Monday, February 18, 2019

Stonebearer’s Betrayal - Jodi L. Milner

Summary: A secret society of immortals, tasked to protect the world. A demon bent on revenge. A girl brave enough to fight for her family when the two collide. Archdemoness Wrothe stirs the ashes from a long dead war, rekindling a fire that threatens to burn the world. Only the legendary Stonebearers of the Khandashii have the power to stop her, if they catch wind of her plans in time. Katira didn’t believe the legends. She didn’t believe a person could alter the fabric of reality or live forever. She didn’t believe in the dark mirror realm or in the dangerous creatures prowling there either. That was before the first shadow hound came for her. (Summary and Image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.) 

 Review: Katira is the daughter of a blacksmith and a healer, nearly betrothed to her best friend and love, and happy in the secure, small village where she’s spent her life. While her parents have never made any secret about her parentage (orphaned by fire and adopted by her rescuers), she is happy. Sure, the myths of magic and “wielders” are fun stories designed to spook and scare, but they can’t be real.

 First time novelist, Jodi Milner, has crafted a high fantasy novel that is relatable and immersive, even for non-fantasy readers. I’ve always been wary of high fantasy (I prefer fantasy lite) because of the new rules and the names and the different magics — it’s overwhelming. However, I was much more than pleasantly surprised to find that Milner’s novel is so organic, so well-crafted that these qualms were wholly unfounded. The rules were parsed out as the reader needed to, avoiding the common pitfall of talking down to the reader or condescending to them in their explanations. It was easy to pick the novel right back up and slide into Katira’s world after a pause.

 As for the story, it is well done. Amazingly so. While there are a few passages that made me feel like I’d skipped a paragraph, they are rare. In the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend among novels - it’s as though the storyline is the same, just the background and the scenery change. It was a breath of fresh air to read a book where the main character isn’t the “destined one” or the “only one to cure the evil”. Katira is brave, she’s resourceful, but she’s also scared and unsure and untrained. She’s naive, but she has a good heart.  While the novel is set up for a series, and our main character could easily develop into the most powerful of all, she isn’t there yet. She’s nowhere close. It’s wonderful. It’s also nice to see the development of multiple characters, instead of just the one. While we are each the main character in our own stories, there’s never just one story being told. I feel like Milner embodies that.

 Milner has created a character who I want to see develop. I want to see her growth, I want to see her succeed, I want to see her choices. Instead of a one-off novel a reader would read once and forget, we have been given a novel who invites the reader into a developing and expanding universe ripe with potential. As a non-fantasy reader, I can’t wait for the next book to appear.

Rating: Four and a half stars

 For the Sensitive Reader: This is a solid PG book. There is some violence, some talk of yearning, but nothing I’d deem inappropriate.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Nine Lives of Chloe King (The Fallen, The Stolen and The Chosen Omnibus) - Liz Braswell writing as Celia Thomson

Summary:  Dying can really change a girl's life.

Chloe King is a normal girl.  She goes to class (most off the time) fights with her mom, and crushes on a boy...or two.  But around her sixteenth birthday, Chloe finds that perhaps she isn't so normal after all.  There's the heightened night vision, the superfast reflexes -- oh, and the claws.

As she discovers who she is -- and where she comes from -- it is clear she is not alone.  And someone is out to get her.  Chloe has nine lives.  But will nine be enough?  (Summary from book - Image from

Note:  I don't often review three books in a series at once, but as the book I picked up was an omnibus of all three stories, I figured it would be best to use this format.  As far as rating goes, I will rate each book individually, and then give the series an overall average rating.

My Review:  The Nine Lives of Chloe King omnibus (which contains The Fallen, The Stolen, and The Chosen) was released in 2011, right around the same time that ABC Family debuted a series by the same name and based off the book.  I found the show on Hulu the other day and watched it, not knowing it was based on a book, but thinking that it might be something my girls would like.  I realized it was based on a book about a quarter of the way through, but decided to just finish the season anyway and read the book later if things went well.  I was pleased to find that it was a fairly clean show with a strong female heroine who had good friends and a great relationship with her mother.  Upon discovering her ability to kick butt, Chloe had a decent sense of right and wrong and would often make the choice to help others at her own peril.  Unfortunately, the television show was cancelled after only one season and it ended with terrible yell-NOOOOO-at-the-screen cliffhanger.  I knew that my daughters would kill me for getting them hooked on a show that ended that way, so I decided to pick up the book and see if it was something I could let them run with.  Here are my thoughts on The Nine Lives of Chloe King book series.

