which is located on the Jellicoe Road.  Add to that dreams of a boy sitting in a tree, flashbacks to a car accident that appears to have decimated a family, throw in a hermit who kills himself, and a mysterious, somewhat creepy brigadier.   Top all of that off with a protagonist who was abandoned at a nearby convenience store at the age of 11 and who ends up living at the boarding school on Jellicoe Road and a caretaker who mysteriously goes missing, a manuscript about a group of kids who lived at the Jellicoe Road school decades ago and you have the ingredients that make up this wonderful puzzle of a story.

LIKES

The beauty of the book lies in the way that Marchetta is able to take all of these seemingly random elements and weave them together into one of the most heartbreaking and poignant stories I think I’ve ever read.  Taylor Markham is definitely the glue that holds the story together and it is through her eyes that we finally break through all of that initial confusion and start to make sense of the various elements that have been thrown at us.   Marchetta makes Taylor such an interesting and sympathetic character that I found myself instantly wanting to know more about her – how could her mom just leave her like that, why is she having these odd dreams about the boy in the tree, why are her classmates opposed to her being a leader in the territory wars? Because many of my questions mirror Taylor’s own questions about her life, it made me very willing to wade into the chaos looking for answers.

At its heart, Jellicoe Road is a book about relationships – family, friendships, even in some cases, an absence of relationships. I don’t want to give away too many details because I think this book is best enjoyed if you follow along Taylor’s journey and discover the connections as she discovers them, but I will say that Taylor’s journey is a very personal one and often a heart-wrenching one.  She knows next to nothing about her own life.  There is no real mention of her father, and aside from the fact that her mother left her at a Seven Eleven and that she has been living at the Jellicoe Road School ever since, she has no real sense of self.  Taylor is desperate to know who she is, why she was left behind, and even tried to run away from the school when she was 14 in hopes of getting some answers.

The closest thing to family Taylor has ever known is Hannah, a caretaker who lives on the school grounds.  Hannah is the one who found Taylor at the Seven Eleven and brought her back to the school to live.  When Hannah up and disappears one day without a word, Taylor is beside herself because now, in her mind, she has no one left to care about her.  She desperately searches for clues as to Hannah’s whereabouts and in doing so, starts to unravel the mystery of not only Hannah’s past, but her own as well.  Both of their pasts are filled with pain and plenty of angst, seemingly too much at times, but yet still completely realistic.  I think what I loved most about the story was that even though there is so much pain and angst revealed throughout, Jellicoe Road still ends on what I would consider to be a very hopeful note.

DISLIKES

I did find all of the confusion at the beginning of the novel to be a little off putting.  If I hadn’t liked Taylor so much right from the start, I think I probably would have just given up on the book.  It was a pretty fascinating way to start a story though as I imagined all of those same elements swirling around in Taylor’s head just like they were swirling in mine. Both of us sitting there like WTF is going on, haha!

One other issue I had was why all of the secrecy. At the time the story takes place, Taylor is about 17 years old. She’s more than mature enough to handle the truth about her past, so why torture her by hiding it from her for all of these years?  I know the people involved had their reasons, but I think all of the secrets probably just made things a lot more complicated than they needed to be.

FINAL THOUGHTS?

I would definitely recommend Jellicoe Road to anyone who likes a good mystery.  Although the story focuses on relationships and angsty family history, much time is also spent following the clues and connecting the dots.  Jellicoe Road is a beautifully complex read that will just keep tugging at your heartstrings from start to finish.

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta was born in Sydney Australia. Her first novel, Looking For Alibrandi was awarded the Children’s Book Council of Australia award in 1993 and her second novel, Saving Francesca won the same award in 2004. Looking For Alibrandi was made into a major film in 2000 and won the Australian Film Institute Award for best Film and best adapted screen play, also written by the author. On the Jellicoe Road was released in 2006 and won the US Printz Medal in 2009 for excellence in YA literature. This was followed up by Finnikin of the Rock in 2008 which won the Aurealis Award for YA fantasy, The Piper’s Son in 2010 which was shortlisted for the Qld Premier’s Lit Award, NSW Premier’s Lit Award, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, CBC awards and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Her follow up to Finnikin, Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn were released in 2012 and 2013. Her latest novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is an adult crime novel.

