Book Review – Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Book Review – Faithful by Alice HoffmanFaithful by Alice Hoffman
Also by this author: Practical Magic
four-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on November 1st 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 272
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:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel.

My Review of Faithful:

Alice Hoffman’s latest novel Faithful focuses on Shelby Richmond and the painful and emotional journey that she takes after a car accident leaves her best friend Helene brain dead. Shelby, who was driving the car that night, comes away from the accident relatively unscathed, and so is wracked by tremendous guilt that she has, in essence, killed her friend. The guilt eats away at Shelby to the extent that she repeatedly tries to take her own life and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. Even after checking out of the hospital, Shelby still basically just withdraws from her life. She gives up on high school and going to college, shaves her head, takes drugs, and hides in her parents’ basement most of the time, avoiding human contact as much as possible. Helene may be in a coma and kept ‘alive’ only by life support, but Shelby is just a shell of herself as well.

I have to say that this is probably one of the hardest books I’ve ever had to read, not because it’s difficult or poorly written, but rather, because the way Hoffman gets into Shelby’s head and portrays that gut wrenching sense of loss and guilt is so powerful that I felt myself getting sucked down with Shelby. The writing is just that powerful and authentic. I actually had to stop reading for a while because it was so upsetting and emotional draining for me. I almost didn’t go back to it either, but I ultimately really wanted to know if Shelby was going to be okay or not.

Once I was able to continue reading, I was relieved to see that Shelby does eventually start to climb out of the pit of misery she was trapped in. Her journey in the second half of the book is still an emotional roller coaster at times, as the human experience often is, but with the help of some unlikely characters – a homeless girl with a tattooed face, a motley assortment of dogs, a mysterious guardian angel who sends her beautiful postcards encouraging her to forgive herself and live, and a best friend that she meets while working in a pet store – Shelby starts to figure out how to move on from the guilt that has enveloped her for so long.

What I Loved:

Shelby – With Shelby, Hoffman has created a protagonist that I can definitely relate to. That car accident is something that could happen to any one of us at any time and I think most of us would react in similar ways to how Shelby did. How do you live with yourself when you believe that you have destroyed someone else’s life?

The Dogs! – It’s probably crazy to say this, but the dogs are my favorite characters in the book. If ever there was a book that shows the healing power of pets, and especially dogs, it’s this one. Shelby might have rescued The General, Blinkie, and Pablo from the horrible environments they were living in, but those dogs saved her just as much as she saved them. They give her purpose and focus where she had none, and they give her someone to love who will love her back unconditionally.

Maravelle and her kids – Maravelle is Shelby’s best friend from her job at the pet store. She’s a single mom trying to raise three kids on her own and has her hands full. Even with all of that, she still befriends Shelby, this scrawny little bald-headed loner girl. Maravelle and her family basically become Shelby’s second family and in many ways help her way more than her own family ever could. Like those crazy dogs, they show Shelby how to live, love, and just connect with people again.

The Anonymous Guardian Angel – I found this character fascinating as well, especially trying to guess who it could possibly be. How does this person know what Shelby is going through? Why do they care? Why are they so determined to help her through her struggles? I thought Hoffman added an interesting twist by having this little thread of mystery flow through the story.

What I Didn’t Love:

It might upset some people when I say this and there are probably many who won’t be bothered by it at all, but I found the whole situation with Helene unsettling. Her parents are obviously not ready to say goodbye to their daughter, even though her injuries are such that there’s no way she’s going to recover. They choose to keep her on life support in a hospital bed in their home for years. Their home becomes little more than a shrine where people line up to see Helene and ‘interact’ with her because it is said that to do so makes miracles happen. I know it’s a personal choice and I couldn’t even say what I would do if my own child ended up like Helene, but it was just disturbing to read.

Who Would I Recommend Faithful to?

I would recommend this to any reader who likes a book that is going to make them feel. It’s an emotional roller coaster and it’s not for the faint of heart. When Shelby is low, she is about as low as it gets. If you’ve suffered a loss of your own and have come back from it, I think you would feel a kinship to Shelby and her journey.

Rating: 4 stars

four-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.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Book Review:  A Darker Shade of MagicA Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) by V.E. Schwab, Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)
four-stars
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Also in this series: A Conjuring of Light
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis: Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

My Review:

What an entertaining read! Thanks so much to Stephanie at Chasm of Books for hosting the giveaway in which I won this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in since I had never read anything by V.E. Schwab, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic. It contains all of the perfect ingredients for a fabulous fantasy read – immensely likeable protagonists, completely detestable antagonists, epic world building, magic that apparently has a life of its own, dangerous adventures and action-packed fight scenes, and just to make sure there’s something for everyone, even a little love story thrown in for good measure.

What I Loved about A Darker Shade of Magic:

The Many Sided Coat – It might sound silly, but that coat is seriously an effective attention grabber! Schwab captivated me immediately when she opens her novel by describing Kell and his mysterious coat of seemingly endless sides. Watching Kell manipulate the fabric and transform it into basically an entire new garment, my brain immediately kicked into high gear and I had questions that I wanted answers to. How can one coat be folded and refolded like origami into whatever style Kell requires at the moment? Why would Kell need such a coat? So, yes, silly as it may sound, the coat is what initially hooked me on this story. Bravo to the coat!

Kell – Kell is pretty much impossible not to like. He is charming and quirky and because he is also one of the last of his kind, the Antari, I immediately felt protective of him. He is also one of the most intriguing characters in the novel because of his unique ability to use his blood to create doors between worlds and travel through them. I also have no idea why, but every time I read about Kell, in my mind, he looks like Peter Pan, haha.

Lila – Lila is my spirit animal! Seriously, she is, without a doubt, my favorite character in ADSOM. How can you not love a young lady who is currently a thief but aspires to be a pirate? Lila is fiercely independent, brave, savvy, headstrong, dying for some adventure in her life, and just an all-around fabulous character.

