Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAY

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYLeah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
four-half-stars
Series: Creekwood #2
Published by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray on April 24, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 339
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Review:

Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of my favorite reads from the past few years.  Simon and his fabulous group of friends just made me smile the entire time I read that book so when it was announced that Albertalli was doing a follow up book called Leah on the Offbeat about Simon’s best friend, Leah, I couldn’t pass up the chance to read it.  I don’t even know where to start aside from to say that I absolutely adored everything about Leah on the Offbeat, especially the main character herself.  How do I love Leah Burke?  Let me count the ways!  I love her snark, her sarcasm, her badass drummer girl persona, that she’ll let an F bomb drop without batting an eye, and most of all, I love that she is so much more than all of the things I just listed.  She is a teenage ball of angst just like most of the rest of us were when we were in high school.

It was just so wonderful to visit Creekside High again and see Simon and the gang as they are going through their senior year and getting ready for college.  I know it’s been ages since I was a senior but Albertalli so vividly portrayed all of the quintessential senior activities – like senior prom and applying to colleges and stressing while you waited to here if you got into your first choice, and of course constantly thinking about how this is the last time you’re going to hang out with your best friends before everything changes, etc. – that I felt like I was right back in high school myself. Her dialogue is fantastically spot-on, and I especially loved how many Harry Potter references she had sprinkled throughout the book.

Albertalli also does a fantastic job of realistically portraying all of the relationship turmoil that inevitably happens in high school and the impact it can have on even the most solid of friend groups.  I think many people will find Leah’s predicament relatable as she feels stuck in the middle watching couples in her friend group break up and not knowing what to do about it.  The angst that she experiences as she realizes she is attracted to one of them is also very relatable, not to mention the added stress that she is bisexual but has yet to come out to any of her friends, even though at least two of them are openly gay themselves.  Leah’s life is just a big ball of awkwardness beneath that cool drummer girl persona.

One of my favorite qualities about Albertalli’s books is that on the surface, they feel like light, fluffy, feel good stories, but at the same time, they’re also filled with meaningful messages about family, friendships, and love.  This is the third book by Albertalli I’ve read and I look forward to reading many more from her. 4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYI Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
four-half-stars
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 258
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A powerful story of empathy and friendship from the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of If I Stay.

Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose. When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in help­ing the others out of theirs.

An emotionally cathartic story of losing love, finding love, and discovering the person you are meant to be, I Have Lost My Way is best­selling author Gayle Forman at her finest.

Review:

Set in New York City, Gayle Forman’s I Have Lost My Way is a poignant story that follows three young people – Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel – each of whom has lost their way in life and needs help getting back on track.  Freya is an almost famous singer but has mysteriously and unexpectedly lost her singing voice right in the middle of recording her debut album and doesn’t know what will become of her or her career if it doesn’t come back.  Harun is a gay Muslim who is desperately trying to figure out how to come out to his parents.  He is sure his family will react badly, but he also knows if he doesn’t come out soon, he is in danger of losing James, the love of his life.  Nathaniel is a young man who has come to New York with nothing but a backpack.  All we know when we meet him is that he seems confused and disoriented upon his arrival to the city, keeps calling a phone number and listening to a message from his father, and that he also appears to be starving.  Nathaniel definitely appears to be lost, both physically and in other ways, but it doesn’t become clear until much later in the story just how lost he really is.  An accident of fate brings these three lost souls together and as they slowly bond with one another, they realize that perhaps helping each other is a way for them to find themselves again.

I Have Lost My Way is a relatively short book but it packs a huge emotional punch, particularly if, like me, you’re a fan of character-driven stories.  Forman presents her story from the perspectives of Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel so that we are able to dive deep into their minds and see firsthand just how lost and alone all three of them are feeling.  I also loved the way the book was structured in the sense that even though the story itself only spans the course of a single day, through the use of flashbacks throughout the novel, Forman is able to really flesh out each of these characters and give Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel each a rich history as we explore their complicated relationships with various family members and other loved ones and how exactly they found themselves in the emotional states that they’re in when we meet them.  Those flashbacks allowed me to quickly become very invested in the well beings of all three characters even though I only really met them for one day.

I Have Lost My Way was also a captivating read for me because it explored so many themes that we can all relate to.  It touches on love, loss, family, loneliness, the healing power of friendship, and acceptance.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written and moving read, I would highly recommend this book.  The only reason it’s not a 5 star read for me is that there is a romance involved between two of these characters and I think the story would have been even more powerful without that as it was a little distracting.  Still an incredible read though.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

About Gayle Forman

Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels for young adults, including the Just One Series, I Was Here, Where She Went and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than 40 languages and in 2014 was adapted into a major motion picture.

Gayle published Leave Me, her first novel starring adults in 2016 and her latest novel, I Have Lost My Way, came out in March of 2018.

Gayle lives with her husband and daughters in Brooklyn.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLAI Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter
five-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 27, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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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:

Ellie Frias disappeared long before she vanished.

Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn't need to be popular; she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper.

But when the unthinkable happens, Ellie finds herself trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn't the first victim, and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her.

The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place.

Review:

T.E. Carter’s I Stop Somewhere is a stark, raw, and heart wrenching story about a teenager named Ellie Frias, who finds herself trapped after a brutal assault.  Not only is Ellie unable to escape, she is forced to watch many other girls be victimized as she was because her attackers are serial rapists.  As she waits for someone to find her, Ellie resorts to using her memories as a way to cope with not only what she has gone through, but what she is forced to witness each time her attackers find a new victim.

What I found so interesting about this book is that even though there’s clearly a crime, there’s no mystery here to solve.  Because we’re seeing everything unfold through the eyes of the victim, we know exactly who the perpetrators are.  The only questions here are will they be punished for their crimes and will the victims get justice, which is where the crux of Carter’s narrative lies.  I Stop Somewhere points out some ugly truths about rape culture and misogyny, victim blaming in particular, and it also exposes how wealth and privilege mean more to some than making sure justice is served.

The most powerful aspect of I Stop Somewhere, however, is actually not its exploration of these dark themes.  Instead, it’s the look inside of Ellie’s mind that we are given.  As we watch the events of the present unfold through Ellie’s eyes, we also take an intimate look at her life as she reflects on all of her hopes and dreams, regrets, as well as any and all choices that she has made throughout her life that have led to her current situation.  I found myself in tears a few times while reading Ellie’s thoughts because all she wanted was to be loved. It’s a heartbreaking look at just how fragile and vulnerable a teenage girl’s esteem can be and how there are monsters out there who prey on that vulnerability.

