ARC Review: All the Crooked Saints

ARC Review:  All the Crooked SaintsAll the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
three-half-stars
Published by Scholastic Press on October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

MY REVIEW:

All the Crooked Saints was my first time reading a Maggie Stiefvater novel so I wasn’t at all sure what to expect.  I’ve read tons of rave reviews about The Scorpio Races and The Raven Cycle though so I expected it to be a fantastic read.  All the Crooked Saints was actually one of my most anticipated fall reads because the synopsis just sounded so unique and intriguing.  With all of that said, it’s safe to say I really wanted to love this book.  While I definitely liked All the Crooked Saints, I unfortunately can’t say that I loved it.  It was a good, solid read with a focus on family that I really liked, but overall it just didn’t blow me away like I hoped it would.

All the Crooked Saints takes place in Bicho Raro, Colorado, which is shrouded in an atmosphere of dark saints, forbidden love, and so much more.  The novel follows the Soria family, a family where each of the members has the special ability to act as Saints and perform unusual miracles.  These miracles have become well known enough that pilgrims travel from all around in hopes of securing a miracle of their own from the Sorias to rid themselves of the darkness in their lives.  What they don’t know is that the miracles are two-fold, the Saint performs the first part of their miracle, which reveals their inner darkness, but then it’s up to the one receiving the miracle to somehow perform a second miracle, which actually rids them of that darkness once and for all.  What has started to happen over the years, however, is that people are having a harder and harder time figuring out the second miracle so the Soria household has started to accumulate an assortment of pilgrims that are caught in limbo between the first and second miracles.

Why can’t they just return to their lives and wait for the second miracle?  Well, because the darkness that is revealed by the first miracle sometimes manifests itself in strange ways.  For example, there is a young woman named Marisita who is wandering around with basically a rain cloud over her head.  It just rains on her all the time – when she sleeps, when she cooks, whatever. There’s also a man walking around that has the head of an animal and the body of a human. Needless to say, these pilgrims would prefer to hide out until their second miracle has been sorted.

So, why can’t the Sorias help them?  Well, that’s the catch.  If the Sorias interfere with any of the pilgrims, they unleash darkness on themselves and end up in exactly the same predicament as the pilgrims, if not worse.  Apparently the Soria darkness can be pretty dangerous and unpredictable when unleashed.

Although the pilgrims and their miracles are definitely a focus of the story, the heart of All the Crooked Saints truly centers around three Soria cousins — Beatriz, Daniel, and Joaquin — and the journey they are all forced to take when Daniel accidentally unleashes his own darkness and flees Bicho Raro to protect his family from it.  As determined as he is to keep them safe from him, they are equally determined to help him by figuring out a way around the rule that says they cannot help to get rid of the darkness. Will they succeed or will Daniel be lost to them forever?

 

Even though this was only an okay read for me, there were still several things about the book that I really did enjoy.  I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s three main characters, the Soria cousins. The relationship between the three cousins was probably my favorite part.  Beatriz believes that she has no feelings and therefore throws herself into science, technology, and examining her own thoughts.  She’s the brains of their operation and has helped Joaquin, who I’d call the Dreamer of the group, try to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a disc jockey.  She has built him an illegal radio station that they run out of the back of a box truck in the desert, and he spins records at night and calls himself Diablo Diablo.  Daniel is the designated saint of the group and so his focus is to grant miracles to all of the pilgrims who come to Bicho Raro.  I just loved each of their personalities.  They were all so complex, unique, and just really likable.  I especially enjoyed reading about how loyal they were to each other and how they were willing to risk everything to try to save Daniel.  Even though they were just cousins, the bond they shared felt like they were truly siblings.

I also enjoyed the overall plot of the story.  Sometimes magical realism is hit and miss for me but I liked how she incorporated it into this story and the way the various miracles manifested themselves with each of the pilgrims.  I liked the direction the story took when we move from showing how the Sorias create these miracles to what happens when they break one of their own rules and bring the darkness down onto themselves.

Lastly, I also thought Stiefvater’s writing was gorgeous, very lyrical and filled with vivid imagery.  Even though this story was just a ‘like’ for me instead of a ‘love,’ I wouldn’t hesitate to try one of her other series.

 

Slow pacing was an issue for me while reading All the Crooked Saints.  The story thankfully picked up a bit once Daniel got into trouble, but for the most part, it was just a slow read for me.