The 4 Londons – I loved how Schwab takes a familiar setting like London, with all of its iconic landmarks, and uses it to build such a unique fantasy world. Instead of just one London, there are four of them, all existing simultaneously but on separate planes and each with different rulers and a different way of life. Red London is Kell’s world, a world where magic is respected, while Gray London is Lila’s world, a world where magic has been forgotten. White London is a dangerous world where monarchs murder their way to the top and where people fight to control magic. And finally, there is Black London, a world that is now forbidden because of something that went tragically wrong with magic there. Schwab lays them out geographically so that one travels from Gray to Red to White and then lies the forbidden Black.

Even though the Londons exist independently of one another now, they were once much more connected and even now, there is still communication between the Red, White, and Gray Londons, with the Antari serving as messengers since they can still move between the worlds. What we learn as we watch Kell travel from one to the other is that there is bad blood between Red and White Londons that stems from the trouble in Black London. When the trouble in Black London started to spread, rather than banding together with White London to fight it, Red chose to close itself off, leaving White to fend for itself. White London therefore maintains hostility towards Red, and so this bad blood is a contributing factor in the overall conflict of the novel.

I think Schwab does a fantastic job of weaving together these four separate Londons into a complex and intricate fantasy world. I haven’t been reading fantasy novels for long, but this is definitely one of the most interesting worlds I’ve encountered thus far in my reading adventures.

Living Magic – The dark magic, a black stone that has somehow been removed from Black London and brought to the other Londons, is seriously one of the coolest parts of the story. It creeps and slithers around, and behaves like a parasite looking for a host. It literally seeks out bodies to take over and then uses them up until they are nothing but ash. Just thinking about it made my skin crawl. It was so creepy, and yet, so fascinating to watch! I also liked that the stone acted like a siren, trying to seduce everyone who came into contact with it. Even Kell, as powerful as he is in his own right, has a difficult time fighting against the stone’s allure.

Themes – Loyalty and Sacrifice: These are two themes that really appealed to me as I read this story. I loved how Kell was willing to sacrifice himself, if necessary, to get the stone back to Black London where it could do no harm. I also thought it said a lot about Kell that he was willing to do whatever it took to save Rhy, who he loves like a brother. Lila also comes to embody loyalty and sacrifice as well when she repeatedly puts herself in harm’s way trying to help Kell.

Relationship between Kell and Lila – I got the distinct vibe that Kell and Lila could be moving in a romantic direction as we continue through the series, but I really liked that it was subtly presented in this first book and not at all a distraction from all of the epic action and adventures that were the story’s central focus. Romantically involved or not, Kell and Lila make a pretty amazing team and I’m looking forward to reading more of their adventures together.

Anything I Didn’t Love?

Pacing? – I can’t even really call it a dislike, but the pace of the early chapters was a bit slow for me. It makes sense in that Schwab is explaining the concept of the 4 Londons and how they relate to each, as well as introduce all of the story’s major players, but I still struggled a few times because I really wanted to get to the action. I will say though to anyone who starts reading and feels the same way – stick with it! The payoff is so worth it! Think of it like a roller coaster where you’re slowing climbing that first huge hill and then you go over the top and WHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! It’s like that 

Would I recommend this book?

Without hesitation! I think people new to fantasy would love it, as well as anyone who is already a fantasy fan. It’s just a hugely entertaining read!

Rating: A strong 4 stars!

four-stars

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.

All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to her PR rep, Kristin Dwyer, at: kdwyer@leoprny.com

About Victoria Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.
All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to either her agent, or one of her publicists:

Harper: Gina.Rizzo@harpercollins.com
Tor: Alexis.Saarela@tor.com

Book Review – The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger

Book Review – The Singles Game by Lauren WeisbergerThe Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger
three-half-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on July 12th 2016
Genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary Fiction
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.

 

Goodreads Synopsis:  The new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Devil Wears Prada and Revenge Wears Prada—a dishy tell-all about a beautiful tennis prodigy who, after changing coaches, suddenly makes headlines on and off the court.

Charlotte “Charlie” Silver has always been a good girl. She excelled at tennis early, coached by her father, a former player himself, and soon became one of the top juniors in the world. When she leaves UCLA—and breaks her boyfriend’s heart—to turn pro, Charlie joins the world’s best athletes who travel eleven months a year, competing without mercy for Grand Slam titles and Page Six headlines.

After Charlie suffers a disastrous loss and injury on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, she fires her longtime coach and hires Todd Feltner, a legend of the men’s tour, who is famous for grooming champions. Charlie is his first-ever female player, and he will not let her forget it. He is determined to change her good-girl image—both on the court and off—and transform her into a ruthless competitor who will not only win matches and climb the rankings, but also score magazine covers and seven-figure endorsement deals. Her not-so-secret affair with the hottest male player in the world, sexy Spaniard Marco Vallejo, has people whispering, and it seems like only a matter of time before the tabloids and gossip blogs close in on all the juicy details. Charlie’s ascension to the social throne parallels her rising rank on the women’s tour—but at a major price.

Lauren Weisberger’s novel brings us exclusive behind-the-scenes details from all the Grand Slam tournaments: the US Open, the French Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. Charlie Silver jets around the globe, plays charity matches aboard Mediterranean megayachts, models in photo shoots on Caribbean beaches, walks the red carpet at legendary player parties, and sidesteps looming scandals—all while trying to keep her eyes on the real prize. In this sexy, unputdownable read about young tennis stars who train relentlessly to compete at the highest levels while living in a world obsessed with good looks and Instagram followers, Charlie must discover the secret to having it all—or finally shatter the illusion for good.