ARC Review of Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

ARC Review of Defy the Stars by Claudia GrayDefy the Stars (Defy the Stars #1) by Claudia Gray
four-stars
Series: Defy the Stars #1
on April 4th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
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:  Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

MY REVIEW

Wow, what a pleasant surprise this book turned out to be! I’ve never read anything by Claudia Gray and so really had no idea what to expect going into Defy the Stars. I literally spent my entire weekend reading it and I regret nothing.  Such a riveting adventure!

The premise of the story is that Earth has basically used up nearly all of its resources so the planet is dying and its inhabitants therefore need to find another home to move to as soon as possible.  A few other planets have been made habitable, but they are not nearly big enough to hold Earth’s population.  The planet Genesis is the ideal choice for resettlement, but Genesis isn’t having it.  They have seen what the humans of Earth have done to their own planet and have no interest in letting them come, take over Genesis, and do the same thing to their planet.  For this reason, Genesis and Earth are at war when the book opens.

In many ways it’s an unfair fight because Earth has developed an army of what are known as Mechs.  Mechs are incredibly sophisticated robots and humans are just no match against them, especially humans on Genesis because they don’t have nearly the same technological capabilities that Earth does. When the story opens, Earth and Genesis have been fighting for decades and the people of Genesis are in real danger of losing the fight and therefore their planet.

The world building in Defy the Stars is quite fascinating and intricate.  In addition to Earth and Genesis, there are also several other distinct planets, such as Kismet, which is a lush playground of sorts for the wealthy, as well as Cray, which is where all of the great scientific minds have been sent, and then Stronghold, which reminded me a lot of Mars in the way it’s described.  These planets are aligned in a loop and travel between them is accomplished via Gates, which are basically wormholes, and in an act of desperation, the leaders of Genesis have come up with a plan to try to cut off Earth’s access to Genesis by damaging the Gate that lies between Genesis and Earth.  They don’t believe they have the firepower to truly destroy it, but believe that they can disable it enough to buy themselves a few years of peace so that they can regroup and rearm themselves.  The ultimate problem with the plan – the only way the leaders think they can do enough damage to this Gate to render it useless is to send 150 of their soldiers on what is being called the Masada Run, where they will each crash their ships directly into the Gate.  It’s a suicide mission.

When we meet our protagonist, teenager Noemi Vidal, she is training to take part in the Masada Run.  A surprise attack while the Genesis soldiers are making a practice run leaves Noemi’s half-sister, Esther, who was working as a scout, critically wounded.  In an effort to save Esther, Noemi takes her aboard what appears to be an abandoned ship from Earth in search of medical supplies. It is here that Noemi comes face to face with, and is nearly kill by, Abel.  Abel is a Mech, and as it turns out, a one-of-a –kind mech, the most sophisticated Mech prototype ever made, in fact.  By virtue of his programming, he should inherently be Noemi’s enemy, but his programming also requires him to obey his commander, and as Noemi has basically commandeered the ship he is on, by default, she becomes Abel’s commander and he is therefore sworn to follow her every order.  Once Noemi is reassured that Abel is, in fact, loyal to her, she begins to pump him for intelligence.  She learns that Abel was traveling with his creator and a team of researchers who were examining the Gate between Genesis and Earth, looking for deficiencies in it that they could exploit it for their own benefit.  As crucial as this intel is, what Noemi learns that is even more important, is that with a few key supplies that can be secured from other planets, there is another way to destroy the Gate.  A mech could fly in there and destroy it and since a mech isn’t human, there would be no casualties.  Because Noemi is now his commander,  Abel of course volunteers to destroy the Gate and save his commander’s planet.  This knowledge sets Noemi on a new course, with Abel by her side, in which she hopes to not only save her planet but also spare the lives of those who would all die in the Masada Run.  The Masada Run is scheduled to take place in less than three weeks so it becomes a race against time…

LIKES

The Action:  As you can guess by my lengthy lead in, this book is pretty intense in terms of the overall storyline. Pretty much everything I just laid out happens in the opening few chapters and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  That race against time, coupled with the fact that Genesis is not viewed favorably by the other planets in the system because they feel like Genesis abandoned them  to save themselves, leads to a lot of potentially hostile encounters as Noemi and Abel make their way across the galaxy in search of what they need to destroy that Gate.  If you like action and adventure, you should enjoy this aspect of Defy the Stars.