I also had some trouble keeping track of all of the characters. Between the various pilgrims, the three cousins, and all of the other assorted Soria family members, there were just a lot of people to keep straight.  With so many characters, it also made it harder for me to really connect with any of them as much as I would have liked to.  As I said above, I really liked Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel, but I still didn’t feel especially close to them because so many other characters were competing for my attention.

 

All the Crooked Saints is a book about love, family, miracles, darkness, and how to overcome that darkness.  Even though I had some issues with the story, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys magical realism or who just enjoys books that focus on family and the trials they go through together. I would also, of course, recommend it to Stiefvater fans.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Here is a thing everyone wants: A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears: What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Maggie Stiefvater has been called “a master storyteller” by USA Today and “wildly imaginative” by Entertainment Weekly. Now, with All the Crooked Saints, she gives us the extraordinary story of an extraordinary family, a masterful tale of love, fear, darkness, and redemption.

three-half-stars

About Maggie Stiefvater

New York Times bestselling author of The Shiver Trilogy, The Raven Cycle, and The Scorpio Races. Artist. Driver of things with wheels. Avid reader.

All of Maggie Stiefvater’s life decisions have been based around her inability to be gainfully employed. Talking to yourself, staring into space, and coming to work in your pajamas are frowned upon when you’re a waitress, calligraphy instructor, or technical editor (all of which she’s tried), but are highly prized traits in novelists and artists. She’s made her living as one or the other since she was 22. She now lives an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with her charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, two neurotic dogs, and a 1973 Camaro named Loki.

Alice Hoffman’s THE RULES OF MAGIC is truly spellbinding

Alice Hoffman’s THE RULES OF MAGIC is truly spellbindingThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Also by this author: Faithful
five-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on October 10th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 384
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.

MY REVIEW:

Last year I read and reviewed Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic on my blog.  As much as I enjoyed the read overall, I remember that my one disappointment was that I really wanted to know more about Sally and Gillian’s aunts.  The aunts just always seemed to pop up out of nowhere whenever they were needed and were just so mysterious and intriguing, even though they were only secondary characters.  At times I actually found myself more interested in the aunts than in Sally and Gillian.  I had no idea at the time I was writing about my thoughts on Practical Magic that Hoffman was already actively writing a prequel to Practical Magic that would give me exactly what I wanted, a back story for those two aunts.  There was actual flailing on my part as soon as I heard about The Rules of Magic and I was truly over the moon when Simon and Schuster provided me with an advance review copy.

So did The Rules of Magic live up to my expectations?  YES!  It was everything I wanted it to be and even more.  Memorable and loveable characters, gorgeous storytelling, and exquisite prose, The Rules of Magic truly has it all!

The Rules of Magic follows the Owens children, Franny, Jet, and Vincent as they are growing up in 1960’s New York City.  Their mother, Susanna, knows that her children are unusual, perhaps even dangerously so.  To keep them from drawing unnecessary and unwanted attention to themselves, Susanna has a list of rules that she insists they follow at all times:  no walking in the moonlight, no cats, no crows, no wearing black, no red shoes, and no books about magic.  And the most important rule of all, never ever fall in love.  That last rule dates all the way back to 1620, when their ancestor Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.  Ever since then, love has been a curse for the Owens family.  Susanna fights so hard to protect them from the curse because she herself has been a victim of it.

No matter how much Susanna tries to shield them, however, Franny, Jet, and Vincent soon begin to realize how different they really are and want to know more about themselves and about their family history.  Franny discovers that she can communicate with birds, Jet realizes that she can read other people’s thoughts, and Vincent finds he is able to charm anyone and everyone around him without even trying and sometimes whether he wants to or not.  They secretly begin to experiment more to see what other special powers they may have.  A trip to the town in Massachusetts where Maria Owens was charged with witchery leads the children to uncover old family secrets and thus to begin to understand the truth of who they really are.  Once they return to New York City, each of them begins their own potentially dangerous journey of self discovery.  They also learn that there is no way they can escape love and so must determine if there is a way to escape the family curse so that they aren’t doomed to be alone.

The Rules of Magic is a beautiful, heartwarming and, at times, heartbreaking story of family, love, loss, acceptance, and finding oneself.