 

My Review:

I wanted a light read to take with me on a recent weekend getaway.  I saw Lauren Weisberger’s The Singles Game on Netgalley and immediately requested it because I remembered how much I had enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada when it came out years ago.  Thanks so much to Netgalley, Simon and Schuster, and Ms. Weisberger for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this novel.

Let me start off by saying that The Singles Game fit my initial criteria for selecting it perfectly.  It was very entertaining and I easily breezed through it while on my weekend retreat.  If you’re looking for a fun weekend or beach read, I would highly recommend this one.  It’s like binge watching a show on Netflix – once you start, you won’t be able to stop. And I had no idea how racy the world of tennis could be!

 

What I Enjoyed about The Singles Game:

The Underdog Protagonist – Charlotte Silver, or Charlie as she is better known, is definitely my kind of protagonist.  I was hooked on Charlie and in her corner from the moment she went down on Wimbledon’s Centre Court with what could easily have been a career-ending injury.  The spunk and determination she displays as she fights her way back from her injuries and prepares to make her comeback on the pro tennis circuit is truly admirable and I couldn’t help but cheer her on, especially once I got a taste of Natalya, Charlie’s biggest rival on the circuit and about as nasty and conniving as they come.  Once you meet Natalya, you’ll want Charlie to make mince meat of her on the tennis court.

What I also liked about Charlie though was that she makes lots of mistakes along the way.  There’s no attempt here to make her a flawless heroine; she’s human just like the rest of us and like most of us, her judgment can be questionable at times.  As much as I cheered her on, there were also many times when I wanted to throttle her.  Her relationship with Marco is probably at the top of the list, followed by the crazy Warrior Princess image overhaul suggested by her new coach.  I really couldn’t believe she went along with that one – a tiara and a black bedazzled tennis outfit? I don’t know much about tennis, but do players actually wear outfits like that when they play?  All I kept thinking of was watching Katniss Everdeen getting outfitted for the Hunger Games ceremonies.  Weisberger does a very good job here of making me invested enough in Charlie that I want to jump in the book and yank the tiara off her head because I’m embarrassed for her.

Again, because it makes her human and relatable, I like that Charlie stops to re-evaluate her comeback as she begins to feel less and less comfortable with the direction she has taken and some of the choices she has made, and especially when she senses that her father is disappointed with some of her off-court antics.  I think losing sight of oneself is something a lot of us can relate to.  Is what we think we want worth all of the sacrifices we have to make in order to get it?

The Obnoxious Antagonist – Of course I’m talking about Natalya here.  I do love a character that I can hate and Natalya most definitely fits the bill.  She’s evil, conniving, ruthless, and basically has no redeeming qualities other than the fact that she is an amazing tennis player.  Believe me when I say you will loathe this girl.  I lost track of how many times I wished she would trip and fall when she would strut into events where 5-inch heels.

There’s a full assortment of unlikeable characters, such as Marco and Charlie’s new coach Todd, but Natayla takes the crown for being most unlikeable.

Lots of Drama (but the fun kind!) – We’re not talking life and death drama here. This is Chick Lit, after all, but let’s just say that Weisberger’s world of professional tennis has just as much going on off the court as on it between who’s sleeping with who and who’s cheating on who.  These athletes keep the gossip rags and the paparazzi very busy and will keep you turning the pages to find out how it all plays out and to see who gets left out in the cold.  Do nice guys and gals really finish last?

Weisberger’s Handling of the Tennis – Not knowing much about tennis, I was a little worried going in the book that I might find it a little boring, but Weisberger does a fantastic job of accurately portraying the details of the sports itself without making it dry for those who aren’t necessarily interested in the sport.

 

Potential Downsides to the novel:

Overall, I thought this was a really enjoyable read. There were, however, a couple of questionable areas for me.

Too Similar to The Devil Wears Prada? –  There were moments along the way when I kept thinking about how much this book reminded me of Weisberger’s earlier work.  The premise is very similar – for those who haven’t read The Devil Wears Prada, the protagonist is a girl who lands herself in an enviable job in the fashion industry.  The job, however, requires her to undergo such a radical transformation that she doesn’t recognize herself anymore and starts to question if the job is worth the cost to her sense of self.  That said, I can’t say that the similarity really hampered my enjoyment of The Singles Game at all, but I could see it perhaps bothering other readers who want something more original, less formulaic.

Predictable Romantic Ending:  Don’t get me wrong — I loved the way the novel ends for Charlie and couldn’t have asked for better, but I predicted how it would end as soon as the two characters met.  Again, it didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of the read, but I like a little more mystery and guesswork in my novels when it comes to romantic relationships and how they’re going to play out.

 

Would I Recommend The Singles Game?

Oh yes, definitely.  As I said earlier, I think The Singles Game is the perfect book to take with you on vacation or to the beach.  It’s a fun, fast read with plenty of dramatic and sexy twists and turns to keep readers engaged from cover to cover.

three-half-stars

About Lauren Weisberger

Lauren Weisberger was born March 28, 1977, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a locale recently made even more chic, if possible, by The Office. She was joined four years later by sister Dana, a.k.a. The Family Favorite, and moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, at age eleven. At Parkland High School, Lauren participated in all sorts of projects, activities, and organizations for the sole purpose of padding her college application, although she did genuinely enjoy playing varsity tennis (especially when the girl who should have played first singles incurred a season-ending injury and Lauren had no choice but to step in for the team).

Once matriculated at Cornell University, all civic-minded extracurriculars fell by the wayside. There, she focused her energy on securing a steady stream of fake IDs and dating boys from the right fraternities. After graduating in 1999 with a BA in English, Lauren moved home for the summer to save money and then traveled all over Europe, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Thailand, India, Nepal, and Hong Kong. She carried a single small backpack and stayed in questionable places, further enriching her authentic cultural experiences by eating only Nutella and drinking Coca-Cola Light.