Earth as the “Bad Guy”:  I found it very intriguing that Earth is the one who must be stopped here.  This idea seems pretty timely too, now that we have a U.S. President who apparently doesn’t believe in science.  This fictional scenario could end up being closer to reality than we care to think about.

The Characters:  As exciting as the storyline is, what really captured my attention and made me love the read are the characters themselves.  I loved both Noemi and Abel.  I loved them individually and I especially loved them working together as a team.

Noemi  – I really loved Noemi from the first moment we meet her.  Claudia Gray has created Noemi with this wonderful combination of fierce determination and selflessness that drew me in right away. We learn early on in the story that Noemi has volunteered to take part in the Masada Run, not just to save her planet, but also because the mission will only allow one representative from each household to volunteer to die and she is determined to protect her half sister, Esther, whom she has deemed the more worthy of living.  As much as I was already intrigued by the idea that this teen soldier was willing to sacrifice herself for the good of her planet and to save Esther, her belief that she was somehow less worthy of having a chance to live her life just added a layer of vulnerability to her that made her all the more compelling of a character.

I also love the growth that Noemi undergoes both as she begins to meet citizens from these other planets and as she learns more and more about Abel and realizes that he may actually be more human than robot.  She becomes much more reflective as the novel goes on as she begins to question the actions of the leaders of Genesis as well as her own plans.  Was Genesis right to isolate itself and leave the other planets to fend for themselves against Earth?  Wouldn’t they be stronger and better able to resist Earth if they banded together?  If Abel is truly more human than he is robot, can she really let him sacrifice himself to save Genesis?  So many big questions for such a young person to have to even think about.

Abel – As much as I loved Noemi, I absolutely adored Abel.  Even though he is made up to look like a human, with hair, blood, skin, and even neurons, Abel reminded me so much of C3PO from Star Wars or maybe even Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He’s just charming and funny, and sometimes says things that are so annoying, I half expected Noemi to dismantle him to shut him up.  I found him especially amusing when it became clear that he even has a bit of an ego. He’s proud that he’s the ultimate Mech prototype and that he’s the only one of his kind.  He toots his own horn, so to speak, quite frequently on that subject!

In addition to being such an amusing character, Abel also comes across as so human from the moment we meet him that it’s heartbreaking to learn he has been trapped on this ship for 30 years, just floating around all alone.  He tells Noemi that his creator and the crew were preparing to abandon ship and sent him to the airlock to complete one final task before departure. He became trapped there and they just left without him.  He has no idea what happened to them – if they made it back to Earth or if they all perished – but it never really dawns on him that they didn’t think of him as a life and so thought nothing of leaving him there to try to save themselves.  He even thinks of his creator as his “father” and doesn’t realize that even though he’s one of a kind, he is still viewed as ultimately disposable.

What also makes Abel a truly fascinating character is that he too, even though he is supposedly mostly just a machine, undergoes tremendous growth throughout the story.  Those 30 years all alone caused the neurons in Abel’s body to make new connections and begin to evolve in ways Abel’s creator may never even have thought possible.  Even though Abel still has programming, he is supposed to follow at all times, he has developed the ability to occasionally override that programming. It’s as though he is developing free will or as Noemi starts to wonder, maybe even some form of a soul.  Once Noemi starts to question just how human Abel has become over the years, it takes their relationship to a whole new level and it’s wonderful to watch how loyal they become to each other.

ANY DISLIKES?