 

The Characters.  Franny, Jet, and Vincent are just such wonderfully drawn characters.  I fell in love with them immediately.  Not only were they fascinating characters individually, but I also adored their sibling bond.  They’re all so loyal and protective of each other.  Watching Franny and Jet, in particular, and just knowing they would grow up to be the aunts in Practical Magic was just thrilling and made what was already a beautiful journey even more captivating.  I don’t want to give away any details about their individual journeys, but I’ll just say that Hoffman is a master storyteller and each journey is equally compelling and unique because each of the children feels differently about what their family history means and what their own powers mean.  I was so invested in each of them and hoping they would find a way to have everything they want.  When they were happy, I was right there cheering for them, and when they experienced tragedy, I grieved right alongside them.

Hoffman’s Prose.  Every time I read one of Alice Hoffman’s books, my immediate thought is “Man, I wish I could write like she does.”  And this book was no exception.  In fact, I was even more enamored than ever before by her writing.  Her prose is truly exquisite and even though I hate to sound cliché, it’s spellbinding.  The words just flow so smoothly and naturally and yet read like poetry all at the same time.  The Rules of Magic, in particular, is full of colors, smells, sounds, and beautiful images.  I felt like all of my senses were engaged the entire time I was reading.

The Setting.  We travel many places during the course of this novel – 1960’s New York, Massachusetts, and even Paris – and Hoffman captures the atmosphere of each location perfectly.  I especially loved the way she captured the lower Manhattan area and gave it such a forbidden, taboo quality.  Equally fascinating was taking us to the street in Massachusetts where the aunts lived in Practical Magic and showing how the Owens history permeates that entire area.  I also thought it was fabulous how Hoffman incorporates details from the Salem Witch Trials into her narrative, and especially her inclusion of John Hathorne, who was an actual judge during those trials.

Works Perfectly as a Standalone.  Even though this is technically a prequel of Practical Magic, the way Hoffman has written it, you don’t need to have read Practical Magic to enjoy The Rules of Magic.  Hoffman does a beautiful job of inserting some subtle nods to Practical Magic, which gave me a few OMG, YAY! nostalgic moments as I was reading, but The Rules of Magic is a beautiful story in its own right even without any ties to the other novel.

I could go on for days about all of the things I adored about this book, so I’m just going to stop now before I give away all of the important details, haha.

 

None! For me, The Rules of Magic is about as perfect as it gets.  It will definitely be on my list of favorite reads for 2017.

 

If you love stories about magic and witches, this is your book.  If you enjoy books about love, family, and finding oneself, this is your book.  And by all means, if you loved Practical Magic, you’re going to want to read The Rules of Magic.  It’s the prequel you probably didn’t even know you needed in your life.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. 

 

five-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.

Can’t Wait Wednesday – THE BELOVED WILD by Melissa Ostrom

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.  It is a meme that I have  loved participating in for over a year now, but as Jill is no longer actively posting, from now on I’ll just be linking to Can’t Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa, which is a spinoff of the original WoW meme.

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My selection for this week is THE BELOVED WILD by Melissa Ostrom. Being a huge fan of both Pride and Prejudice and Cold Mountain, I was immediately drawn to this novel when I read the blurb and saw this story described as Pride and Prejudice meets Cold Mountain.  How intriguing does that sound?  Plus, I’m a sucker for a great coming of age story!

 

 

THE BELOVED WILD by Melissa Ostrom

Publication Date:  March 27, 2018

 

From Goodreads:

Pride and Prejudice meets Cold Mountain in this debut YA American epic/adventure.

She’s not the girl everyone expects her to be…

Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. Her neighbor is Daniel Long, who runs his family’s farm on his own after the death of his parents. Harriet’s mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet isn’t so sure she wants someone else to choose her path—in love and in life.

When her brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him—disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited guests, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet comes of age, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she’s loved all along.

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I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your CWW selection for this week. 🙂

Top 10 YA Reads That Feature Badass Female Characters

top ten tuesday

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Ten Books That Feature Characters ____________: Examples: Ten books that feature black main characters, characters who hold interesting jobs, characters who have a mental illness, characters that are adopted, characters that play sports, etc, etc. Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

* * * * *

Okay, so I kind of cheated on this week’s topic.  Every other topic I could think of, I could only come up with 3 or 4 characters that fit the description.  I’m pretty sure I’ve done a post on strong female characters before so this time I decided to focus specifically on YA books.  The one cool thing is that since I’m constantly reading, I’m always coming across new badass female characters so my list of favorites is always changing.  My list this time contains a couple of long-time favorites but then also a lot of new favorites in the 2017 releases I’ve read.