Lauren’s first job after returning to the U.S. and moving to Manhattan was the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour. Lauren became proficient in the language of stilettos and Starbucks before moving to Departures magazine, where she wrote 100-word reviews by day and took writing classes at night. The Devil Wears Prada, begun at the Writer’s Voice, was published in April 2003, and spent six months on The New York Times Bestseller List. It was sold in thirty-one foreign countries and made into a major motion picture by Fox 2000 starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. Lauren has a half-second cameo in the film that even she is hard-pressed to locate after several viewings. Her second novel, Everyone Worth Knowing, was published in October 2005 and is also a New York Times Bestseller.

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise Kova

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise KovaAir Awakens (Air Awakens, #1) by Elise Kova
four-half-stars
Published by Silver Wing Press on August 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 377
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:

A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond…

The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.

My Review:

I went into Air Awakens not at all sure of what to expect. I had never heard of the series or the author Elise Kova before and had only purchased the book because it was the topic of an upcoming Books Are My Fandom chat. Sadly, my schedule did not allow me to finish the book in time to participate in the chat, but since then, I have finished reading Air Awakens. So what did I think of it? What a wonderful read this turned out to be! I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. I may not have heard of her before, but Elise Kova is on my radar now and I really cannot wait to read more of her books!

What I Loved:

Fascinating Main Characters:

Vhalla: What’s not to love about a socially awkward bookworm protagonist who learns she has magical powers? As soon as I read the line “Vhalla wasn’t exactly good at relationships as she preferred to spend more time with books than people,” that instantly made her a character I could relate to and I always prefer books where I make that kind of connection with the protagonist.

I also found her overall struggle very compelling. The search for identity and trying to figure out one’s place in the world is one of those universal themes that we can all relate to. In Vhalla’s case, the search for identity is compounded further by the fact that she has been told all of her life that magic is bad, something to be avoided and shunned. To embrace her magic abilities is to fly in the face of everything that she and her family and friends have ever known. How will those she loves react if she becomes a sorceress? As Vhalla says, “she would be eighteen and had never made a decision for herself that mattered.” And now she has to make a decision that could change the course of her entire life!

Aldrik – Aldrik is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the book. Even though he is the Crown Prince, he is still basically the black sheep of the royal family because of the stigma associated with magic. He’s dark and brooding and can also be condescending and a bit obnoxious. To further cloak him in mystery, throughout the kingdom, there are many rumors swirling around about terrible things he has supposedly done with his magic. Part of the fun of Air Awakens is actually trying to unravel the mystery of who Aldrik really is.

What you realize, especially once he meets and starts to interact with Vhalla, is that there is a lot more to Aldrik than meets the eye. As a sorcerer himself, Aldrik of course has his own motives for wanting Vhalla to embrace her magical abilities and at first, he forges full speed ahead with his agenda. The trouble Aldrik encounters, however, is that when he’s with Vhalla, he always seems to say and do the wrong thing, even endangering her life at one point because he acts recklessly in pursuit of his goal. Aldrik is horrified by his own actions and when he goes to Vhalla to apologize, he starts to let his guard down and we see a whole different side of him – a side that makes him much more endearing both to Vhalla and to the reader.

Baldair – Baldair, or the Heartbreaker Prince, is basically the polar opposite of his brother, Aldrik. Where Aldrik is dark and brooding, Baldair is golden and a huge flirt. Where dark rumors about magic surround Aldrik, gossip about romantic conquests surround the royal family’s golden boy. On the surface Baldair appears to be all fluff and little substance, but yet something about his relationship with his brother really intrigues me. I can’t tell exactly where they stand with one another and that adds a layer of complexity to everything Baldair does, especially when it comes to Vhalla, whom he really has no reason to interact with at all, yet goes out of his way to do so. Does he like Vhalla? Is he being nice to her to get under his brother’s skin? Is there more to it than that? I’m hesitant to boil it down to just being a love triangle, because it seems like something more is going there. I’m hoping future books in the series will unfold the exact nature of the relationship.
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four-half-stars

About Elise Kova

Elise Kova has always had a profound love of fantastical worlds. Somehow, she managed to focus on the real world long enough to graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration before crawling back under her favorite writing blanket to conceptualize her next magic system. She currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and when she s not writing can be found playing video games, watching anime, or talking with readers on social media. She is the author of the Air Awakens Series as well as the upcoming Loom Saga (Keymaster, 2017).

Book Review – All the Missing Girls

Book Review – All the Missing GirlsAll the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
three-half-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on June 28th 2016
Genres: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
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.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Like the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.

My Thoughts on All the Missing Girls:

What first attracted me to Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls was hearing that it’s a psychological where the story is told mostly in reverse. I just couldn’t imagine how that was going to work – if it was going to work – but I had to further investigate. I’m therefore very grateful to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity to read and review the book. Since it’s a mystery and I don’t want to give any details that would spoil the reveal at the end, my review will be somewhat general.

I very much enjoyed the story as a whole, especially the fact that it’s packed full of twists and turns that truly kept me guessing all the way to the end. Every time I thought I had it figured out, another clue would surface and I would realize how completely wrong I was. Major props to Megan Miranda for creating such a suspenseful and unpredictable storyline.
The unreliable narration added an extra level of complexity to the mystery as well because – really, how can you fully trust the story you’re being fed if the narrator says she is trying to find out what happened to the missing girls, but who all the while is also actively hiding and/or destroying potential evidence that could really lead to the truth. Was her goal really to find the truth or was it to bury the truth? Even once I got to the end of the book, I still wasn’t 100% convinced that I had all of the facts about what had happened and who was really behind it.