The Fallen -   The first book in this series was ridiculously easy to read, likely because I didn't have to spend a lot of time picturing the characters or setting.  Having seen the show, most places I would have to picture were just there already so I took them and ran with it.  The basic characters and setting were much the same, but this book really only covers Chloe's gradual discovery of her powers, the complications she has when her two best friends start dating, and the development of a love triangle -- so, basically the pilot episode of the series.  I'm assuming more will come in the next book.

I liked the basic bones of this story, but beyond that I have to say I was incredibly disappointed.  The show ending the way it did will likely drive others, including kids, to do exactly what I did, and pick up this book.  Unfortunately, what they will get is decidedly more adult than it is family.  It was peppered with all kinds of swearing, underage drinking, lying, sneaking into bars, raging teenage hormones, near-sex with strangers, etc.  Quite frankly, Chloe was kind of a brat to begin with and the manifestation of her powers only seemed to amplify matter.  However, I do allow for character evolution in my assessment of things, so my only hope is that once Chloe fully understands who she is and what is happening her behavior might even out.  Time will tell. 
(My Rating: 2.5 Stars)

The Stolen -  The second book in the series picks up a day after Chloe's confrontation with The Order of the 10th Blade.  She wakes in a strange mansion, surrounded by people like her who tell her the truth about her heritage and and the secret society trying to kill her.  Since Chloe is mansion-ensconced for a good chunk of the book, the author chose to write from several other perspectives to flesh out the story, which offered some background and a wee bit of depth to other characters.. Although Chloe is supposed to stay in the mansion for her own safety, she manages to sneak out and meet with her friends and learn that her mother is missing.  All rather predictably, hijinks ensue, love-triangle abound, tension increases between the Mai and the Order, and it wraps up with another massive cliffhanger.

The Stolen was just as easy to read as it's predecessor.  It's clearly a fluff series.  As in, there's not a lot to chew on, but the story is entertaining if you're just looking for a distraction.  There is a bit of making out and some innuendo, but nothing beyond.  Personally, I enjoyed the less physical Romeo & Julietish nature of Chloe and Brian's relationship, far more than Alyec's persistently aggressive flirting.  I guess I'm on Team Broe.  Team Chlian?  Whatever.  Alyec annoys me. On the plus side, there is marginally less swearing (I say marginally because there is still several handfuls of it) and Chloe isn't nearly as much of a brat in this novel as she was in the first.  Thank heavens, because I'm not sure I could have put up with it.  Honestly, I'm not sure that I want to read the next novel but as I have to take my daughters to a dance in town tonight and then kill several hours, I might as well. (My Rating:  3 Stars.  It is what it is meant to be.)

The Chosen -  Nope.  Sorry.  I tried but couldn't make it more than a few chapters in.  Such is my review and since I didn't make it very far, I won't be giving it a rating. 

AVERAGE RATING:  2.75 Stars.  (Probably less if I'd fully read and reviewed the final book)

For the sensitive reader:  Plenty of swearing, teenage drinking, innuendo, and sexual situations. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Eight Goodbyes - Christine Brae

Summary: “One universe, nine planets, 204 countries, 809 islands and 7 seas. And I had the privilege of meeting you.” - Unknown

When Tessa Talman meets Simon Fremont for the first time, not only is she attracted to him, she’s intrigued by how different their lives are. He’s a dedicated scientist, practical, pragmatic, and grounded—while she’s a head-in-the-clouds romance author. As their relationship grows, they agree to meet in places around the world, while continuing to live on opposite sides of the globe.

Though their feelings for each other deepen, their priorities remain the same. Simon is in a hurry to be financially sound and settle down, but Tessa is enjoying her freedom and newfound success. Neither is willing to give in, but as each goodbye gets harder, Tessa begins to wonder whether fame is the path to happiness, or if she has everything she needs in Simon.

Just as Tessa finds the courage to go after her own happily ever after, the unthinkable happens, separating them in ways they never imagined.

To move forward, she must let go of the past, and determine once and for all if love is truly more powerful than the pain of goodbye.
 (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)


I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: You guyyzzzz. Okay. I guess I should preface this by saying that I am not a romance novel reader. Like, not. At. All. It’s not my jam. I don’t like unrealistic situations or people that are so beautiful and so perfect that they’re unrealistic. I don’t read a lot of romance novels, so I’m generalizing here, but I’m thinking that this is pretty standard in a lot of them.

When I took a copy of this book, I didn’t realize it was a romance novel. I mean, I guess I should have? However, it became very obviously very quickly that it was. This ensured much eye rolling from me. But, like I said, because I am by no means a romance novel aficionado, maybe some of these things are not typical and this book just happened to be seriously cliché.