I Stop Somewhere is, by no means, an easy book to read. There were times when I had to set it aside because it just had me too upset to continue. I went back and forth between being heartbroken about everything that happened to Ellie and being absolutely furious about how law enforcement and the justice system were treating the victims.  It’s an emotional draining read at times, but one that I would highly recommend.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLAGeekerella by Ashley Poston
four-stars
Series: Starfield #1
Published by Quirk Books on April 4, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad's old costume, Elle's determined to win - unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons - before he was famous. Now they're nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake - until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Review:

As you can probably surmise from the title, Ashley Poston’s Geekerella is a retelling of the classic Cinderella fairytale.  What I loved most about this story is that although it clearly retained lots of awesome shout-outs to the original tale –  the evil stepmother and stepsisters, the pumpkin coach, the dance, the slipper, and so much more – it was still a completely unique, fun, and quirky contemporary tale in its own right.

I liked the spin the author put on the Cinderella tale here because not only do we get Cinderella’s side of the story, as we would expect, but Poston also delivers Prince Charming’s side of the story as well.  Our Cinderella in this story is a teenager named Elle.  Her parents are dead so she is living with her stepmother and stepsisters.  Elle is a geek at heart and a diehard fan of the cult classic sci-fi show Starfield.  When she learns there is going to be a cosplay contest as part of a promotion for a new Starfield movie, Elle can’t resist entering, especially since the prize is a trip to the fan convention, ExcelsiCon (that her father founded).  Our Prince Charming in Geekerella is Darien, a popular actor who has been cast to play the lead in the new Starfield movie.  We learn that even though he’s a teen heartthrob and has fangirls practically throwing themselves at his feet, he’s also a super geek and diehard Starfield fan as well.  Playing the lead in this film is a dream come true for him.

Even though I’m not a big romance reader, I thought the budding romance in Geekerella was super cute. I thought it was hilarious that Elle absolutely hated Darien’s guts in the beginning and thought he was the worst possible choice to play the lead in the movie.  Darien kind of brings this on himself because he has kept his fanboy life a secret, but it’s great fun watching their relationship unfold and develop from that initial misunderstanding.

My absolute favorite part of the book though was the way the author writes about the Starfield fandom.  She does such an amazing job that I was practically convinced that there really was such a fandom.  And I wanted there to be such a fandom – I wanted to watch the TV show, get dressed up and go to the ExcelsiCon.  I thought she just did such a brilliant job capturing the excitement of being a part of a fandom, particularly her descriptions of the cosplaying and going to cons.  If you’re looking for a book that will bring out your own inner geek, definitely consider reading Geekerella.  It’s one of the cutest and quirkiest retellings I’ve read in a long time.  4 STARS

five-stars

About Ashley Poston

ASHLEY POSTON loves dread pirates, moving castles, and starry night skies. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in How to Kick Butt Without Even Trying (aka English), and solidified her love for storytelling. When not proclaiming her undying love for movie star studs and emotionally compromised robots, she’s in search for her next great adventure. She lives in South Carolina with her bossy cat, and they are firm believers that we’re all a bunch of weirdos looking at other weirdos, asking for their usernames.

Sometimes, you can catch her lurking around in coffee shops where she reads copious amounts of fanfic, watches way too much anime, and plays a lot of video games. Oh, and she writes books, too. Sometimes. When the stars are in position.

For rights inquiries, please contact Holly Root of Root Literary.

About T.E. Carter

TE Carter was born in New England and has lived in New England for pretty much her entire life. Throughout her career, she’s done a lot of things, although her passion has always been writing. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her husband and their two cats.

Review: THE BELLES

Review:  THE BELLESThe Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
four-stars
Series: The Belles #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion on February 6, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 440
Source: Library
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MY REVIEW:

Dhonielle Clayton’s gorgeous novel The Belles immersed me in one of the most unique fantasy worlds I’ve encountered in a long time.  I was captivated from the novel’s early pages as we are introduced to the legend of a curse that hangs over the heads of the people of Orleans.  The land of Orleans itself is exquisite, but its residents live under a terrible curse that causes them all to be born gray with red eyes.  Because of their cursed appearance, they think of themselves as anything but beautiful and, in fact, become downright obsessed with doing whatever they can to improve their appearance.

The curse is where the Belles come into play.  The Belles control beauty and have the ability, through magical gifts called arcana, to transform the gray-skinned, red-eyed citizens of Orleans into the most beautiful people in the world.  They can change skin tones, hair color and texture, eye color, and can even use their magic to sculpt bodies as though they were plastic surgeons.  Beauty is therefore a big deal in Orleans and the Belles are cherished by the citizens because of what they can do for them.  Whatever look they wish to have, the Belles can make it happen for them.  Well, for those who can afford it anyway.  Beauty is quite literally a big business in Orleans and appointments with the Belles do not come cheap.

This life of making others beautiful is all the Belles know. It’s what they were born to do and as we see with Camellia, the main character, and her Belle sisters, initially they’re happy to do it because they think they’re doing a public service…until they realize all that it entails. Once selected to work either at the royal palace or at one of the selective teahouses and effectively removed from the public’s eye, all of that cherished behavior goes away and the Belles are treated little better than prisoners or slaves. They work long hard hours, until they’re practically collapsing from exhaustion and overuse of their powers, and those in charge don’t care as long as the money keeps rolling in and the customers keep lining up.

Camellia is especially disappointed because she expects to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become ‘The Favorite’ and work in the royal palace, but once she finally gets there, she realizes that being ‘The Favorite’ isn’t nearly as wonderful as she thought it would be.  In fact, it’s downright awful as she encounters nothing but deceit, dark secrets, betrayals, and just so much ugliness in general. She finds herself at the mercy of Sophia, a particularly sadistic princess who constantly commands Camellia to use her arcana for revenge, to make people she doesn’t like ugly.  Camellia is horrified by just how cruel and twisted Sophia is and becomes even more horrified when she realizes Sophia is in line to become Queen unless her ailing older sister can be cured of the mystery illness that has left her in a coma for years.   The Queen, who is also ailing but is desperate to keep Sophia off the throne, begs Camellia for her help.

Even though it’s never been done before, can Camellia somehow use her arcana to heal the eldest royal daughter?  The future of Orleans rests on her shoulders and Camellia must decide if she’s willing to take a risk that could cost her her own life…

Camellia.  I found Camellia to be a compelling main character. She’s not perfect by any means, as we witness early in the book when she throws a near tantrum over the choosing of ‘The Favorite’, but she shows tremendous growth and compassion throughout the book, especially when she realizes the truth about The Belles and how they are treated, as well as once she sees firsthand just how sadistic and cruel Princess Sophia can be to those around her.  I immediately began cheering Camellia on and hoping she would find a way to rebel against the evil Sophia.