When it comes to the reverse story telling, I have somewhat mixed feelings, which is ironic since that’s the element that initially drew me to All the Missing Girls. Starting 15 days out and backtracking toward the moment of Annaliese’s disappearance is definitely an inventive way to present the facts of the missing persons case and I liked how with each day that we passed back through, some new information would be revealed that would suddenly add new meaning to the chapter that preceded it. It took some getting used to and was a little confusing at first, which frustrated me because it slowed down my reading, but once I acclimated to it, I enjoyed the unique perspective.

The one downside for me was the sparse character development. Some of the characters, even Nic to an extent, didn’t feel fleshed out for me. Aside from the fact that they all obviously had ties to the missing girls, they all grew up in this same small town, and none of them were especially likable, I never felt like I had much of a connection to them. In that sense, the book reminded me a lot of a procedural crime drama, like a CSI or Law and Order, where it’s all about following the evidence and solving the mystery and not so much about the actual characters. Maybe that’s the point, but I would have loved to know a little more about each of the characters involved. That would have made it a 4-star read for me for sure.

Would I Recommend All the Missing Girls?

Oh yes, definitely! Even with the couple of issues I had with it, I still thought it was a very entertaining read. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys suspenseful reads with lots of plot twists like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. I’m sure those comparisons have probably been overdone already but they really are the best ones I can think of that offer a similar style of mystery.

All the Missing Girls is due out on June 28, 2016.

three-half-stars

About Megan Miranda

Megan Miranda is the author of the young adult novels FRACTURE, HYSTERIA, VENGEANCE, and SOULPRINT (all from Bloomsbury). Her next young adult novel, THE SAFEST LIES, will be published by Crown BFYR/Random House in May, 2016. Her debut adult suspense novel, ALL THE MISSING GIRLS, will be published by Simon & Schuster in June, 2016. Megan has a degree in Biology from MIT and currently lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and two children.

Book Review: Lilac Girls

Book Review:  Lilac GirlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Also by this author: Lost Roses
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on April 5th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 496
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.



My review:

Let me just start off by simply stating wow, what an incredibly moving read! I honestly don’t think a book has ever made me shed so many tears! If Lilac Girls doesn’t end up on all of the ‘Best of 2016’ book lists, there is just something wrong with this world.

Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel Lilac Girls is a powerful and beautifully written exploration of how women in particular were impacted by the atrocities committed by the Nazis during WWII. The primary setting of the novel is the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck and its primary focus, the women — primarily Polish political prisoners — who were detained there, with special attention paid to those known as the “Ravensbruck Rabbits”, a group of prisoners who were experimented on against their will by Nazi doctors.

One of the most compelling qualities of Lilac Girls is its brilliant portrayal of the strength and courage of the Ravensbruck prisoners. Up against inhumane treatment and almost certain death, they demonstrated such resilience, determination, and even at times, defiance, that it just blew me away. I found the sisterhood they created for themselves within the camp very moving as well – the way they worked so hard to keep hope alive, no matter how hard the Nazis tried to dehumanize them and strip that hope away.

The strength that the women imprisoned at Ravensbruck displayed, especially considering what they were up against, just blew me away, as did Caroline Ferriday’s efforts to fight for those who had been forgotten once the war was over. Caroline, who had already devoted much of her time to fighting for French children who had been orphaned by the war, made it her mission to get the “Ravensbruck Rabbits” both the medical attention that they desperately needed after being experimented on by the Nazis, as well as the justice they deserved. As many tears of sadness and outrage as I cried watching those women suffer at the hands of the Nazis, I have to say I shed an equal number of tears of joy at what Caroline is able to make happen for them. Her determination to make sure they aren’t forgotten was so inspirational.

I also very much liked the three-pronged narrative approach. I thought it really added a lot of emotional depth to experience WWII firsthand from these three very different points of view: 1) Kasia, a Polish woman who is actually imprisoned and experimented on at Ravensbruck, 2) Herta, a female German doctor who actually performed experiments at the camp, and 3) Caroline, a non-European who is watching from afar but who has a personal stake in the war not just because of the orphans she is trying to take care of, but also because the man she loves, a French actor, was rounded up and imprisoned in a camp when the Nazis invaded France.

The perspective that was most troubling for me to read, yet added a lot to the story, was Herta’s. What we see through her eyes is that even though she is a German, as a woman, she is still deemed as inferior to the men, as someone who should just have babies to help with the “purification” of their race. Although she is training to be a doctor, the Nazis frown upon women being doctors and so the only job she can find is the one she ends up with at Ravensbruck. What she does to the “Ravensbruck Rabbits” is clearly unconscionable and unforgivable, but it was interesting to see how she ended up where she did and what her motivations were. I thought it humanized her a bit. Her actions and her own prejudices toward anyone who wasn’t German ultimately kept me from feeling any sympathy toward her, especially her belief that she was helping her people by experimenting on the “Rabbits”, but her point of view is unique in that it’s one we don’t often see in WWII stories – that of the perpetrators of the atrocities.

Not only is this a very compelling story, but for me anyway, Lilac Girls is very educational. I was not at all well educated about the Iron Curtain and what happened to Poland after WWII ended and I also had no idea who Caroline Ferriday was, so I was grateful to Martha Hall Kelly for her extensive research in planning this novel. I would also recommend to anyone who reads Lilac Girls to also read her notes at the end as well – they add a lot to the story itself and elaborate on what was fact versus what was fiction. That said, she did a marvelous job blending the factual with the fiction to create one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

So, who would I recommend Lilac Girls to? Because of the way it shines a light on the way Poland and the “Ravensbruck Rabbits” were all but forgotten after the war ended, this is one of those important books that I would recommend to anyone and everyone. I would also highly recommend it as a must-read for anyone who loved Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale or Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. If you were moved by those stories, this one will not disappoint.

five-stars

About Martha Hall Kelly

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is excited to share the prequel, Lost Roses, coming this April and is thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true stories behind both books at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com and clues about the prequel Lost Roses on her ever-changing Pinterest page.