First off, the characters were perfect. They were beautiful and talented and smart and all the things everyone in the land wants to be. The dude has an accent, which seems to be the key to all hot guys in all the novels, and the girl is kinda kooky with her own brand of coolness that no one else can be and yet she’s afraid to settle down cause…that’s just not what girls like this do. They’re both wildly successful and very young, which is great because it’s hard to be the star of your own romance novel if you’re just kind of a loser or middle of the road Joe who doesn’t have much going on.

Secondly, the story was just so far-fetched. It must be nice to be able to just jet set everywhere since they’re both not only wealthy but also very successful so they can do whatever they like. The female lead is a famous author to the point that even J.K. Rowling would be jealous, which is great considering she’s written one romance novel that is apparently so mainstream that random people come up to here everywhere in the world knowing who she is and clamoring for her autograph.

This book did take a little bit of a turn, which was not surprising, but it did add some extra chapters to the book. And here’s another beef I have about it—it was counting down the “goodbyes” (hence the name of the book) and then all of a sudden it stopped doing that and the chapters changed their method of counting down the goodbyes and randomly went elsewhere. I do not like that. At all. If you want to organize a book a certain way, then you should stay with that organization. Naming each chapter a numbered goodbye made sense, but after it stopped (it didn’t make it to eight) it just became confusing and then never picked up the counting the goodbyes again. That bugs.

So many of the situations—the love scenes, the meetings, the utter jealousy and ridiculousness of it all were just too much for me to handle. My husband pretty much laughed at me the whole time I read this book. It was just so romance novel.

Now. I know that this author has quite a following with her other books. She does not need a reviewer like me to okay her book because everyone that is going to buy it has either bought it or will buy it anyway. If you like romance novels, you will probably love this book because as I mentioned above, it’s romance novel gold. That being said, it really wasn’t my cup of tea and as a non-romance novel reader I just can’t. Even.

My Rating: 2 stars (because I’m generous and realize that just because it’s not my thing doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s thing)

For the sensitive reader: There is language and sex in this book. Lots of sex. Romance novel sex. If you are looking for a clean book, I would move along.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Sopping Thursday - Edward Gorey

Summary: An umbrella is missing. A man is distressed. A thief scampers over rooftops. A child is in danger. A harangued salesclerk weeps. A dog save the day.

The intriguing story of The Sopping Thursday is unlike any other Edward Gorey book, both because of its unique gray-and-black illustrations and because it has a happy ending (if one is to dismiss any worry about the child featured in the last frame). In just thirty images and thirty short lines of text, Gorey manages to create a complex tableau of characters and a plot worthy of film noir. (image and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: What I love about Edward Gorey's books is the strange, almost dream-like way they are told.  I read an article recently that talked about how he told disjointed stories because he left a lot up to the imagination of the reader.  His stories will jump from point A to point 12 within one page, leaving you to try and figure out what happened in between and possibly wondering if we have moved onto a different story completely.  However, they always somehow manage to tell a complete, if not disjointed tale, which is really the charm of Gorey's books.  The jumpy storytelling could be jarring for some, but if you just go with it, you will be amused.

The Sopping Thursday is mostly about rain, umbrellas and one very noble dog named Bruno.  As we go from one cleverly drawn page to the next, we jump in and out of different stories, a man looking for the perfect umbrella, a man who has lost his umbrella, a thief of umbrellas, and Bruno going on a quest to recover an umbrella.

Gorey's art has always had a spot in my heart.  If you ever watched the old Masterpiece Mystery on PBS (and I believe they still use portions nowadays) there is an animated intro that is in Gorey's style, as his art lends well to the mysterious and dark.  His art in Sopping Thursday is wonderful, with the rain on nearly every page, and the solid black umbrellas and the hound with the very Victorian-looking humans.

This story is surprisingly lighter fare compared to his other books which tend to have a more macabre trend (check out The Gashlycrumb Tinies if you want a taste), but it still has that unique Gorey flair, and anyone with an odd sense of humor will definitely enjoy.  

My Rating:  Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing of note

Friday, February 8, 2019

Morning Star (Red Rising #3) - Pierce Brown

NOTE:  This is the third book in the Red Rising series.  If you haven't read them yet, check out our review of the first book, Red Risingor the second, Golden Son.