Speaking of Sophia, if you’re into characters you love to hate, Sophia is definitely your girl.  There is truly nothing redeeming about her personality that I could find.  I cringed every time I turned the page and her name was there because I just knew she was there to inflict her cruelty on yet another innocent person who had done nothing to her.  She may be exquisitely beautiful on the outside, thanks to the work of the Belles, but she is rotten to the core ugly on the inside.

The Worldbuilding and Magic System. I found everything about this world to be utterly captivating.  Orleans itself is opulent and beautiful, and I loved the author’s attention to detail as she described it.  Even more fascinating though was the actual legend that the book opens with, which explains how the curse came to be and how the Belles were then created to offset the curse.  It was all just so inventive and the magical system of arcana and how they could be used to create beauty was mesmerizing.  The author’s attention to detail as she described the process was truly exquisite and just so easy to visualize.

Beauty as a Veneer.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going into The Belles, but it really struck me how much ugliness the author exposes in this beauty-obsessed world.  It was a much darker read than I was expecting and I appreciated the added depth as Clayton rips that surface layer of beauty off and exposes what lies beneath, and in the case of the palace and the teahouses, it’s lies, betrayals, greed, unspeakable cruelty, and so much more.

The only real issue I had with The Belles had to do with pacing.  Once I saw a few demonstrations of what the Belles could do with their arcana to transform and sculpt peoples’ bodies, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what their powers entailed.  Unfortunately though, the book doesn’t stop at just one or two beauty transformations. I understood that Camellia’s position required her to have regularly scheduled appointments throughout the day to make people beautiful, and even though I initially loved reading about how the process worked, there were just so many detailed, step-by-step accounts of these appointments that I started to get a little bored and skimmed through them to get to the more exciting parts.

The obsession with beauty brings out a lot of ugliness in people and The Belles powerfully explores and exposes this ugliness.  The first book ends with a pretty big cliffhanger so I look forward to reading the second book in the series to see how that turns out.  Is rebellion on the horizon for Camellia and the Belles?

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

four-stars

About Dhonielle Clayton

Dhonielle Clayton is the co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series. She grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs on the Maryland side and spent most of her time under her grandmother’s table with a stack of books. A former teacher and middle school librarian, Dhonielle is co-founder of CAKE Literary—a creative development company whipping up decidedly diverse books for a wide array of readers—and COO of the non-profit, We Need Diverse Books. She’s got a serious travel bug and loves spending time outside of the USA, but makes her home in New York City, where she can most likely be found hunting for the best slice of pizza.

Review: THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

Review:  THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin HannahThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 440
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
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MY REVIEW:

I didn’t think there was any way Kristin Hannah could top The Nightingale, which left me sobbing by the end and is one of my all-time favorite reads, but if she didn’t top it, she came awfully darn close with her latest novel.  The Great Alone is an absolutely exquisite piece of writing.  It’s filled with realistically drawn characters, a compelling storyline that will reach out and grab all of your emotions, all in an awe-inspiring landscape.  It can be a harsh and devastating story at times as it explores dark subjects such as domestic violence and the effects of PTSD, but ultimately The Great Alone paints a beautiful portrait of hope and resiliency in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Set in the 1970s, The Great Alone follows Ernt Allbright, his wife Cora, and their 13-year-old daughter Leni as they set out to relocate from Seattle, Washington to a remote part of Alaska.  Ernt was a POW in the Vietnam War who has struggled with day-to-day life ever since he returned home.  His behavior is erratic and volatile at times and he is often plagued by nightmares (flashbacks from his captivity) and bouts of paranoia.  Ernt has also been struggling to find and keep a job so he and his family just keep moving from place to place, hoping their luck will change.  When one of Ernt’s fallen comrades leaves him some property in Alaska, Ernt is convinced this is a sign and convinces his family that a move to Alaska is exactly what they need.  Leni and Cora are hesitant, but what we learn right away is that Cora would follow her husband to the end of the world and back if he asked. It’s just the nature of their relationship.

When they arrive in remote Kaneq, Alaska, the local residents reach out immediately and let them know that no matter how prepared they think they are to survive in Alaska, they’re dead wrong and have a lot of work to do.  Thankfully, the sense of community is so strong that the regulars don’t just dole out the advice and go about their own business.  No, they dole out the advice and then jump in and help make that advice a reality.  They get Ernt and his family about as ready for an Alaska winter as they possibly can and embrace them as new members of their pioneer community.

At first, Ernt thrives in Alaska. There’s so much to do and he loves the idea of living off the land.  But then as winter approaches and he is faced with 18 hours of darkness a day, he starts to struggle again, this time turning to violence and alcohol.  As much danger as they face outside, with the threat of the frigid temperatures and deadly wild animals, Cora and Leni soon realize that they’re in danger inside their home as well.  It becomes more and more clear that they can’t rely on Ernt to help them survive in Alaska and that this “fresh start” could end up costing them their lives.

 

This is one of those books where I could go on and on about everything I loved, but I’m just going to stick with a few highlights so that I don’t write a novel about the novel. I hope it’s not too spoilery but maybe turn back now and just know I LOVED this book if you haven’t read it yet.

Sense of Community.  I was just so touched by the way the community of Kaneq makes it their mission to make sure everyone who comes to their remote area has the tools they need to survive.  The community is filled with strong, independent, resilient people and they treat each other like family, sharing their resources and looking out for one another.  And in many cases, it’s the women of the community who are the most formidable.   Large Marge, in particular, as her name suggests, is a force to be reckoned with and one of my favorite characters in the book.  She is strong, fiercely independent, will put someone in their place in a minute if they deserve it, and she’s also hilarious.  She might just be a secondary character, but take it from me, she is fabulous!

Mother-Daughter Bond.  I thought the relationship between Cora and Leni was just beautifully written.  They share such a deep bond, first from having lived together by themselves for so long while Ernt was a POW, but then they were basically on their own once Ernt succumbed to his dark nature in Alaska.  Cora and Leni are so protective of each other – each would sacrifice themselves in order to save the other from Ernt’s violent side.  Cora wants Leni to get away so that she knows Leni is safe, but Leni won’t leave because she knows her mother will never leave her father and therefore Leni feels that she must stay to try to protect her.  In so many ways it had me screaming at the book because I wanted them both to get away before he completely lost control and killed them, but at the same time, that strong mother-daughter bond moved me to tears.