Book Review: Glass Sword

Book Review:  Glass SwordGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
Also by this author: Red Queen
three-stars
Series: Red Queen #2
Published by HarperTeen on February 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different. Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.


My Review of Glass Sword:

For those familiar with the Red Queen series, the second book Glass Sword picks up right where the first book leaves off. The “little lightning girl” Mare Barrow and fallen Prince Cal have escaped from King Maven and his silver minions, and along with members of the Scarlet Guard, they’re on the run. Aveyard sets a fast and exhilarating pace from the first page as the band of rebels flee to safety and then regroup to devise their own plan of attack against Maven. The action-packed conclusion of Red Queen was my favorite part of that novel, so I was very excited to see there was no gap in the action between the two books.

The first mission at hand for the band of rebels is the list that Mare’s mentor, Julian, had given her before Maven had him killed – a list of what they have now dubbed ‘New Bloods’. These ‘New Bloods’ are others who are just like Mare – red blooded but with Silver abilities. Mare and the others know that since Maven is determined to prove that she is nothing more than a fraud with no special abilities, then he will try to find and eliminate everyone on that list to hide the fact that ‘New Bloods’ actually exist.

The story then becomes a race against time for Mare and the Scarlet Guard to find each New Blood first and to hopefully recruit them to their cause. With an army of New Bloods on their side, the odds of stopping Maven become much greater. This sounds exciting, and at first it is, as each ‘New Blood’ is found and we learn what their special powers are. However, and maybe it’s just me and my impatience, but after a few journeys to find, save, and recruit, I got bored and just wanted to fast-forward to when all of the ‘New Bloods’ had been located so that I could just move along with the rest of the plot.


Okay, so what did I really like about Glass Sword?

Backstory on Farley – Farley is still my favorite character so I love that I got to learn a lot more about her in this book.

Cal – I didn’t really think Cal was all that in the first book, but he’s really starting to grow on me in this one. He’s a bit of an enigma now that he has lost everyone and everything he held dear and we get to see a side of him that we haven’t seen before as he’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants. Will he help Mare and the Scarlet Guard or will he ultimately side with his Silver brethren if they will take him back? Only time will tell, but I like the developments in this character and want to see more of him.

New Blood super powers – I know I said I got bored with the actual tracking down of the New Bloods, but that said, the powers they possess are awesome! Aveyard seems to come up with an endless supply of super cool abilities for our rebels. Among others, there’s a chameleon, one who can manipulate gravity, and another that can create optical illusions. The powers are very different from the brute force, X Men like powers we saw in ‘Red Queen’ and seem sure to come in handy in a death match versus King Maven and his army of Silvers.

The ending! – I don’t want to give it away, but the ending is cliffhanger of epic proportions. In spite of my disappointment with certain aspects of ‘Glass Sword’, the ending alone makes me want to get my hands on the next book as soon as possible.


And what didn’t I like about Glass Sword?:

Aside from the repetitive nature of the recruiting missions I already mentioned, there was one other problem area for me and I hate to say it, but it’s Mare. I don’t know why, but I’m just not feeling the connection to her that I think I should be feeling, especially since she’s the protagonist. I don’t want to say that I don’t care what happens to her because that’s not true, but there is still something about her that frustrates me to no end. I understand that she’s in turmoil because of what has already happened to her and because of her fears about what she could become in her quest to defeat Maven – the fact that she would be responsible for not only taking lives herself, but also for potentially sacrificing the lives of those around her. I get it; I really do.

However, her constant running internal dialogue about it drove me crazy after a while, especially her repetitive bemoaning of the fact that she misses her Maven – the boy she thought Maven was before he turned out to be such a complete and utter monster. I really just wanted to scream at her Cher-style: “Snap out of it!” So, yeah, even though I truly do love Mare’s badass side and want her to rise up and defeat Maven, I really need her to hurry up and move past the whole ‘missing Maven’ thing and get focused on the task at hand.


Would I recommend Glass Sword?:

Well, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Even with my disappointments though, the overall story still has potential to be pretty amazing if I could just find a way to better connect with Mare. I’m still hopeful this will happen as she grows more into her role. Even if that doesn’t happen though, I’m still committed enough to the story to want to see how it ends and, for that reason, would definitely still recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book.

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Victoria Aveyard

In her own words:

“I’m a writer repped by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. I split my time between my hometown East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. After graduating with a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My debut RED QUEEN came out of the terrifying, unemployed year after college. The sequel GLASS SWORD released in February 2016.

Currently I’m working on the third book in the RED QUEEN series, along with pursuing other projects in literature and film. My proudest achievements are riding a horse in the mountains of Montana and navigating from London to Edinburgh without GPS.”

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review:  Fangirl by Rainbow RowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
four-stars
Published by Pan Macmillan on January 30th 2014
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 461
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible …A tale of fanfiction, family, and first love.



My Review:

I have to say I LOVED Fangirl. I think it’s one of those books that is going to resonate with a lot of readers because of how ‘real’ the story and its characters are. Going off to college is one of those major milestones in life that most of us can relate to and so college makes the perfect backdrop for a coming of age story, which is basically what Fangirl is.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Fangirl is how perfectly Rainbow Rowell captures the entire college freshman year experience. Even though it has been more years than I care to think about since I graduated from college, she transported me right back in time to my first day as a freshman – to the awkwardness of meeting my roommate for the first time as well as the terrifying knowledge that I was completely on my own as soon as my family drove away from the campus.