 

Top 10 YA Reads That Feature Badass Female Characters

 

1. HERMIONE GRANGER from the HARRY POTTER series

 

Hermione is one of my long-time favorite badass female characters.  She’s smart, feisty, fierce, loyal, kicks butt when it comes to using her magic, and she loves books so of course I adore her.

 

 

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2. DELILAH BARD from the SHADES OF MAGIC series

 

She’s a knife-wielding thief who dreams of commanding her own pirate ship.  What could be more badass than that?  I’m really hoping Lila makes an appearance in Schwab’s new series.  I just finished Shades of Magic a few months ago and I’m already desperate for more Bard.

 

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3 and 4.  FEYRE & MOR from the A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES series

 

Some of the fighting scenes that features these ladies were my favorite moments from this series.  Both Feyre and Mor are forces to be reckoned with, each in their own way.  Feyre, in particular, achieved badass status not just because of the powers that she learned to wield throughout the series, but also because of the difficult sacrifices that she was willing to make for the greater good.

 

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5 and 6. INEJ and NINA from the SIX OF CROWS series

 

So far I’ve only read the first book of this series, so I’m hoping the second book holds true in that Inej and Nina are two of the most fabulously badass ladies I’ve come across in my reading this year.  Loved them both!

 

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7. EMIKA from WARCROSS

 

I fell in love with Emika from the very first scenes of Warcross. Not only is she a badass bounty hunter, but she is also a gifted hacker.  Her character is like an action hero in a video game setting. So exciting to watch her in action!

 

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8. XIFENG from FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS

 

Xifeng is a recent favorite of mine and she’s a bit different from the other female characters on my list because she’s technically a villain.  What elevates Xifeng to badass status for me is her willingness to do whatever it takes to remove all obstacles from her path to the throne.  She knows what she wants and goes for it, no matter what.  She can be a little scary at times, but I couldn’t help but cheer her on because of her fierce determination.

 

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9. VASYA from THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE

 

This book is one of my favorite 2017 releases so far and it’s primarily because I adored Vasya, the main character of the book, so much. Brave, fiercely protective of her family, and often quite wild and even defiant at times, Vasya has all of the qualities I look for in a heroine and I think everyone who reads the book will fall in love with her.

 

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10. KADY from ILLUMINAE


I loved Kady in this book because she’s what I would call a reluctant badass.  She is forced to become a badass in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds when the ship she is on is overrun by plague-infested zombies.  It’s truly thrilling to watch Kady in action in this book.

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Question:  Who are some of your favorite YA badass female characters?

Weekly Recap #19: Week of 9/17-9/23

 

Hey everyone!  It’s time for another weekly recap post of all things happening on and off the blog. This week I’ll be linking to the Sunday Post, which is hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer and to Stacking the Shelves, which is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews.

So, the highlight of this week, by far, was celebrating my son’s 10th birthday. Can’t believe he’s now into the double digits! He is really just growing up way too fast.  We’ve had a grand time celebrating though, with a birthday dinner on the actual day, lunch and frozen yogurt with Grandma yesterday, and then today we’ll cap it off with a party for him and his friends at the indoor trampoline park.  He has reached that age where he mainly just wants gift cards so that he can buy what he wants, which was hard for some of us to adjust to since we like watching him unwrap gifts, but I have to admit that it did makes everyone’s shopping a lot easier this year so no one complained too much, lol.

Ian also scored 3 goals at yesterday’s soccer game, so yet another fabulous way to celebrate his birthday.  He actually blew his dad and I away because, prior to yesterday, he had only scored 1 goal in all the years that he has played. His dad is his soccer coach and usually plays him in defensive positions so now he’s wondering if he has been playing him in the wrong position for all of these years.  I don’t know how to answer that, but from a proud mom perspective, seeing him play up front and score all of those goals and actually have his teammates looking for him so they could give him another chance to score was very cool.

Because of all of the party preparations, etc., I’ve gotten a little behind on my blog comments, which is funny since one of my main posts of the week was specifically about commenting on blogs, haha.  I’ll get caught up today after the party though so it’s all good.  I didn’t get as much reading done as I had planned to either, but I did manage to finish The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, which was a wonderful read, and now I’m working on All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.  Unfortunately, I’m struggling a bit with that one because of the pacing, but am still hoping to knock that out today so that I can move on to Dear Martin and Hillary’s new book, which I’m dying to read.  My mom started it yesterday and she said it’s a very good read, but that she actually has to keep setting it down and walking away because it makes her mad about the election all over again. I’ll be curious to see if I have a similar reading experience.