I can’t really call it a dislike but there was a lot of information to sift through at the beginning with the different planets, the explanation of the cybergenetics and that Abel was a prototype for 25 other models of Mechs, etc.  I love science fiction so I can’t say that it bothered me too much, although I’ll admit I stopped to take a few notes along the way because there were a lot of details to keep track of, but I could see it potentially making it difficult for some readers to get into the story.  My advice would be to push through the beginning though because once you get past that initial worldbuilding and on to where Noemi and Abel meet, the story just flies along from there and you’ll breeze right through.

FINAL THOUGHTS?

If you like a book that is action-packed, filled with compelling characters, and that asks big questions about ethics, religion vs faith, the environment, technology, politics, and so much more, I’d highly recommend Defy the Stars.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publisher, and of course to author Claudia Gray for allowing me to preview this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

four-stars

About Claudia Gray

claudia gray

Claudia Gray in her own words:

“Claudia Gray is a pseudonym. I would like to say that I chose another name so that no one would ever learn the links between my shadowy, dramatic past and the explosive secrets revealed through my characters. This would be a lie. In truth, I took a pseudonym simply because I thought it would be fun to choose my own name. (And it is.)

I write novels full-time, absolutely love it, and hope to be able to do this forever. My home is in New Orleans, is more than 100 years old, and is painted purple. In my free time I read, travel, hike, cook and listen to music. You can keep up with my latest releases, thoughts on writing and various pop-culture musings via Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, GoodReads, Instagram or (of course) my own home page.

If you want to contact me, you can email me here, but your best bet is probably to Tweet me. I don’t do follows on Twitter, but I follow everyone back on Tumblr, Pinterest and GoodReads.”

ARC Review: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

ARC Review: The Twelve Lives of Samuel HawleyThe Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
four-stars
Published by Dial Press on March 28th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 480
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:  A father protects his daughter from the legacy of his past and the truth about her mother’s death in this thrilling new novel from the prize-winning author of The Good Thief.

After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.

Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.

 MY REVIEW

 

Do you ever read a book, know that you love it, but yet somehow can’t really put into words why?  That’s how I feel about Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.  What initially drew me to this book was reading the synopsis and realizing that the book focuses on the relationship between a father and daughter.  I can’t say that I’ve read nearly enough books that explore that dynamic so I was eager to give this book a shot.

Samuel Hawley and his daughter Loo (short for Louise) have spent most of Loo’s life living what can best be described as a transient lifestyle, moving from place to place and never staying anywhere too long.  The only sense of permanence that Loo has experienced all this time is the makeshift shrine that Hawley builds for Loo’s mother in each place.  Loo’s mother, Lily, drowned when Loo was just a baby, so it has just been Loo and her dad for as long as she can remember.  We are given hints early on that the transient lifestyle Loo and her Dad are living stems from the fact that Hawley has a somewhat checkered past.  Although Loo appears perfectly content living the way she and her Dad always have, when the novel opens and we meet Hawley and then 12 year old Loo, Hawley has decided that it’s time for Loo to have a more permanent and stable way of life and thus has settled them back in Lily’s hometown of Olympus, Massachusetts.  As they go about their day-to-day lives in this tiny town, we start to get more and more hints that Hawley’s past is indeed a colorful one and that not even Loo, the person who is closest to him in the world, knows all that there is to know about him.  The extent of Hawley’s past misadventures becomes very apparent when Hawley is coerced into participating in a town event and is required to remove his shirt to take part.  When the shirt comes off, we see that Hawley’s body is riddled with old bullet wound scars.  So many scars, in fact, that it seems nearly impossible he is even still alive.

LIKES

The revealing of so many scars was where things got especially interesting for me because the author then proceeds to use the bullet wound scars as a roadmap to carry us through Hawley’s past.  She alternates chapters that are devoted to explaining how he received each bullet wound with chapters of the new life he is trying to start with Loo.  What I loved about this way of constructing the story was how we see Hawley first as a dad, doing the best he can, willing to sacrifice anything and everything to give his daughter a normal life.  Tinti fully humanizes him before revealing his past where we then see that Hawley has done a lot of awful things in his day.  He has stolen things, hurt people, heck he has even killed people.  But somehow, because I still see him first as Loo’s dad, I love the character in spite of the many questionable choices he has made in the past.  I think if Tinti had revealed the gory details of Hawley’s past first and then tried to move forward and show that he has now reformed himself and become a great dad, Hawley wouldn’t be nearly as endearing as he is.