Summary:  Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war.  The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people.  But Darrow is determined to fight back.  Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society's mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.  Finally, the time has come.  But devotion to honor and hunger  for vengeance run deep on both sides.  Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy.  Among them are some Darrow once considered friends.  To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied -- and to glorious to surrender.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Why is it that every time I finish a book in this series, I feel as if I've been tased, run through an emotional meat grinder, and thrown into a hurricane?  Seriously, people.  I'm coming down off a massive adrenaline high.  It's both amazing and kinda awful, which is pretty much exactly how I would describe this book.** 

All the ways this book is amazing:  First, Morning Star begins with a brief but helpful recap of each of the two previous books in the series, Red Rising and Golden Son.  I don't know about you but if I have to wait between books in a series, sometimes I need the refresher and the recaps were helpful in that regard.  It also begins with Darrow, outed as a Red and in the hands of his enemies, weakened and imprisoned in the dark confines of a stone box.  Talk about motivation to read.  There are at least two more books in the series, so you kind suspect he's going to make it to the next one, but oh how I wanted to read him out of that box.  SPOILER:  He does...and in spectacular style.

Morning Star is only part of an epic battle for power set in our solar system.  From Mercury to Pluto and the various moons in between, it feels utterly massive in scope.  Ordinarily, I'd feel lost in the sea of battle and intrigue, the swirl of it all, but the characters are what kept me anchored.  Like the other books in the series, this book is brimming with fascinating characters -- not just Darrow, but the secondary and tertiary ones as well.  The author didn't feel the need to make anyone fit a perfect super-hero mold.  Each comes with their own story and motivations, weaknesses, strengths, and fears. These characters brought dimension and life to the story.  They are what made me care.  I had already become very attached to some of the characters from previous books -- Darrow (obviously), Mustang, Roque, Ragnar, Cassius, Victra, and even Sevro (the most lovably unlovable good-guy you'll probably ever meet) and was completely hooked on their individual stories, whether they played out for good or ill.  I fell hard for some of the new characters as well, though I won't name them just yet.  At this point, I'm so deeply invested in the story, its characters, and the final outcome, I don't think anything (short Darrow imprinting on a vampire baby named Renesmee) could pry me away from this series.

I loved the themes of loyalty, equality, and sacrifice that have threaded throughout the series, and especially come to light in this book.  Darrow believes that a person is more than their color or the life to which they have been born.  He is unswervingly loyal to those he loves and willing to sacrifice everything he has -- his own life and, if necessary, the lives of others, if it serves a higher purpose. You'd think his willingness to sacrifice others would make him a hard man to love, but it's quite the opposite. I loved this quote from the book, as Darrow recovers from a long captivity: 

I've never been a man of joy or a man of war, or an island in a storm...that was what I pretended to be.  I am and always have been a man who is made complete by those around him.  I feel strength growing in myself.  A strength I haven't felt in so long.  It's not only that I'm loved.  It's that they believe in me.  Not the mask like my soldiers at the Institute.  Not the false idol I build in the service of Augustus, but the man beneath."  

Darrow is no ordinary action hero.  He isn't afraid to love, to cry, or to forgive.  Though his actions are sometimes hard to take, Darrow can be trusted to make the impossible call, even if it breaks him to do it.  This devotion to his fellow comrades, his family, and the cause, never fail to inspire others to follow him and in the end (at least the end of this book) he isn't the only one willing to sacrifice all. 

All the ways this book is awful:  Plain and simple, Morning Star will rip your heart out, possibly a few other internal organs as well.  Then, it will cram them back in (hopefully in the right order) before ripping them out again and playing a lovely game of tic-tac-toe with your entrails.  Then back in again they go.  No, I am not exaggerating.  If you're even remotely invested in certain characters you better brace yourself.  Some of them will be ripped away.  No, I am not going to tell you WHO.  But there is so. much. loss. of. life.

Let's be honest, if you've made it to this point in the series, you probably aren't sensitive to violence or language.  At this point I'm rather desensitized to both, but even I noticed the ramped-up body count and increased profanity.  So, whatever you might be imagining, multiply it by three....and then ten.  That should be about right.  I don't read a lot of high violence books on a regular basis, but I just got finished reading Bird Box so I feel like my frame of reference is on point right now.   

A little bit of both: The up-left-down-right-up-down roller coaster of it all is one of the best and worst things about this book.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book and I never had to wait very long for the next big twist; a turn of the page reveals unexpected allies and hidden enemies.  Darrow always seems to have something up his sleeve, in fact, a great many people do.  When the battle seems unwinnable (or in the bag), that's when everything you thought you knew gets thrown out the window.  In Darrow's own words,

"I'm a bl**dyd**n Helldiver with an army of giant, mildly psychotic women behind me and a fleet of state-of-the-art warships crewed by pissed-off pirates, engineers, techs, and former slaves.  And he thinks he knows how to fight me?"