Not too much else is going on in my world.  I am excited about new fall shows starting up this week.  I don’t have too many shows that I watch, but I am looking forward to the Young Sheldon spinoff since I love The Big Bang Theory so much.

Anyway, I think that’s it for me.  Have a great week, everyone!

 

WHAT I POSTED LAST WEEK

 

WHAT I’M READING THIS WEEK

 

        

 

UPCOMING REVIEWS

 

         
 

STACKING THE SHELVES

 

  
 

TOTALLY RANDOM

 

ARC Review: The Blackbird Season

ARC Review:  The Blackbird SeasonThe Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti
three-half-stars
Published by Atria Books on September 26th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
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.

MY REVIEW:

Kate Moretti’s The Blackbird Season takes place in Mt. Oanoke, Pennsylvania.  Mt. Oanoke is one of those small towns where everyone knows everyone else and where pretty much nothing ever happens.  That is, until one day when a thousand dead birds plummet from the sky and land on the local high school baseball field.  Since most of the town was there to watch their baseball team and beloved teacher and coach, Nate Winters, play, the rumor mill starts running rampant right away, as everyone tries to make sense out of what has happened.  Some assume there is a logical explanation for the birds, while others see it is a bad omen, a sign of trouble to come.

Pretty soon, however, the mystery of the birds take a backseat when a news reporter prints a story alleging that Nate Winters is having an affair with one of his students, troubled teen Lucia Hamm.  Without giving him a chance to prove that the story isn’t true, everyone in the town immediately turns on Nate. He goes from being the hometown hero to the town outcast and ultimately loses his job over the alleged affair.  Lucia doesn’t help matters when she corroborates the story and tells everyone that she and Nate are in love, thus breathing even more life into this small town scandal and causing even Nate’s wife to question his innocence.

When, soon after, Lucia goes missing, all eyes turn to Nate as the most likely suspect and the reader is filled with questions:.  Is Nate actually guilty of having an affair?  If not, can he prove his innocence?  What has happened to Lucia? Did Nate have anything to do with that since she made him look so bad?  If the affair isn’t true, why would she lie about it?

 

One of my favorite parts of The Blackbird Season is the way in which the story is presented.  It’s a character driven mystery that is told from the alternating points of view of Nate, his wife Alecia, troubled student Lucia, and perhaps the only person in town who believes Nate is innocent, his friend and colleague Bridget.  I liked watching the story unfold in this way because as each piece of the puzzle is revealed, you get to see not only how Nate keeps getting himself into situations that make him look bad, but then you also get to watch those who are closest to him, his wife and his best friend, and their changing reactions when more and more details unfold about Nate and Lucia.  Then finally, you also have the perspective of Lucia and see some of her motivations behind her actions and why she keeps approaching Nate.

If you enjoy a suspenseful read, you’ll probably enjoy The Blackbird Season.  Moretti writes suspense very well and so there are lots of twists and turns along the way as we seek to unravel both the truth behind the alleged affair and the mystery of what happened to Lucia.  I liked that the story kept me guessing, so much so that I changed my mind about whether Nate was innocent or guilty every few chapters.  From that standpoint, it’s a wild ride and a solid read.

 

My biggest issue with The Blackbird Season was that this ended up being another of those books where none of the characters are very likeable or sympathetic.  Since I typically enjoy books more when I can connect with at least one character, this made reading The Blackbird Season somewhat challenging.  Nate Winters, in particular, just flat out got on my nerves.  As a teacher, he should know better than to be creeping around on the internet keeping an eye on his students.  Whether he means well or not, there’s no way that’s going to turn out well for him if other adults in the community find out.  He’s one of those characters that just constantly makes bad choices and does stupid things that make him look guilty even if he’s probably completely innocent.  If you’re being accused of sleeping with a student, for example, you don’t keep randomly meeting up with the student.  The man just had no common sense and was infuriating because of it.  I actually screamed at the book a couple of times because he was just so frustrating, lol.

I also wish the author had done a little more with the actual blackbird theme that runs through the book.  The opening scene with all of the dead birds plunging onto the baseball field was fantastic and set an ominous tone for what I thought was going to be an atmospheric and creepy read, maybe even a bit supernatural, but then it just kind of fizzled and was mentioned occasionally in passing – that scientists were investigating the bird deaths, etc.  Since more wasn’t made of it, it ended up just feeling unnecessary to the rest of the storyline and somewhat out of place, for me anyway.