As much as the story is about Hawley and his past, I would also consider it to be a coming of age story for Loo.  She spends much of the story trying to make sense of this new world she is now living in and what her place is in it, and she is particularly determined to learn more about what happened to her mother.  Hawley has sought to protect Loo from the full truth of her mother’s death because he knows that it will be even more heartbreaking for her than the truth she has been led to believe all her life.  When Loo meets her grandmother (Lily’s mother) for the first time after they settle in Olympus, her grandmother implies that Hawley is in some way responsible for Lily’s death. This makes Loo’s journey to find the truth all the more poignant as Hawley is all she really has in this world. Can she forgive him if he is responsible?   Loo’s story becomes especially moving as we cycle back and forth between her chapters set in the present and Hawley’s chapters set in the past.  In Hawley’s chapters, we see how he and Lily met and fell in love, and then in present-day chapters, we follow Loo as she slowly unravels the mystery surrounding her mom’s death.  Tinti does a beautiful job weaving together the past and present in a heartwrenching journey that ultimately brings Loo to that truth she has been so desperately seeking.

Tinti adds even more complexity to her story by making it a bit of a thriller as well as the ghost of Hawley’s past still lurks and threatens this new life he is trying so hard to make for his daughter.  All of these different layers – the past, the present, the love, the suspense — and how they effortlessly fit together is what makes The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley such an engaging read.

DISLIKES?

I can’t really say that I have any complaints about the novel.  At first I’ll admit I was a little wary about the bullet hole chapters, especially since they were actually named BULLET NUMBER ONE, BULLET NUMBER TWO, etc. I thought ‘Oh boy, this is either going to be hokey or it’s going to be brilliant.’  Thankfully, brilliant won out and it worked fabulously.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a wonderfully intricate read that authentically captures the father-daughter bond, then give The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley a read.  I would, however, forewarn that there is a lot of violence as you can probably guess from the few hints I dropped about Hawley’s past.  Both love and violence are at the core of this tale.

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Hannah Tinti

Hannah Tinti grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, and is co-founder and editor-in-chief of One Story magazine. Her short story collection, ANIMAL CRACKERS, has sold in sixteen countries and was a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway award. Her first novel, THE GOOD THIEF, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, recipient of the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and winner of the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Hannah’s new novel, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY will be published by The Dial Press on 3/28/17.

#BeatTheBacklist Book Review: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

#BeatTheBacklist Book Review:  A Storm of Swords by George R.R. MartinA Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) by George R.R. Martin
four-half-stars
Series: A Song of Fire and Ice #3
Published by Bantam on March 4th 2003
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 1177
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces manoeuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…

MY REVIEW

A giant review for a giant book!  Wow, where to even start with this 1,100+ page beast of a book?  First of all, I’m ecstatic that I finally finished it because A Storm of Swords has been sitting on my bookshelf begging me to read it for nearly two years.  I kept looking at all of those pages and putting it back thinking of how many other books I could read in the time I knew it would take me to tackle that many pages.  I’m so glad I finally gave in and decided to tackle it in 2017 because HOLY COW, what a book this is! Definitely my favorite of the series thus far!

It’s so hard to write reviews of books midway through a series because there’s just so much to gush, rant and rave about, but I don’t want to spoil anything for someone who is just starting the series.  Here’s my attempt to lay out what I loved about A Storm of Swords as close to spoiler free as I can make it. If you’re truly worried about spoilers, just stop here knowing that the book is phenomenal and incredibly important in terms of character growth.  Otherwise, keep reading…

As always, the level of intensity of this story is off the charts as each of our major players continue their quest for the Iron Throne.  This installment of the series is filled with betrayals, epic action scenes, and more deaths than I can even begin to count, including one death that is sure to leave readers jumping for joy!  There are also ill-fated weddings, a trial by combat, and much, much more.  And don’t even get me started on the world building!  Martin’s description of the Seven Kingdoms is, without a doubt, some of the best world building I’ve ever read. He is right up there with J. R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series.