In addition to her ability to transport me back to my own college days, Rowell also creates such relatable characters that it’s just so easy to see yourself and maybe even your friends in them. I don’t know that I have ever identified with a fictional character as much as I identified with Cather Avery (or Cath as she calls herself). I felt an immediate kinship to Cath as soon as I realized that, like me, she is both a writer and an introvert. Cath’s awkwardness was a bit more extreme than mine, but I could still see myself in her utter cluelessness when it comes to making friends and interacting with boys that she likes, as well as in her reluctance to engage in any and all social activities. Aside from the actual fanfiction thing, which, to my knowledge, didn’t exist when I was in college, the whole time I was reading I kept thinking that this could have easily been a story about me! From the moment I felt that connection, I just had to know how things were going to turn out for her. Pulled out of her comfort zone, would she be able to discover her own true identity? Not fanfiction-famous writer ‘Magicath’ and not one half of the Cather-Wren twins, but just Cath?

Cath is not the only awesomely relatable character that Rowell creates. There’s also Reagan, who is Cath’s roommate, and Levi, who went to high school with Reagan and so is always hanging around their room. I think EVERY introvert needs a friend like Reagan. For the most part, Reagan just lets Cath be Cath, but occasionally she does step in and stage a much-needed intervention to make Cath look up from her fanfiction and interact with the world outside. Cath and Reagan actually first bond when Reagan realizes that Cath has been living off nothing but protein bars for days and days. When she asks Cath why and Caths’s response is that she doesn’t know where the cafeteria is, Reagan just shakes her head and drags Cath down to the cafeteria where they eat together and eventually become friends.

And then there’s Levi. He’s blonde, cute, lovable, loyal, goes out of his way to be friendly with anyone and everyone, and will do anything to please those he loves. Ha, when you put it that way, he kind of sounds like a golden retriever! I love Levi not just because he reminds me of a golden retriever, but because of the way he accepts Cath’s fanfiction addiction. He sense that it gives her comfort in a world where she is otherwise completely ill at ease and so, being the nice guy that he is, he doesn’t belittle her and make her feel deviant for it. In fact, he even encourages her and has her read her chapters to him. Just like every introvert needs a Reagan, I think every introvert could use a Levi as well.

Although the overall tone of the novel is fairly light and often humorous, Rowell also weaves in just enough drama to make Fangirl a page-turner. There are strained family relationships as Wren pulls away from Cath, and again when the mother who had abandoned them when they were small children randomly tries to re-enter their lives. There is also concern for Cath and Wren’s father who suffers from a mental illness. Although he is usually fine and able to control his symptoms, it is still a concern for the girls since they have moved out and left him on his own. Again, although these elements are designed to add drama to the story, family relationships and their complications are something that we can all relate to. It’s almost a universal truth – if you have family, at some point there will be drama that you have to deal with.
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four-stars

About Rainbow Rowell

Sometimes she writes about adults (Attachments and Landline). Sometimes she writes about teenagers (Eleanor & Park, Fangirl and Carry On.). But she always writes about people who talk a lot. And people who feel like they’re screwing up. And people who fall in love.

When she’s not writing, Rainbow is reading comic books, planning Disney World trips and arguing about things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

She lives in Nebraska with her husband and two sons.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls – Book Review

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls – Book ReviewBurying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter
Also by this author: The Weight of Lies
four-stars
Published by Lake Union Publishing on April 26th 2016
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 310
Source: Netgalley
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.

Synopsis:

Don’t let that bright and serene cover fool you — Emily Carpenter’s debut novel “Burying the Honeysuckle Girl” is a dark and riveting mystery filled with betrayal, scandalous family secrets, and political intrigue. At the heart of the novel are four generations of women, three of whom all mysteriously died when they turned 30 years old after being committed to Pritchard, a hospital for the mentally ill. The fourth generation is Althea Bell, who is the protagonist of the novel. Haunted all her life by the circumstances surrounding her mother’s premature death, and by the idea that she could suffer a similar fate, Althea has turned to drugs to ease her pain and calm those fears.

When the novel opens, Althea is returning to her family home in Alabama to visit her father after a year-long stint in rehab. As soon as she enters the home, she is met with open hostility by her brother, Wynn, and his wife. It is crystal clear that Wynn, who is running for political office, wants nothing to do with Althea, the black sheep of the family. Driven by those political ambitions, Wynn has plans to get rid of Althea so that there’s no way she can embarrass him while he’s on the campaign trail. He informs Althea that because she is clearly still sick and because of the history of mental illness in the women in their family, he has made plans for her to continue her therapy – with an extended visit to, of all places, Pritchard. Desperate to keep Wynn from imprisoning her against her will and equally determined, especially as her own 30th birthday approaches, not to suffer the same fate as her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, Althea sets out to discover the truth of what really happened to each of them when they reached the age of 30.

My thoughts on Burying the Honeysuckle Girls

Overall, I thought this was an entertaining read. Carpenter grabbed my attention right away with the face off between Althea and her brother Wynn in the opening scenes. Wynn is clearly such a power hungry jerk that I couldn’t help but root for Althea to beat him at his game and come out on top. I always love a story where there’s an underdog to cheer for.
Aside from being the underdog, Althea is truly just a likeable character in general. She definitely has her flaws and her weaknesses because of all of the emotional baggage she has carried with her all these years, but she gets stronger and stronger throughout the novel as she moves closer to the truth. She is also very resourceful and proves that she can be a badass when the situation calls for it, especially when she realizes what she is up against – namely, the fact that there are some folks who have a lot to lose if the truth gets out and so are determined to stop Althea – no matter what.

“Burying the Honeysuckle Girls” also appealed to me because of its fast, beat-the-clock pace that Carpenter has created and the many twists and turns the story takes as Althea frantically races around Alabama piecing together her family’s history. Althea runs into obstacles at almost every turn – missing death certificates, missing grave sites, very few people who are actually willing to talk to her, as well as too many people who are clearly under Wynn’s thumb.