 

If I hadn’t had the issue with not liking any of the characters, The Blackbird Season would have easily been a 4 star read for me.  Even with not liking any of the characters, I was still drawn in enough by the mystery of the dead birds, the small town skewering the town hero over his alleged affair with a student, and that student’s subsequent mysterious disappearance that I just had to keep reading to find out what happened.  If you enjoy a good mystery, I’d say The Blackbird Season is a good choice.  If, like me, you just really need at least one likeable character, this book may or may not be a good fit.  I hate to make the comparison since it’s so overdone, but if you enjoy books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you’d probably like this one too.  If not, I’d probably say to pass on it.

 

Thanks to Netgalley, Kate Moretti, and Atria Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book for review.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Known for novels featuring “great pacing and true surprises” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and “nerve-shattering suspense” (Heather Gudenkauf, New York Time bestselling author), New York Times bestselling author Kate Moretti’s latest is the story of a scandal-torn Pennsylvania town and the aftermath of a troubled girl gone missing.

“Where did they come from? Why did they fall? The question would be asked a thousand times…

Until, of course, more important question arose, at which time everyone promptly forgot that a thousand birds fell on the town of Mount Oanoke at all.”

In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alicia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alicia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.

Told from the alternating points of view of Alicia, Nate, Lucia, and Bridget, The Blackbird Season is a haunting, psychologically nuanced suspense, filled with Kate Moretti’s signature “chillingly satisfying” (Publishers Weekly) twists and turns.

three-half-stars

About Kate Moretti

Kate Moretti lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.

She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like.

Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.

Discussion Post: The Struggles of Blog Commenting and Why We Should Do It Anyway

 

Two of my biggest struggles since I started blogging have been coming up with topics for discussion posts and commenting on blog posts.  This week I decided to kill two birds with one stone and write a discussion post to share my thoughts on commenting on blog posts.  Smart thinking, right? LOL!

An incident this past weekend with my husband is what has inspired this post.  I was spending some time Saturday morning getting caught up on replying to everyone who had commented on my blog posts that week and then paying return visits to their blogs to see what they’ve posted since my last visit.  My husband, eager to get on with the rest of our weekend plans, was hovering and pacing and asking me why I was spending so much time doing what I was doing:  “Do you do this every week? For everyone who comments on your blog?  Why? That just seems like too much work.”

Why Commenting is so Important

Well yeah, he’s right (Shhh, don’t tell him I said that!).  Commenting is a lot of work and it does take a lot of time. But that said, unless you are just blogging for yourself and have no interest in becoming a part of the blogging community, I think it’s also one of the most important things that bloggers do.  It’s important, not just because it’s a way to show support to your fellow bloggers, but also because the more you comment and put yourself out there, the more your own blog is visible to others in the community.

I don’t mean to make that sound self-serving though; I just mean that there are a TON of blogs out there.  Unless you are extremely lucky, you can’t just start a blog and expect a Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come” moment.  No, with so many blogs out there, you have to do something to let people know that you’re out there too because it’s just so easy to get overlooked.  Commenting is a great way to put yourself out there and start building a rapport with your fellow bloggers.  It helps to build a sense of community rather than competition and I think that sense of community is important to many of us.

Arguments Against Commenting (And Why They’re Wrong):

 

  1. I don’t have time to comment on blogs. I’m too busy.

Although I can completely relate to this one, sorry, nope.  Because of the reasons above, you have to make the time, no matter how busy you are.  I’ll freely admit that, depending on how crazy my week is, sometimes it does take me a few days to reply to comments and pay that return visit to a commenter’s blog.  But aren’t we all busy?  I’m happy whenever I get comments back from fellow bloggers, whether it’s days or even weeks later, and I don’t think there are any bloggers out there who hold it against me if I don’t immediately reply to their comments either.

To help facilitate my blog commenting, I’ve actually started blocking out time for it on my calendar.  I try to do 30 minutes a night at least twice during the week and then I’ll spend up to an hour on Saturday getting caught up the rest of the way.  I used to just haphazardly comment here and there whenever I had a few minutes, but I feel more efficient and organized if I just build it into my daily routine.

I also prioritize when I comment. If you’re a regular visitor/commenter on my blog, you’re the first one I’m going to reply to and pay that return visit.