 In spite of all of that, however, what makes A Storm of Swords such a stand out for me are the characters and how Martin shapes them in this book.  I keep telling myself not to get attached to any of these characters because George R.R. Martin has no qualms about killing any of them off.  Even knowing no characters are off limits in this deadly ‘game of thrones’, Martin just creates such realistic, complex, and utterly flawed characters that you can’t help but become invested in them anyway.  With this third book, I found myself growing even more attached than ever to Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, and Jaime Lannister (Yeah, I know. I can’t believe Jaime is on my list either, haha!)

LIKES

Arya.  Even though she’s still basically just a little girl, Arya is tough as nails, able to hold her own against pretty much anyone out there, and has learned to handle a sword with the best of them.  She has a long to-do list of names of people she plans to kill in revenge for what has been done to her family. I love that she periodically recites the list, just to make sure she doesn’t forget anyone, and my money’s on Arya to actually kill everyone she wants to kills and to somehow beat the odds and make it through to the end of the series alive.  My favorite moment of this book is the unexpected moment when she actually teams up with her nemesis, the Hound, and they fight together and then end up traveling together.

Sansa.  Sansa shows growth as well in the sense that she has become worldlier and less naïve, especially when it comes to King Joffrey and the Lannisters.  Even though at one time she thought she would be married to him, she knows all of that is over now and that she is nothing to the Lannisters but a pawn in this game they’re all playing.  In this book, she finds herself wed to another man, one who is probably the last person she would have chosen for herself and then ultimately on the run, accused of a crime she did not commit.  As much as I like Sansa, I feel differently about her than I do Arya.  Where I think Arya is a kick ass warrior in the making, with Sansa, I just always end up feeling pity for her because she seems to go from one bad situation to the next, with little or no reprieve.  I fear that she may end up a casualty unless she continues to grow stronger and stand up for herself more.

Jon Snow.  In a lot of ways, Jon Snow really comes into his own in this book.  After spending much of the first two books lamenting about how he isn’t worthy of anything because he’s just the bastard son of Ned Stark, Jon rises to the occasion and does big things here. My favorite moments for him were when he took the lead in defending the Wall by first infiltrating the barbaric Wildlings to spy on them for the Night’s Watch and then later returning to the Wall and leading the Night’s Watch in their defense of it .

(Speaking of the Wall, there are some absolutely epic battle scenes here as forces converge on the Wall and try to break through.  You’ve got the Others, who are basically the supernatural equivalents of the Walking Dead, and they are nearly unstoppable. Then you’ve also got Wildlings attacking, and Giants riding on mammoths barreling through.  It was never entirely clear to me just how serious the Night Watchmen’s oath to defend the Wall was until this book and these scenes.    What lies beyond the Wall is truly terrifying!)

Tyrion Lannister.  Tyrion, or the Imp as he is known, has always been somewhat of a sentimental favorite of mine.  Even though he’s a Lannister, who are probably the most hated out of all of the families in contention for the Iron Throne, Tyrion has always been somewhat of an outcast in his own family simply because he’s a dwarf.  He tries to protect Sansa when he sees Joffrey and others abusing her, and overall he just seems to have a good heart.  What really stood out for me in this book though is that Tyrion finally seems to have had enough of being shamed and name-called by his own family, by those people who should love and care for him even if everyone else is against him. And he snaps, revealing a much darker nature to his character than we have seen up until this point.

Daenerys.  There’s not much to be said here other than, like Arya Stark, Daenerys, the exiled Queen, goes full on badass in this book.  She’s coming for her throne and she has dragons(!) and an army, so everyone in her path had better watch out!  This was particularly exciting to me because I thought her story was kind of lame in the second book.  Martin more than makes up for it here though. Talk about strong female characters!