In this book anything can happen, and frequently does.  If you decide to read it, buckle up. 

My Rating:  4.5 Stars.  (I should probably give it a 4 because of the increase in violence and language.  But...well, I don't want to.) 

For the sensitive reader:  A staggering amount of profanity and violence, with some sexual innuendo.  Sensitive readers should look elsewhere.  I mean it.  Don't read this and then come complain to me about the swearing and kill-count.   You've been warned.

**At this point in writing the review, my youngest decided to spend the night puking...and thus I am now functioning on very little sleep.  Hopefully the rest of my review makes sense.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Before She Sleeps - Bina Shah

Summary: In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of South West Asia, gender selection, war and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and women must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.

Yet there are women who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night, to provide to the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity that nobody can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.

This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan’s most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid’s Tale about women’s lives in repressive Muslim countries everywhere. It takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women’s bodies, amplifies and distorts them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Unless you have been hiding under a rock (and it would have to be a literal rock at this point) you are probably aware that dystopian fiction is a big thing these days. Is it because things are going really well in our society and therefore we have doomsday scenarios to spice up our lives? Or are things going poorly and stressful so people see dystopian fiction as a warning sign of things to come, whether it is inevitable or just a warning? I would argue that there are both. There are books like the Hunger Games trilogy that maybe were just for entertainment and good old-fashioned fun and drama, and then there are books of warning like The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’d say this book fits easily in the latter category.

Whether or not you agreed with the outcome of the past presidential election, it is obvious that some women felt threatened by the turn politics have taken. Again, you may or may not agree with this, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many women who feel like their status in society has slipped. This book is a reflection of that, and a dystopian fiction where women are no longer half of the population, and therefore their status has been seriously upgraded, but in a definitely skewed dystopian fashion wherein they have very little freedom of choice or opportunity. Indeed the whole society has suffered; both men and women have been oppressed and are under intense struggles and strife due to the epic disaster that caused the dystopian world.

This book was creepy and unsettling, just as all good dystopian fiction should be. Although there are those books that focus a lot of their story on the event/s that caused the collapse of the society, this book was more about what came about because of it. As with other good dystopian fiction books, this one created unique sub-cultures within the society of people who were forced to survive and what they did. I actually think this book could have other novels that occurred in the dystopian world, where the author could shift her focus to another part of society that was just touched on, whereas this focused mainly on a group of women who were basically comfort objects for sleep (actual sleep, not sex).

I enjoyed the writing in this book. Each chapter would switch to a different narrator, which definitely worked in this book, although I don’t think the voices were really very different from each other. If there weren’t titles for each chapter I wouldn’t have known who was who. However, that doesn’t matter so much because there were titles for each chapter and therefore I was definitely aware who was who.

The story in this book was compelling, and I think that it could have been even more in-depth. As mentioned above, I think there could have been even more to it, and maybe there could be more in a series or even a trilogy. The ending definitely left an opportunity for a sequel. I would have also liked to learn more about the culture. I think knowing more about the culture makes it scarier because you know how far they’ve come from normal once the dystopian world takes place.

Overall, I’d say this is a solid dystopian novel that offers a unique perspective on what it would be like if women became a limited commodity.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This novel is pretty clean. There are disturbing situations, as in any dystopian novel.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Lackadaisy: Volume #1 - Tracy Butler

Summary: St. Louis 1927.

Times change. Laws change. People still want booze.

For the better part of a decade, hidden beneath the inconspicuous Little Daisy Cafe, the city's best-kept secret has slaked the thirst of a prohibition-wearied populace.

Lackadaisy.

Unfortunately, the once raucous and roaring speakeasy now rests at a crossroads, its golden age seemingly at an end. Lackadaisy's remaining loyalists are left with few options.

But with all the cunning, tenacity, and sly ingenuity they can muster, they might just have a chance.

And if that doesn't work, fire does. (image and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: I have been following Lackadaisy since it first began posting as a webcomic many years ago.  I fell in love with the world, the art, the anthropomorphic cat people in 20s era garb, and the delightful characters.  

Lackadaisy is such a clever and witty comic, filled with cunning dialogue, quick thinking, and funny situations.  Each character is rounded in their own way, and together make for some fun dialogue and situations.  It's actually really quite difficult to pick a favorite character, to be honest, because they're just that well written.  Tracy has also done her research into this era (and in the back of this book is a list of references that add depth to this world). Cats though the characters may be, they feel real.

The art is also stunning. Tracy has a remarkable grip on facial expressions (in particular, the character Rocky gets some stellar faces).  She fully illustrates backgrounds with buildings and interiors, giving this world a very authentic feel.  I love the different cats she uses for her characters, and how their styles fit their personalities.  This comic, in my opinion, is a perfect marriage of writing and art. 