This is probably petty of me, but I will also stop commenting on a blog if I pay several visits and that blogger doesn’t reply to my comments or ever pay that return visit to my blog.  It takes me a while to get to that point, usually weeks or even months since I know people are busy, but it does occasionally happen.  It’s like I said above, there are just too many blogs out there and bloggers who want the interaction for me to waste my time on someone who clearly has no interest in me.  I remember when I first started blogging, I was regularly visiting a very popular blog and no matter how many times I commented on her posts, she never once acknowledged me.  I was also following her on twitter and I remember replying to a couple of her tweets and watching her go down the list of replies and skip right over mine to reply to her friends.  That elitist/clique-like mentality was a real turnoff for me so I unfollowed her everywhere and haven’t visited her blog since.

 

  1. I never know what to say on other people’s blogs.

As a socially awkward person, I can totally relate to this one as well. But that said, is there really a wrong kind of comment to make on someone’s blog? (Okay, well obviously you wouldn’t want to blatantly insult someone and call them the worst blogger on the planet, haha), but other than that, it seems like the field is wide open for you to say anything that pops into your head.  Well thought out comments are always nice, of course, but it’s just about being supportive so, for me, even a simple comment makes me happy.

 

  1. I don’t want to be the first one to comment on someone’s post.

I don’t subscribe to this idea, but I remember reading somewhere that people don’t generally like to be the first person to comment.  Maybe it’s just the way my blog is set up, but my first thought was ‘How would I even know if I’m the first or not?’ Because of all of the ridiculous spam out there, my blog is set to ‘moderate’ comments so that I can screen for spam and approve the legit comments.  For that reason, you might think you’re the first commenter but it really just means I haven’t had time to go in and approve any comments yet.

What I’m trying to say here is whether you’re the first or the 51st comment if you want to comment.  And so what if you are the first?  What’s wrong with being the first one?  If it’s someone new to the community or just someone who doesn’t get a lot of comments, you’re probably going to make their day. And I personally love the thought of making someone’s day. 🙂

 

  1. I don’t want to comment just to comment.

I find this relatable as well in the sense that not all blog posts easily lend themselves to comment, but you can still pretty easily work around this. In cases like this, however, unless I’m really crunched for time, I simply look around the person’s blog until I find a post that works better for me.

 

* * * * *

So there you have it, folks. My rambling, jumbled thoughts about commenting on blogs and why it’s such a crucial part of the blogging experience.  Now, since this is a post about commenting, how about you leave me a comment and share your thoughts on the subject. J

Can’t Wait Wednesday – Spotlight on THE WICKED DEEP by Shey Ernshaw

 

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.  It is a meme that I have  loved participating in for over a year now, but as Jill is no longer actively posting, from now on I’ll just be linking to Can’t Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa, which is a spinoff of the original WoW meme.

* * * * *

My selection for this week is THE WICKED DEEP by Shey Ernshaw.  I don’t know if it’s just because we’re moving toward fall and Halloween and so witches are on my mind, but everything about this story just appeals to me so much. I mean, seriously…condemned witches who come back from the dead once a year to exact revenge on the town that condemned them? Wow!

 

THE WICKED DEEP by Shey Ernshaw

Publication Date:  March 6, 2018

 

From Goodreads:

Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials in this haunting story about three sisters on a quest for revenge—and how love may be the only thing powerful enough to stop them.

Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

* * * * *

 

I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your CWW selection for this week. 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books On My Fall Reading List

top ten tuesday

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List, which gives us all a chance to share what we’re planning to read for the next few months.   

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I actually shared what I thought was going to be my Fall TBR back in August, but then somehow I managed to read almost all of the books on that list before fall ever got here so today’s list is my revised fall reading list, haha!  Because I’m such a mood reader, this list is subject to change at any given moment, but as of right now, here are 10 books that I’m determined to read this fall.

 

TOP 10 BOOKS ON MY FALL READING LIST

 

1. DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

2. CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

3.  WHAT HAPPENED by Hillary Rodham Clinton

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

4. WONDER WOMAN:  WARBRINGER by Leigh Bardugo

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

5. 27 HOURS by Tristina Wright

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

6. STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

7. THE TETHERED MAGE by Melissa Caruso

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

8. ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

9. ARTEMIS by Andy Weir

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

 

10. MURDER OVER MOCHAS by Caroline Fardig

(Find out what it’s about…)

* * * * *

Question:  What books are you planning to read this fall?  Are any of my titles on your list?

ARC Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

ARC Review:  Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. DaoForest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
four-stars
Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Published by Philomel Books on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
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.