Brienne of Tarth.  God, I love this character so much! I love her strength and her fierceness and that she defies gender stereotypes. Most of all though, I admire her loyalty.  In a series that is so full of betrayal and deceit, Brienne is just so refreshing in that if she swears an oath, she is determined to keep that oath no matter the cost.  In this installment, she has sworn to Catelyn Stark that she will take their prisoner, Jaime Lannister, and journey to King’s Landing to return him to his family in exchange for Catelyn’s daughters, whom they believe the Lannisters are holding.  This journey doesn’t quite go according to plan and they face many unexpected obstacles, but Brienne never gives up.  As Jaime says on numerous occasions, she is the most stubborn woman he has ever known.  Brienne’s exchanges with Jaime are some of my favorites in the book.  They are humorous at times, but ultimately Brienne earns Jaime’s respect. And Jaime showing Brienne the respect she deserves actually serves to humanize Jaime quite a bit as well (although it did bother me how much he focused on her looks and couldn’t stop thinking about how ugly he thought she was).

Jaime.  Speaking of Jaime, how brilliant is George R.R. Martin that he actually turned one of my least favorite characters into one of my favorites this book?  If you had told me after the first book when Jaime throws a young boy out of a window and cripples him, that he would go on to become a character that I liked, I would tell you that you had bumped your head, but yet here we are.  Martin introduces Jaime’s point of view in this third book and as we see things from Jaime’s perspective, we suddenly understand that many of his actions along the way have not been as ruthless and unjustified as they initially seemed.  What he did to the boy is still unforgivable, but he has a lot more honor and integrity than we were originally led to believe.

DISLIKES?

My only complaint about this book is the length. Yes, the world building is incredible, but Martin does spend a lot of time describing details that probably could have easily been left out (i.e. bodily functions and whatnot).  I caught myself a few times along the way contemplating ways that the book could have been shortened without losing any important details.

FINAL THOUGHTS?

Just because these books are such a time investment, it will probably be a while before I move on to the fourth book in the series. That said, A Song of Fire and Ice is still one of the most brilliant fantasy series I’ve ever read and one that I would recommend to any mature reader.  I would not recommend it for younger readers because of the levels of graphic violence and sex.

 

RATING:  4.5 stars

four-half-stars

About George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin was born September 20, 1948, in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was Raymond Collins Martin, a longshoreman, and his mother was Margaret Brady Martin. He has two sisters, Darleen Martin Lapinski and Janet Martin Patten.

Martin attended Mary Jane Donohoe School and Marist High School. He began writing very young, selling monster stories to other neighborhood children for pennies, dramatic readings included. Later he became a comic book fan and collector in high school, and began to write fiction for comic fanzines (amateur fan magazines). Martin’s first professional sale was made in 1970 at age 21: “The Hero,” sold to Galaxy, published in February, 1971 issue. Other sales followed.

In 1970 Martin received a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, graduating summa cum laude. He went on to complete a M.S. in Journalism in 1971, also from Northwestern.

As a conscientious objector, Martin did alternative service 1972-1974 with VISTA, attached to Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation. He also directed chess tournaments for the Continental Chess Association from 1973-1976, and was a Journalism instructor at Clarke College, Dubuque, Iowa, from 1976-1978. He wrote part-time throughout the 1970s while working as a VISTA Volunteer, chess director, and teacher.

In 1975 he married Gale Burnick. They divorced in 1979, with no children. Martin became a full-time writer in 1979. He was writer-in-residence at Clarke College from 1978-79.

Moving on to Hollywood, Martin signed on as a story editor for Twilight Zone at CBS Television in 1986. In 1987 Martin became an Executive Story Consultant for Beauty and the Beast at CBS. In 1988 he became a Producer for Beauty and the Beast, then in 1989 moved up to Co-Supervising Producer. He was Executive Producer for Doorways, a pilot which he wrote for Columbia Pictures Television, which was filmed during 1992-93.

Martin’s present home is Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (he was South-Central Regional Director 1977-1979, and Vice President 1996-1998), and of Writers’ Guild of America, West.

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. “