The full comic (up to the most current page, that is, it's still a work in progress) is online at lackadaisycats.com, and I highly recommend it, and seeing how her art has progressed even further, each page a small masterpiece. 

This first volume book includes several pages at the end filled with original character designs, test comics, silly side comics that delve a little bit more into back and side stories of the characters, and some art tutorials as well as some full color pages.

Comic though it is, I would suggest it for an older audience.  The art and characters are fun, but a younger child might not be interested in the subject matter (as well as some of the items in the sensitive reader area below)

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: this story takes place in the 20s during prohibition, so there is lots of alcohol bootlegging, alcohol consumption, rival bootleggers shooting each other down, and language.  

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide For The World's Most Adventurous Kid - Dylan Thuras & Rosemary Mosco (Illus. Joy Ang)

Summary:  Embark on the journey of a lifetime!  Join Atlas Obscura on a thrilling, beautifully illustrated expedition to 100 of the most astonishing places around the globe.  Hopscotch from country to country in a chain of connecting attractions:  Explore Mexico's glittering cave of crystals, then visit the world's larest cave in Vietnam.  Or peer over a 355 foot-waterfall in Zambia, then learn how Antarctica's Blood Falls got its mysterious color. As you climb mountains, zip-line over forests, and dive into oceans, use this book as your passport to a world of hidden possibilities.  Time to pack your bags!  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

Note: There are two versions of Atlas Obscura - one for adults and another edition written especially for children that has a formidably long name (The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid). I refuse to type it more than is necessary and I just hit my daily limit, so for the purpose of this review, I will call this book simply Atlas Obscura.  

My ReviewAtlas Obscura is an absolute treasure. I found it sitting on the new arrival shelf of the library and snapped it up in a hot millisecond, fairly certain that at least one of my kid's would be all over it.  I wasn't wrong.  In fact, three of my children (ages 6, 8, and 13) have been fairly consumed with it since I brought it home.  (My 15-year-old is currently being not-so-quietly crushed by a mountain of homework, so her disinterest shouldn't really be held against the book).  While my thirteen-year-old has taken to reading it on her own, Atlas Obscura has put some extra adventure in our bedtime routine as I read a few pages of it every night to my two youngest.  Why only a few pages each night?  Well, the reason we read it in bits was because with each adventurous location my children clamored for a virtual tour, be it with pictures or video.  Now if I were being forced to look up Dora the Explorer factoids, this might be something akin to torture, but the fact of the matter is that most of the places I was reading to the kids about I had no idea existed I was just as fascinated and eager to find out more as my children.  Here's a long but not-entirely-comprehensive list:

  • Antarctica's Blood Waterfall 
  • Etheopia's lava lakes 
  • The giant crystal caves of Niaca, Mexico
  • The Hanging Temple of Hengshan, China
  • A 10,000-year clock being built deep in the Texas mountains
  • Norway's Forests of the Future library (this one was particularly cool)
  • The Waitomo glowworm caves of New Zealand 
  • A 97-foot tall, 80-room tree house in Tennessee
  • The living bridges of Cherrapunji, India
  • A secret apartment in the Eiffel Tower 
  • The mysterious geoglyphs in Peru and Australia, 
  • Columbia's rainbow-colored river
  • The micronation of Ladonia located on a beach in Sweden
  • Namibia's fairy circles, 
  • The mobile library of Mongolia
  • Moroccan tree goats
  • The musical stones of Gobustan, Azerbaijan
And honestly, so so so much more. The girls and I traveled to sunken cities, white deserts, and spaceship graveyards.  We met self-mummifying munks (okay, I didn't look that one up), toured incredible libraries and underwater art museums, stayed in salt-made hotels, hit up some hot dinosaur dance parties, and even uncovered a 2,000 year old computer.  The adventures just kept coming.

Of course, we didn't actually go to all these places.  Each page was easy to read, offering up a few facts and a new, bizarre place to visit.  We'd read about each location and then look it up. Read about another one.  Look it up.  And so on.  My only criticism is more of a heartfelt wish -- I wish it came with QR codes on each page that led me to a site where I could learn more about each location.  That would have just made my life a little easier (and you know I'm all about that), but honestly, it was well worth our time.  Like many families, we aren't really financially able to visit many of these places right now (though Bike Tree in WA, here we come!), but I love that my children were able to uncover a little bit of the ahhhhh-inspiring and awe-inspiring world they live in.  Hopefully, they learned that there is a whole wide world of amazing waiting for them to explore.   I know I sure did.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There were occasional crypts, mummies, and graveyards.  The illustrations themselves weren't scary, but those who might decide to look them up on the internet might find some fairly graphic images. I may or may not know this from personal experience. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Summer Bird Blue - Dawn Akemi Bowman

Summary: Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)


My Review:  I feel like I’m in the minority when I say this, but I really didn’t like this book that much. There were some things I really enjoyed—don’t get me wrong—but overall, I felt like it wasn’t the best book at delivering the message it set out to deliver.