MY REVIEW:

Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an engaging Snow White retelling that focuses on the Evil Queen and her rise to power.  The story is set in a lush East Asian fantasy world and follows the journey of eighteen year-old Xifeng, a peasant girl who has been told by her aunt Guma, a witch who has the ability to read tarot cards and predict the future, that she is destined to become Empress of Feng Lu someday.  While Xifeng finds the idea of becoming Empress enticing, her aunt has also told her that her path to the throne can only be secured if she is willing to embrace and use the dark powers that apparently lie within her.  She also must be willing to abandon all that she knows from her current life, including the young man she has loved since she was a young girl.  Xifeng must decide what is most important to her: Does she want power so badly that she is willing to give up on love?  And if so, does she have it in her to embrace this dark magic and whatever may come from unleashing it?

 

Xifeng, the “Evil Queen” character, was definitely my favorite part of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.  Wow, what a character! I can’t say that Xifeng was an especially likable character, but she was a complicated one and for me anyway, there’s just something so compelling about complex characters. Xifeng is conflicted between following her heart to be with the man she loves and following her ambition to become the next Empress of Feng Lu.  Because she has grown up poor all her life, the idea that greatness lies in her future is a huge temptation.  However, to become Empress and achieve this greatness that she appears to be destined for means that she must give up all that she has known from her former life, including the love of her life.  Dao does a beautiful job of depicting how this inner conflict plagues Xifeng throughout the novel.  Even as Xifeng seems to have made her choice and be firmly moving in the direction she has chosen, thoughts of what she’ll be giving up if she continues down that chosen path linger in her mind.

As I’ve said, Xifeng isn’t always a likable character and I’ll admit right now that I didn’t always agree with the choices she made, I do have to say that I admired her sense of cunning and her resourcefulness.  Once she makes her choice and is committed to it, Xifeng is determined to let nothing and no one get in her way.  I don’t want to give away any specific details, so I’m just going to say she’s not afraid to get a little blood on her hands if the situation calls for it.  This is a story about the rise of a villain, after all!  As I was reading and watching Xifeng hatch plan after plan to advance her objective, I just kept thinking “Okay girl, if you want it that badly, you go for it!”

A fabulous cast of secondary characters also rounds out this book nicely.  There’s Ambassador Shiro, a kind, elderly gentleman of dwarfish stature, who takes a liking to Xifeng and becomes a confidante and mentor of sorts. Then there’s the dashing and ambitious Emperor Jun, who Xifeng must use her beauty to win over if she is to become Empress, and the mysterious eunuch, Kang, who seems to be overly eager to become Xifeng’s bff when she starts working in the palace, which left me wondering throughout the story if his motivations were sincere or was he up to something?

We also have the delicate and nurturing Empress who Xifeng is also conflicted about, because at times she feels like the Empress is like the mother she never had, but then at other times, she knows the Empress must go if Xifeng is to follow her destiny and take her place.  And finally, there’s another of my favorite characters, Lady Sun, the Emperor’s favorite concubine and perhaps the biggest obstacle in Xifeng’s path to become Empress.  Lady Sun would love nothing more than to gouge out Xifeng’s eyeballs and send her packing.  Their rivalry makes for some very entertaining reading and those were the sections of the book that I really flew through.   I found all of the secondary characters to be so interesting; not one of them fell flat for me, which made for a wonderful reading experience.  I especially wanted to see more of Shiro

The world building in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is also rich and beautifully crafted, especially once Xifeng leaves her hometown to begin her new life at the palace working as a lady-in-waiting.  The story is steeped in Asian folklore and the overall effect was dark and mysterious and pure magic.  The Asian influences played such a predominant role in the story that I almost forgot at times that it was meant to be an Evil Queen retelling.  The world Dao creates is just so lush and unique that it doesn’t feel at all like a rehash of another story.

 

The only real issue I had with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was that the pacing was a bit uneven at times.  I breezed through the first 50 pages or so, but then the next 50 were a much slower read.  This happened a couple of times as I was reading.  Thankfully the story itself was still so interesting that I kept pushing through and never felt the urge to give up on the book even when the pacing lagged.

 

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a wonderful read that I think would be enjoyed by fans of both retellings and anti-hero stories.  While it does borrow the basic premise of the Evil Queen’s story, it still reads as a fresh and unique story on its own even without thinking of it in terms of the Evil Queen.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. 

 

four-stars

About Julie C. Dao

Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.