Realistically Drawn, Flawed Characters.  Hannah has such a gift for creating characters that just feel so real.  All of her characters, especially Ernt, Cora, and Leni, are messy and flawed, and even the secondary characters feel three dimensional.  There’s just so much depth to all of their personalities.  I became invested not just in Ernt’s family but in the entire Kaneq community.

The Great Alone.  I want to talk about the atmospheric quality of Hannah’s writing here.  Her descriptions of Alaska are so detailed and vivid that I was left awestruck, not just by the physical beauty of the Alaskan landscape but also by how deadly that beautiful landscape can be.  I felt the bone-chilling cold, the darkness closing in as winter approached, and the lurking bears and wolves that could attack without warning.  I truly felt like I had been transported there and like I was planning my own survival and living the pioneer life.  The Great Alone is, by far, one of the most atmospheric reads I’ve ever experienced.

 

I can’t really say that I had any issues with this book, although the scenes of domestic violence were definitely hard to take, so be forewarned.  The scenes were jarring and horrific and the portrait of a toxic relationship is frighteningly realistic.  It’s a testament to how vivid and powerful Hannah’s writing is, but man, is it disturbing!

 

It’s a brutal read at times, but The Great Alone is still one of the most beautiful books I’ve read so far this year.  It both captivated and horrified me, gutted me yet filled me with hope, and it kept me reading until the wee hours of the night because I just had to know the fate of Ernt and his family.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

Alaska, 1974.  Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.  For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

five-stars

About Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, Winter Garden, Night Road, and Firefly Lane.

Her novel, The Nightingale, has been published in 43 languages and is currently in movie production at TriStar Pictures, which also optioned her novel, The Great Alone. Her novel, Home Front has been optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to direct.

Kristin is a former-lawyer-turned writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Her novel, Firefly Lane, became a runaway bestseller in 2009, a touchstone novel that brought women together, and The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library Journal, Paste, The Wall Street Journal and The Week. Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LION

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LIONShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-half-stars
Series: Grisha Verse, #1
Published by Henry Holt and Company on June 5th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 358
Also in this series: Siege and Storm
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy.

Review:

I originally skipped over Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse Trilogy in favor of reading the much-hyped Six of Crows duology, which is set in the same Russian-inspired fantasy world.  I adored the Six of Crows books so much that I just had to go back and read the Grishaverse Trilogy because I loved this world and wasn’t ready to leave it behind.  I’m so glad I did too because Shadow and Bone, the first book in the trilogy, was a truly wonderful read.

I loved the complex cast of characters Bardugo has created.  First, there’s Alina and Mal, orphans who were raised together and who may or may not have romantic feelings for one another.  Having tested negative for Grisha powers when they were children, Alina and Mal are clearly underdogs in the war ravaged nation of Ravka and I became invested in their journey immediately, especially once their journey takes them across the dangerous Shadow Fold.  A life-threatening incident on the fold changes their lives, however, because it reveals that Alina actually does possess dormant Grisha abilities.  Not only are her abilities powerful, but they could actually be the key to setting Ravka free.

I already knew a bit about the Grishaverse from Six of Crows, but I loved seeing the magical system in more detail and the lavish worldbuilding as Alina and Mal are brought to the Little Palace so that Alina can learn to master her powers under the teachings of my absolute favorite character, the Darkling.  As much as I liked Alina and Mal, the Darkling was really the highlight of the first book for me.  I’m a sucker for a complex, morally gray character and that most definitely describes the Darkling.  On the one hand, he’s quite charming, but on the other, he’s manipulative, deceitful, and basically just flat out horrible.  There are moments when he seems to really care about Alina, but most often, he only seems to be concerned with how he can harness her power for his own needs.  Watching the Darkling go head to head with Alina were some of my favorite moments of the novel.

Shadow and Bone was a quick and highly entertaining read for me because once I got started, and especially once I met the Darkling, I was hooked on trying to figure out what he was really up to and how Alina and her powers fit into his plans.  I’m also glad I waited to read this until all three books had been released because a major plot twist at the end of this first book had me reaching straight for the second book.  Love this series!  4.5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LIONLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert
four-stars
on August 8th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 327
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.

Review:

Little & Lion is one of those books that going into it, you think you’re getting one thing, but what you end up getting is so much more.  Not only did I get the beautiful and moving sibling story that I was hoping for, but I also got a wonderfully diverse story that explored many important and relevant topics, such as sexuality, mental illness, racism, and much more.  In that way, Little & Lion packs a big punch.

I loved how Colbert portrayed the sibling dynamic between Suzette (nicknamed Little by Lionel) and her step brother Lionel (nicknamed Lion by Suzette). They are incredibly close, so close in fact, that Suzette was sent away to boarding school when Lionel was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder because her parents knew Suzette would never be able to focus on her school work and her own life because she would be so distraught watching Lionel suffer.  When she comes home for summer break, Suzette can immediately sense a strain in her relationship with Lionel and wonders how he is really doing.  I loved that Suzette was that tuned in to what her brother was going through.  On the flip side of that, I loved that Lionel, even though he is trying to deal with his illness, still tries to do whatever he can to make things as normal as possible between him and Suzette. Little moments like the two of them hanging out in their old treehouse were just so sweet.  They may be step siblings and only related through marriage, but Little and Lion are truly family through and through.

In addition to this wonderful sibling relationship, Little & Lion is also an incredibly diverse book.  Suzette is black, Jewish, and she is also bisexual.  As I’ve already mentioned, Lionel has bipolar disorder.  Suzette’s childhood friend and potential love interest, Emil, is black/Korean and he is also hearing impaired due to Meniere’s Disease, while another potential love interest for Suzette, Rafaela, identifies as pansexual, and Suzette’s best friend is a lesbian.  I was thrilled to see so much diversity, and I especially liked the way Colbert didn’t make it feel like she was just checking off boxes. All of these characters were complex and authentic.  They didn’t feel like stock characters or stereotypes.

My only complaint is that I would have liked a bit more about Lionel.  Since the story is told from Suzette’s perspective, we only see him through her eyes.  As much as I loved the story as it was written, I think it would have been a 5 star read for me if there were chapters from Lionel’s perspective.  Still a beautiful and relevant read though. 4 STARS

four-half-stars

About Brandy Colbert

Brandy Colbert is the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of Pointe, Little & Lion, and the forthcoming Finding Yvonne and The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Her short fiction and essays have been published in several anthologies for young people. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Review – THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

Review – THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly BlackThe Cruel Prince by Holly Black
five-stars
Series: The Folk of the Air #1
on January 2nd 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I’m always a little hesitant to start reading a book that is surrounded by intense hype.  Am I going to enjoy it as much as everyone else seems to be or am I going to be the one person who feels let down by all of the hype?  Such was my fear going into Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, which is a much-anticipated read for almost every blogger I know.  Thankfully though, my fear was unfounded and I devoured this book in a couple of days.