First off, this is a sad book. Like really sad. It’s one of those tragic books that you just can’t imagine how the people are going to pull through, and yet they do, and it’s messy and not perfect but in the end it will hopefully get better with time. I appreciated that the book didn’t sugarcoat this. In fact, I think that it was easy to get tired of the main character’s brooding ways as well, and yet it was obvious that she was still grieving and that everyone should be given their own opportunity to grieve in the way they need to in order to heal. Once the funeral is over, it seems like everyone is just expected to go on and things return to normal. This may be the reality for the people on the outside, but for the people living it, it’s a lot more complicated than that. I think this book did a great job of helping the reader understand that we have to be aware of how different people grieve, so we can be supportive in the best way we know how, even if sometimes it’s not as helpful as we’d like it to be. We’re all just trying to do the best we can, right? I’d like to believe that.

Some of the characters in this book were really great. I really enjoyed the neighbor, Mr. Watanabe, and their relationship was great. It seemed a little unlikely, but I was okay to let that slide because I really did enjoy their interactions. There were other great characters as well, and I think that they felt authentic.

My reason for not loving the book is I felt like it had a message it wanted to deliver about asexuality and people who don’t necessarily have a sexual connection, but the book was very weak sauce in how it went about it. It even felt like maybe that actually wasn’t the point and the author just slipped that in at the last minute, which was also lame. If you’re going to make a statement and address an issue, especially one that is timely and many in your audience may be dealing with, just do it. None of this namby-pamby weirdness that ended up being confusing and an afterthought. I know there aren’t a lot of books out there addressing asexuality right now, and I feel like this book is getting credit for it just because it did address it, although it didn’t really address it that well. Just because you’re the only one doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

My other complaint about this book is it just wasn’t that interesting. You would think with all that was happening, it would have been more compelling, but it just wasn’t. It was actually a pretty slow read, which is unusual for me in JFic. I feel like I can take on a JFic book in a few days. This one felt like a slog, even though it wasn’t necessarily hard reading. It just wasn’t that interesting. I think it had all the components of a better book than it was, and it just didn’t come together in the end.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and some discussion of sex, but on par with the genre.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Probable Future - Alice Hoffman

Summary:  The women of the Sparrow family have lived in New England for generations.  Each is born in the month of March, and at the age of thirteen, each develops an unusual gift.  Elinor can literally smell a lie.  Her daughter, Jenny, can see people's dreams as they're dreaming them.  Granddaughter Stella, newly a teen, has just developed the ability to see how other people will die.  Ironically, it is their gifts that have kept Elinor and Jenny apart for the last twenty-five years.  But as Stella struggles to cope with her disturbing clairvoyance, the unthinkable happens:  One of her premonitions lands her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide.  The ordeal leads Stella to the grandmother she's never met and to Cake House, the Sparrow ancestral home, full of talismans and fraught with history.  Now three generations of estranged Sparrow women must come together to turn Stella's potential to ruin into a potential to redeem.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:   Alice Hoffman is one of my Go-To's for an excellent read.  I've never finished one of her books disappointed.  In fact, I have several of them (namely Blackbird House, Incantation, Green Angel, and Aquamarine) on my "favorites" shelf right now.  She's just darn good at what she does.  The first thing that caught my eye about this book (other than it's author) is the premise.  The Fort Worth Star Telegram called it "instantly alluring" and they weren't wrong.

In The Probable Future, we meet Elinor, Jenny, and Stella Sparrow -- a specially gifted family of women living in New England. Hoffman always manages to weave a fair amount of mysticism into her stories and this one was, much to my delight, drenched in it.  Elinor, the matriarch, is gifted with the ability to smell lies.  Her adult daughter Jenny has the ability to see others dreams and her thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Stella, can predict how people will die.  These three strong-willed, passionate women come from a long line of curiously empowered female ancestors.  Elinor's mother, Amelia, could ease the pain of childbirth with a simple touch, while her mother, Elisabeth, could make a delicious meal out of anything.  Literally, like rocks and mud.  Further up the family tree are women immune to fire or pain, those who don't need sleep, can see in the dark, or find things that are lost, and more.  While the story focuses on the three living Sparrow women, it swirls around the other histories as well, revealing bits and pieces of the ancestral line as the story evolves.  I was/am fascinated by the the whole concept of a family of women with these kind of powers and my only real disappointment in this book was that I didn't get to hear enough about them.