This was a real page turner for me because there were so many questions that I wanted answers as I followed Althea’s investigation: Will she solve the mystery before her 30th birthday? What will happen to her if she doesn’t? Why was 30 the magic number for whatever happened to them? Were the women in her family really ill at all? Or maybe it’s actually Wynn that’s mentally unstable? Carpenter even manages to successfully weave in a hint of possible supernatural activity that further shrouds the women’s family history in mystery and makes it an even more intriguing puzzle to piece together. I don’t want to give anything away since this is a mystery novel, but I will say that what Althea discovers is more shocking than anything I could have possibly imagined.

Overall, I’d say this is a very solid effort for a debut novel and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a hell of a ride!
Thanks so much to Netgalley, Emily Carpenter, and Lake Union Publishing for allowing me to preview this great read!

Rating: 4 stars

four-stars

About Emily Carpenter

EMILY CARPENTER, a former actor, producer, screenwriter, and behind-the-scenes soap opera assistant, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in Georgia with her family. BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS is her first novel. You can visit Emily online at emilycarpenterauthor.com.

Book Review: All the Bright Places

Book Review:  All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Also by this author: Holding Up the Universe
five-stars
Published by Knopf on January 6th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Library
Goodreads

Synopsis & Review:

With its realistic and honest portrayal of someone living with a mental illness, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is one of the most moving and thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read. I finished reading it a couple of nights ago and have been trying to gather my many thoughts about it ever since in hopes of doing justice to not only how beautifully written this story is, but also to how important it is because of the major issues that it highlights such as mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it, as well as teen suicide and bullying.

At the center of All the Bright Places are Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two high school seniors who on the surface appear to be complete opposites. Theodore (or Finch as he is called by pretty much everyone) is bit of an outcast, often referred to as a freak or weirdo by his classmates. He spends most of his free time either writing music or fantasizing about death, in particular all of the possible ways he can end his own life. At the opposite end of the social spectrum is Violet, who is attractive, popular, and a member of the cheerleading team.

This unlikely pair becomes connected in the novel’s opening scene which takes place on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Plagued by an unnamed condition which he says makes him “sleep” for weeks at a time, Finch has climbed up there to contemplate what it would be like to commit suicide by jumping off the tower. He decides this would probably not be his preferred method, but as he turns to leave, he unexpectedly encounters Violet, who has apparently been having suicidal thoughts of her own. We then learn that Violet has recently suffered a tragedy that she can’t seem to get beyond – the death of her older sister and best friend Eleanor. Because she feels like she is just drowning in her grief and unable to move forward, Violet is having suicidal thoughts.

Finch, his own thoughts of suicide momentarily forgotten, does everything he can to talk Violet down to safety. He then dedicates himself to helping Violet overcome her thoughts of suicide. Although she is initially reluctant to even associate with Finch because of his reputation as a ‘freak’, Violet finally gives in and agrees to work with him on a school project which requires them to journey around their home state taking in its “natural wonders”.

The bulk of the novel focuses on the relationship between Violet and Finch as they work on this project and really get to know one another. Their journey together is an emotional roller coaster – it will make you laugh and it will bring you to tears, but what they find along the way is that they can draw strength from each other as they each battle their demons. Finch really pushes Violet to start working through her grief and seeing that her own life is worth living, and Violet helps Finch in that he can let his guard down around her and just be himself. As he focuses his attention on Violet, he becomes more and more determined not to let the ‘sleep’ take him again.

What I loved about All the Bright Places:

I think what makes All the Bright Places such a powerful read is that by having Violet and Finch tell their story, Niven takes us directly into the minds of these two troubled teens. We experience firsthand exactly what Finch and Violet are feeling as they think about killing themselves and what goes through their minds as they struggle just to exist from day to day. We’re seeing what Finch and Violet have been trying so hard to hide from their parents, friends, teachers, and counselors. It’s raw and unfiltered emotion and it will definitely make you think twice when you look at someone and assume that you know what they’re going through when you really have no idea what’s going on in their head or how much they might be struggling even though they’re trying to put on a brave face.

I also loved that Niven makes Finch the voice for those who are afraid to seek help for mental illness because they fear being labeled as “mentally ill”. He’s such a likeable and relatable character that we as readers desperately want him to get the help he needs, but at the same time, he makes us see why it’s so hard to do so. Finch embodies the fear that if diagnosed, in the eyes of others, he will become that diagnosis and nothing more:

“Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.”

Finch even takes this a step further in the sacrifice that he makes for Violet, even when he barely knows her. When he talks Violet down off that ledge, he lets everyone believe she is the one who saved him rather than the other way around. He knows firsthand how crippling labels can be and he wants to protect her from that. So he takes on the label that would have otherwise have been given to her. He’s the suicidal one, not her. It’s a touching gesture.

‘All the Bright Places’ is such an important book because it shines light on the very problematic issue that a person would contemplate suicide rather than seeking medical help for mental illness. That should not be the case at all and it’s something we as a society, starting with our young people, need to address.

This is also a book that I wish had been around when I was teaching high school because of the way it spotlights the potential consequences of bullying. Because the characters in ‘All the Bright Places’ are so easy to relate to (Didn’t we all go to school with a Roamer, the guy who just lives to build himself up by putting others down?), I think this book could start a much needed dialogue in schools to educate students about the power of words. In this day and age when teen suicide rates are so high and school shootings are so prevalent, you just never know if your words are going to be the ones to push someone over the edge.
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five-stars

About Jennifer Niven

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places was the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015, and named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, the Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, YALSA, Barnes & Noble, BuzzFeed, the New York Public Library, and others. It was also the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Book for Winter ’14-’15 and SCIBA’s Young Adult Book of the Year, as well as being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. As of today, the book has spent over thirty weeks as a New York Times bestseller, and foreign rights have sold to forty territories. The movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star and Jennifer writing the script. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) — high school and beyond — that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer’s Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy’s esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer’s second book, Ada Blackjack — an inspiring true story of the woman the press called “the female Robinson Crusoe” — has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, is available now.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

Source: www.jenniferniven.com