The Cruel Prince follows Jude, a mortal who is growing up and trying to find her place in the immortal realm of Faerie.  Jude, her twin sister Taryn, and their older sister Vivi are living in Faerie even though they are mortals because their parents were murdered in a fit of rage by Madoc, their mother’s former lover, who also happens to be a General in the High Court of Faerie.  Because he loved their mother, Madoc brings her daughters to live with him and raise as his own.

The novel then fast forwards ten years to a 17-year-old Jude, who along with her twin, is attending classes alongside the fae children of the High Court. Jude wants nothing more than to feel like she belongs in Faerie and especially in the High Court, but it’s difficult for her since she is not immortal and many of the fae do not like mortals.  Jude and her sister are frequently subjected to mockery and bullying by her classmates, who include Prince Cardan of the High Court.  He is particularly ruthless when it comes to Jude.  His mission in life appears to be to make Jude as miserable as possible.  The more Cardan bullies Jude, the more determined Jude becomes to follow her dream, which is to best everyone in a combat tournament and earn a place as a Knight on the King’s Council.

As Jude pursues her dream, she unexpectedly finds herself up to her ears in palace intrigues and deceptions, and she also discovers that she isn’t opposed to spilling blood if the occasion calls for it.  Jude’s original plans ultimately come unraveled, however, as chaos erupts and the Courts of Faerie suddenly find themselves under eminent threat of a civil war.  Desperate to do whatever she can to save her family and her beloved Faerie, Jude makes the choice to risk her life and enter in a dangerous alliance with someone she isn’t sure she can trust.

Will Jude be able to save her family and her home?  Or is she in way over her head?

What I loved most about The Cruel Prince was how complex all of the characters are.  They’re all flawed, some more so than others, and even the most likeable of characters aren’t always likeable.  They all felt very real and it was very easy to become invested in their lives.

Jude, of course, was the most relatable character of the bunch.  As a mortal striving to become a Knight in the King’s Council, she is clearly an underdog so she caught my eye and my sympathy right away.  My sympathy for her only grew as I watched her suffer at the hands of the fae who were so determined to make her life hell.  I also admired her spunk and determination.  The more Prince Cardan tried to humiliate her — and boy, was he relentless! — the more Jude fought back and refused to let him get the best of her. It also made her crave power of her own, which added another layer of depth and a bit of a dark side to her character and made her all the more fascinating to follow. Jude’s need to secure power for herself becomes so great that she allows herself to make a somewhat shady deal with one of Prince Cardan’s older brothers, who is in line to ascend to the throne.  If she does his bidding (in secret of course), he will give her whatever she wants once he is King.  Jude readily agrees, even though it means lying to her family and leading a life of deception.

Speaking of Prince Cardan…this guy was seriously an ass.  He’s drunk most of the time, is completely unfit to ever lead his father’s kingdom, and of course he’s just awful to Jude.  I spent the majority of this first book loathing everything about him, and yet, the farther along I got, the more intrigued I became by him.  I’m not sure what’s there yet, but there certainly appears to be much more to Cardan than originally meets the eye and I want to learn more about him.

Vivi was another character that I found intriguing. Among other things, she has a much more complicated relationship with Madoc than either Jude or Taryn do.  Plus, also unlike Jude and Taryn, Vivi has absolutely no interest in trying to find her place in Faerie.  She refuses to attend classes and looks for every opportunity to slip back over into the mortal realm and go shopping at the mall, hang out with her girlfriend, or whatever else her heart desires.  Pleasing Madoc and trying to be a good ‘daughter’ are at the bottom of Vivi’s priority list.

Aside from how complex and realistic they all felt, I also loved that I never knew which characters, if any, could be trusted since they’re all embroiled in such a high stakes political game.  In that sense, The Cruel Prince actually gave me a major Game of Thrones vibe.

I don’t want to give anything else away, so I’m just going to say in addition to the cast of complex characters that I just couldn’t get enough of, The Cruel Prince is also jammed packed with so many of my favorite things to read about. There’s drama and excitement, deception and betrayals, conspiracies and political intrigue, spies and assassinations (yes, plural!), and even a hint of possible romance.

The pacing is perfect too.  It got off to a slightly slow start when Jude and her sisters first ended up in Faerie and the author was setting the stage for what it was like to live in Faerie as a mortal, but as soon as the stage was set, the story took off and I just couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

I also loved how Black ended the first book. I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger because I was very satisfied with the stopping point, but at the same time, the story is so good that I’m truly bummed to have to wait until January 2019 to continue with the book two.

As I mentioned early, The Cruel Prince started a little slow for me and I was worried that I wasn’t going to like it.  As you can see from my 5 star rating, I was dead wrong about that so if it starts out a little slow for you, give it some time.  By about the 10% mark, you won’t be able to put the book down, I promise!

If you’re looking for a hyped book that actually lives up to the hype, I’d definitely recommend Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince.  I don’t feel like I’ve written the words here to fully do it justice, but it’s truly one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a long time.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

five-stars

About Holly Black

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

Review: LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed

Review:  LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS by Samira AhmedLove, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
four-stars
Published by Soho Teen on January 16th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 281
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Samira Ahmed’s debut novel Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a powerful coming of age story about a young woman caught between wanting to follow her dreams wherever they may take her, but also not wanting to disappoint her parents who have their own hopes and dreams for her.  Indian American teen Maya Aziz is a seventeen-year-old high school senior with a mad passion for filmmaking.  It’s her dream to move to New York and study film making at NYU.  Film making and boys (specifically her longtime crush, Phil) are pretty much all Maya ever thinks about.  Unfortunately, Maya’s passions are at odds with what her parents want for her, which is to go to college close to home and study something practical like medicine or law, and then settle down with a suitable Indian husband.  Love, Hate, and Other Filters follows Maya as she tries to navigate the many obstacles that are in the way of her getting what she wants most.

Then, as if Maya’s personal life wasn’t filled with enough obstacles, her life is completely thrown into turmoil when there is a terrorist attack in her state’s capital, just a few hundred miles away from her home.  The prime suspect in the attack shares the same last name as Maya and even though she and her family have lived in the same community for all of Maya’s life, they suddenly become targets of those around her who are consumed by fear, hatred, and bigotry.  The Islamophobia is so rampant that Maya’s parents become even more determined that Maya go to college as close to home as possible.

Is there any way Maya can convince her parents to let her go away to NYC for school?  Does she have any chance of being with Phil who is starting to finally show some interest in Maya as well, even though he is neither Muslim nor Indian?  Can Maya find the strength to confront her parents so that her dreams aren’t sacrificed because of their fears?

Maya was definitely my favorite part of Love, Hate, and Other Filters.  She’s such a likable teen and I loved her passion for film making and all of her references to classic films that she loves.  I especially liked the way she often looked at scenes unfolding around her in the real world, imagining how she might create a film from them.  I thought that made for such a fun and unique perspective.  I also liked that Maya is independent and a bit sassy at times, even though she still wants to be a good daughter and not upset her parents.  Sometimes she can be a bit rude to them when they keep trying to push their own agenda when it comes to her future, but even though I would sometimes cringe at her comments, I still admired her for trying to stand her ground with them.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters such as Phil, Maya’s longtime crush.  He’s just a super sweet guy and I enjoyed all of his interactions with Maya.  The scenes where he teaches her to swim were some of my favorites in the book.  So fluffy and sweet!

My favorite secondary character was actually Maya’s aunt, Hina.  Hina is probably Maya’s biggest role model and is proof that there is more to life than just doing what your parents want you to do.  Hina is unmarried, living on her own in the city, and she’s a very successful graphic designer.  She is one of Maya’s biggest supporters when it comes to following her own dreams and offers to run interference on more than one occasion when Maya is having a particularly difficult time communicating with her parents. I adored Hina so much. Heck, I’d love a whole book just devoted to Hina and her life. She was fantastic!

Another great secondary character was Maya’s best friend, Violet.  There wasn’t nearly enough of her in the book, but what was there was wonderful because she and Maya have such a strong bond.  I love books that feature strong female friendships.

In addition to loving all of these characters and how they fit into Maya’s coming of age journey, I also liked that this book was so much more than just a simple coming of age story.  It’s also an important book that tackles the very relevant topic of Islamophobia and how Muslims are so unfairly targeted by people who can’t get past their fear, hatred, and bigotry.  I felt so awful for Maya and her family and for anyone else in the world who experiences anything like what they went through in this book.  Seeing from Maya’s perspective all of the fears that she has for her loved ones because of the way Muslims are unfairly targeted packed such an emotional punch and it made me all the more angry that our President continues to push his hateful Muslim ban.

I have to admit that I was torn about how much focus there was on romance in this story.  Those who read my reviews know I almost always whine about romance taking over the plot of books that have so much else going on in them, and that was my issue here as well.  Don’t get me wrong – I loved Phil and I thought he and Maya were super sweet together, but there were several times throughout the book where it felt like Maya was more interested in boys than she was in her film making.  That’s fine – people are allowed to be interested in whoever or whatever they want to, but at the same time, I thought she was kind of at that point where she really needed to pick and choose her battles with her parents carefully since there was a good chance she would not win them all.  What does she want more – a non-Indian boyfriend or the chance to go away to NYC for college?  It didn’t really make me enjoy the story any less, but it did have me shaking my head a couple time and saying “Keep your eye on the prize, Maya!”

I also wish there had been a little more emphasis on the fact that Maya and her family are Muslim.  There were a lot of wonderful details about their Indian culture and customs and especially about their delicious foods, but there wasn’t much mention at all about their religious beliefs and how those beliefs figured into their day-to-day lives.  I obviously still enjoyed the story even without it, but especially since the book’s synopsis even emphasizes that the main character is Muslim, I think a little more focus on what their religion is like, would have just really rounded out the story well and would have pushed it closer to a five-star rating from me.

Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a coming of age story that I think many young adults will be able to relate to on a personal level.  Being torn between wanting to follow your own dreams while at the same time, not wanting to disappoint your parents is a pretty universal journey that most of us take.  Ahmed takes her story to another level by also tackling tough and all too relevant issues like Islamophobia that can make this journey even more difficult for teens like Maya.  If you’re in the mood for a read that is both light and fluffy, yet also powerful and hard hitting, I’d definitely recommend Love, Hate, and Other Filters.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

four-stars

About Samira Ahmed

SAMIRA AHMED was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, in a house that smelled like fried onions, spices, and potpourri. She currently resides in the Midwest. She’s lived in Vermont, New York City, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango.

A graduate of the University of Chicago, she taught high school English for seven years, worked to create over 70 small high schools in New York City, and fought to secure billions of additional dollars to fairly fund public schools throughout New York State. She’s appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Fox News, NBC, NY1, NPR, and on BBC Radio. Her creative non-fiction and poetry has appeared in Jaggery Lit, Entropy, the Fem, and Claudius Speaks.

Her writing is represented by Eric Smith of P.S. Literary.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for WINTER and OUR DARK DUET

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for WINTER and OUR DARK DUETWinter by Marissa Meyer
Also by this author: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)
five-stars
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 827
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mark her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend--the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer's national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

Review:

Winter is the fourth and final book in Melissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. In Winter we not only continue the original story that Meyer has created in the midst of her fairytale retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel, but we also get a Snow White retelling added to the mix.  As always, I’m most impressed with the way Meyer manages to seamlessly weave so many retellings into this series without losing any of the originality of the overall storyline.

As the lovely, quirky, and perhaps somewhat mentally unstable Snow White character, Winter is a welcome addition to this wonderful cast of characters that I’ve come to love so much.  I was definitely more attached to the characters I’ve known longer, but I grew to love Winter too and wish I had had more time with her.  What I especially liked about the introduction of Winter was that her presence really served to cast Levana even more firmly into the role of the evil (ummm, psychotic?) stepmother. Have I mentioned how much I loathe Levana?

Speaking of Levana, one of the coolest parts of this final book is that we finally make it to Levana’s home on the planet Luna.  Meyer gives the reader a vivid look into the lives of the Lunar people and the ways they are forced to live because of Levana.  I don’t want to give away anything else about the plot, so I’ll just say that I loved getting to see these amazing characters in action one more time working together to fight against the tyranny of Levana and free the Lunar people from her once and for all. (Even Iko is a total badass and it’s just so much awesomeness!) Because it’s so focused on the resistance and taking Levana down, Winter is truly action-packed from start to finish.  That’s pretty much my favorite kind of read ever, so I loved every page of it.  I’m so sad to have finally reached the end of this series, but I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ending.  5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for WINTER and OUR DARK DUETOur Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
five-stars
Series: Monsters of Verity, #2
Published by Greenwillow Books on June 13th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 510
Also in this series: This Savage Song
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

THE WORLD IS BREAKING. AND SO ARE THEY.

KATE HARKER isn't afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she's good at it.

AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

THE WAR HAS BEGUN.

THE MONSTERS ARE WINNING.

Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims' inner demons.

Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?

Review:

Victoria Schwab really blew me away with Our Dark Duet, the final book in her Monsters of Verity duology.  Not only was it filled with dark and creepy monsters and the action-packed goodness that I enjoyed so much in This Savage Song, the first book in the duology, but it also literally reduced me to tears by the end.

There’s so much to love about this book, but Kate Harker’s growth as a character is probably at the top of my list.  She is now a spike wielding, monster-killing badass and I adored her even more in this book than I did in the first one.  My love for poor tortured August is still strong in this book too, and I rooted for both he and Kate as they valiantly battled their demons, both literally and figuratively.

Schwab’s worldbuilding and pacing are spot on in Our Dark Duet too.  I love this world she has created – it’s dark and creepy with monsters literally lurking around every corner, which just makes for such an intense and suspenseful reading experience.  The pacing was incredible too as it mirrors what is going on with Kate and August.  It starts off at a steady and even pace as Kate and August are each battling a lot of internal demons, but then once they come together to battle a monster that appears to be even worse than the Corsai and Malachi we met in This Savage Song, the pace increases to almost a frenetic pace.  The second half of the book flies by and is filled with blood, explosions, destruction, and death.  I devoured the nearly 500 page book in 24 hours.

Don’t even get me started on the ending, which just shattered my heart into a million pieces.  Schwab has done it again — Our Dark Duet is truly a heartbreaking piece of writing perfection. 5 STARS

five-stars

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Book Review:  The Names They Gave Us by Emery LordThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Also by this author: When We Collided
four-half-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 16th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 390
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Emery Lord’s The Names They Gave Us is a book that I was actually a little apprehensive about reading even though I fell in love with her writing when I read When We Collided.  My hesitation this time around was because I had read that this book focuses a lot on religion and faith.  Since I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person, I was a little worried the subject matter might put me off.  Thankfully, my worries were unfounded.  Even though faith does play a prominent role in the story, Emery Lord handles it in a way that doesn’t come across as heavy-handed at all.  The Names They Gave Us is essentially a coming of age story and part of the main character’s coming of age journey is to actually question her own faith.

The Names They Gave Us follows Lucy Hansson, a high school student who is also the daughter of a preacher.  Because religion has just always been a part of Lucy’s life, she has always felt secure in her faith and has never questioned it.  That is, until her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.  That diagnosis sets off a chain reaction of events that strips all of the constants out of Lucy’s life.  Her longtime boyfriend Lucas, the boy she fully expects to marry someday, suddenly decides that the two of them should take a break and make sure they really love each other.  Not only that, but Lucy’s mom also decides that instead of Lucy being a counselor at their church camp like she has for every summer for as long as she can remember, she should take a job as a counselor at Daybreak, a local camp for troubled kids.

Lucy is crushed that Lucas would choose now of all times to break up with her and is also completely baffled as to why her mom would not want her to be with them at the church camp.  She is also starting to question her own faith:  After all of their prayers and the prayers of everyone in their congregation, how could her mom’s cancer have possibly come back?  Feeling like her whole world has been turned upside down, but ultimately knowing that she doesn’t want to do anything to upset her mother, Lucy reluctantly agrees to work at Daybreak for the summer.

When she first arrives at Daybreak, Lucy feels overwhelmed and wants nothing more than to be back at the church camp with her parents, but then she eventually starts to make friends – real friends that she actually has things in common with, friends who are also going through or have been through some bad times in their lives.  They provide a support system for Lucy that she has never had before, even with friends from school she thought she was close to – and suddenly things aren’t quite as bad as they first seemed.

Could this be why Lucy’s mom insisted that she go to Daybreak?  Is this Lucy’s mom’s way of making sure her little girl will be okay no matter what happens.  Or is there more to it than that?

 

I really liked Lucy and her family right away.  They’re just good people who fully embrace their faith but who also don’t try to force their beliefs on to others.  I was immediately devastated for them when it was revealed that Lucy’s mom’s cancer had come back.  The family was just getting back on its feet after her first battle with it, and now it sends them all reeling again.

Lucy was so easy to root for her not just because she was likable, but also because her emotions and fears, and those questions that just kept running through her mind felt so real.  Emery Lord does a very nice job of getting inside the mind of someone who is having a crisis of faith and possibly facing the loss of a loved one.  It was often heart-wrenching to read, but the portrayal felt very authentic.

I also loved that Lucy keeps an open mind about going to Daybreak and that her character undergoes tremendous growth during her stay there.  The counselors and the children who come there are a diverse group and, as such, Lucy meets a lot of people there who are very different from her and from anyone else she has ever known.  She doesn’t shy away from them or judge them at all though.  She meets a lesbian and a transgender counselor, for example, and she’s very open to asking any questions she has about their experiences.  She just genuinely wants to know everything about them and does so without trying to push any of her own beliefs on to them.

The beautiful friendships Lucy makes with her fellow counselors at Daybreak are one of my absolute favorite parts of The Names They Gave Us.  Each counselor has their own issues to deal with, whether it’s severe anxiety, abuse, or something else, but they come to camp and set aside those issues and try to help other kids who may be going through similar hard times.  Because the kids they counsel are often having such a rough go of things, they are not allowed to show any signs of their own issues while around them.  The counselors therefore lean on each other for support behind closed doors and, over their many years of working together, have become a very tight-knit group of friends.  And even though Lucy is the new girl and they know nothing about her, they still welcome her in with open arms.  Once she gets to know them and sees how much they truly are there for each other, Lucy slowly starts to realize that she doesn’t have to carry her burdens alone, that her friends will be there to support her.

This theme of the importance of friendship was what resonated with me most, as did the idea that it’s perfectly okay to question your own faith and beliefs from time to time.  It’s all just a normal part of that journey to find yourself and figure out your place in the world.

 

The only real issue I had with The Names They Gave Us is with the way Emery Lord left one important aspect of the story unresolved.  I don’t want to give away the ending so I’m going to be a little vague here.  I know this is Lucy’s story and that I should be satisfied knowing that she’ll be okay no matter what happens, but I still wanted to know how everything was going to turn out for her family.  I guess maybe I got a little too invested in the Hansson family but the characters were just so beautifully drawn that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all.

 

With its focus on heavy topics such as cancer and religion, The Names They gave Us is not what I would consider to be a light contemporary read.  It is a beautiful read though and one I would highly recommend if you’re into books that focus on love, friendship, family, and faith.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?

Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

four-half-stars

About Emery Lord

Hi! I’m Emery. I’m the author of four novels about teenage girls:  OPEN ROAD SUMMER, THE START OF ME & YOU, WHEN WE COLLIDED, and THE NAMES THEY GAVE US.  I was born near a harbor on the East coast and raised near a beach, an ocean, a great lake, and the Ohio River. I’m a longtime Cincinnatian, where we love good beer, good music, and our public library.   I’m married to a scientist who shuts down every wedding dance floor, and we are owned by two rescue dogs.  I believe in the magic of storytelling, Ferris wheels, and you.” – Emery Load, in her own words

Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Book Review:  The Alice Network by Kate QuinnThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
four-half-stars
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 6th 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 503
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I love historical fiction that is set during WWI and WWII, so Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network was the best of both worlds for me as it has a dual time line, one of which takes place during WWI while the second takes place a couple of years after WWII.  What an incredible read this was! And the fact that the story is based on an actual real life women’s spy network that was active in France during WWI?  Amazing!  How did I not even know there was such a thing?

The Alice Network follows the story of two women, Charlie St. Clair and Eve Gardiner, and what happens when their lives unexpectedly cross paths.

Nineteen year old Charlie St. Clair is pregnant and unmarried.  The year is 1947, so as you can imagine, Charlie’s parents have deemed her situation a “problem” and so are shipping her off to a clinic in Switzerland so that it can be taken care of low-key so as not to ruin Charlie’s reputation at home.  Charlie makes the trip with her mom, and when they have a layover in England, Charlie runs away because she is on a mission of her own:  to find out what happened to her cousin Rose who had been living in Nazi-occupied France and disappeared during WWII.  Her family has presumed she is dead, but Charlie is convinced that she is still out there somewhere.  She only has one lead at this point, an address in London and a name, Evelyn Gardiner.  She has no idea who Evelyn Gardiner is or how she can possibly help her find Rose, but she is determined to follow this lead wherever it takes her.

Enter Evelyn, or Eve as she is known, Gardiner.  I’m not sure what Charlie expected when she first knocks on Eve’s door, but a snarky, stuttering, gun-toting drunk with horribly disfigured hands was probably not it.  At first Eve barely even listens to Charlie’s story about her cousin Rose and has no interest at all in helping her. That is, until Charlie mentions Le Lethe, which was the name of the restaurant where Rose was working at just prior to her disappearance, and Monsieur Rene, the owner of the restaurant.  As soon as Eve hears those names, her whole attitude abruptly shifts and she decides to help Charlie.

As Eve sets out to help Charlie, we are also taken on a second journey, this time back to 1915, where we follow Eve and see how she has ended up the way she is when Charlie meets her in 1947.  In 1915, Eve is working as an administrative assistant at a law firm in England, but she desperately wants to do something more important. Specifically, she wants to join the action in WWI fighting against the Germans.  She unexpectedly gets her chance when a visitor to the law firm, notes that Eve has qualities that would ideally suit her to working as a spy.  Namely, she appears to remain calm, cool, and collected no matter what is going on around her, and she is able to lie with a straight face.  Those qualities, coupled with a horrible stutter that make others assume she’s a bit dim-witted and therefore underestimate her.  Because of these qualities, the visitor recruits her to become a part of The Alice Network, an all-female spy network that was operating in France, right under the German’s noses.  Eve is eager to join and so we follow her through her spy training, to her primary assignment in enemy-occupied France during the war and all of the dangers it ensues, all the way through to why the names Le Leche and Monsieur Rene struck such a chord with her so many years later when Charlie St. Clair mentions them.   Eve’s journey is equal parts riveting and horrifying, and 100% life-changing.

I love when a dual timeline narrative is handled well and author Kate Quinn does a marvelous job presenting both Charlie and Eve’s stories in The Alice Network.  The chapters alternate between the 1915 and the 1947 timelines so Eve’s backstory is presented a little at a time as is Charlie’s mission to find out what happened to her beloved cousin.  Both stories are so compelling that I found myself easily pulled along, particularly because I really wanted to know what happened to turn Eve from spy extraordinaire to a bitter, disfigured woman with a major drinking problem.   I also wanted to see how exactly Eve was supposed to be the key to helping Charlie find Rose, not to mention I really wanted to know if Rose was still alive, and if so, why has she gone two years without trying to contact her family.

I also think that part of the reason the dual timeline works so well in this story is the active presence of Eve in both timelines.  She is such a fascinating and complex character, both in her younger days where she so desperately wanted to fight against the Germans and as we see her in 1947, where she is ready to take her Luger and blow the head off of anyone who so much as looks at her funny.  I adored Eve’s bigger-than-life personality and the way it just fills the pages of this story.  She made me laugh, she made me cry, and she had me scared to death for her at so many points throughout the story.

Charlie is very likeble as well, but in a different way, since we only see her at age 19.  What I liked about Charlie was her spunk and her determination, as well as her absolute devotion to her cousin, who was more like a sister to her.  Charlie’s youthful enthusiasm, combined with Eve’s fierce snark, makes them a pretty formidable team as they journey together to find Rose.

Kate Quinn also does a brilliant job of depicting the settings, both in 1915 with enemy-occupied France and then 1947, with both the French countryside and with London.  The sights and sounds felt authentic, and Quinn’s attention to detail is spot on.  As I read and followed these women, I felt myself transported to each time period and location.

I wouldn’t really call it a dislike, but I do have to admit that I found Eve’s storyline to be a lot more compelling than Charlie’s.  I loved both characters and was invested in both storylines, but Eve’s journey and the life-threatening danger she faced every moment while working as a spy was just absolutely riveting. Charlie’s story just fell a bit short in comparison.

If you’re looking for a well written, riveting read, I’d highly recommend checking out The Alice Network.  It’s sure to be a favorite for fans of historical fiction, but I think anyone who enjoys reading about strong and complex female characters would love this read as well.  Since this was a fictionalized account of the actual Alice Network, I find myself now wanting to go out and learn more about it since I had never heard of it during any of my history courses in school.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1915.  In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1948. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth …no matter where it leads.

four-half-stars

About Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network.” All have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.