At the beginning of The Probable Future, the Sparrow women do not get along.  At least not for a good long while.  Their relationships are complicated, so laden with bitterness, secrets, sorrow, and regret that they almost can't help fighting and for a while, this dissonance between the women made it uncomfortable to read.  I didn't want to be there, in the middle of their bickering.  I wanted to shout at them to STOP FIGHTING as if they were my own children.  To make matters worse, the women also seem to be rather unfortunate in love, at least not in the traditional sense. I enjoyed each of their individual stories (though I'm still a little worried about Stella).  Much of the book is taken up with how each Sparrow woman confronts her past, begins to understand her own heart, and find contentment on her own terms.

Hoffman's writing easily stands its ground alongside some of my other favorite female authors -- Anna Quindlen and Elizabeth Berg.  Like them, her words are lyrically stunning and emotionally evocative.  You just sort of get swept away, whether you like it or not.  As for setting, Hoffman may as well have created a (highly-detailed) pop-up book, so fully did New England, the town of Unity, and Cake House blaze into existence.  I've only visited New England once, to see a dear friend who took me to all sorts of historical sites. Standing on the North Bridge, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired, was an experience I'll never forget.  The place positively thrummed with the soul-stories of those long dead. The past hung so thickly in the air, you could almost inhale memories. That is Unity. Long after I forget the characters and story of this book, and it might be a while, I will remember how it made me feel.  Nostalgic in a way I can't explain.  Homesick for something I've never really had, a city I've never visited, and townspeople I've never met. Ready to run down wild trails, explore muddy banks, count the stars, and wait expectantly; as if just there, in that place, anything could happen. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  A handful of swear words, some sexual discussion and mild/vague sexual encounters.  It's pretty obvious that some of the earlier Sparrow ancestors were believed to be witches, so those bothered by witchcraft (or perceived witchcraft) might find something to offend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Melmoth - Sarah Perry

Summary: For centuries, the mysterious dark-robed figure has roamed the globe, searching for those whose complicity and cowardice have fed into the rapids of history’s darkest waters—and now, in Sarah Perry’s breathtaking follow-up to The Essex Serpent, it is heading in our direction.

It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts—or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy.

But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . . (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I thought this book had a lot of promise right from the start. Normal life situations that take a dark turn? Check. Creepy old lady from fairytales stalking modern day people? Check. People unsure of whether or not this lady actually exists or they’re just experiencing bad luck? Check. I mean, its fairytale invading modern life gold, right? Unfortunately, this didn’t actually happen in practice.

I wanted to like this book a lot. I love the fairytale genre that has been happening of late (I just barely reviewed this fairytale that I think you should check out), and I had high hopes that this would be one in a long line of very cool books to add to that. In some ways, it was. I did enjoy the story. The people were haunted, the old crone, Melmoth, was always skulking in the sidelines throughout history. That was compelling. I enjoyed that Melmoth was a fairytale (and almost a threat) passed down through generations to scare kids into behaving. It just didn’t pull through as well as I had hoped. There were a couple of reasons for this, I think. First off, Melmoth just wasn’t as scary was I wanted her to be. I wanted her to be real and present and actually scary. It turned out that although she was there, she was almost just a bystander. That’s not nearly as effective as being an actual creepy old crone who brings bad luck to those who see her. Secondly, there were some genuinely bad and unfortunate situations that happened to the characters, but I’m not sure they warranted bringing Melmoth into it. Melmoth was almost just a name for bad luck and nothing more. A really scary fairytale character would be able to bring ever-present danger and misfortune, not just stand around watching while it happened. I think I could compare Melmoth to Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote. Although I was never personally invested in this show (I missed it by a few generations, I think), my grandma was, and when she visited I would watch it with her sometimes. Although Angela Lansbury would never actually commit the murders, she sure was around them all the time and had the worst timing ever (and none of her friends ever noticed, but we’ll leave that for another time). So it is with Melmoth. I don’t think she actually caused anything, she just happened to be there at the wrong time. Maybe she, too, turns into a teapot and sings about a beast in another lifetime.

I think my main disappointment in this book is just that it had potential but didn’t reach it. The story had such promise, and yet it just didn’t pack the punch it could have. There is nothing more disappointing than a weak sauce realization of a really good idea. That being said, the book wasn’t bad, the writing was decent, and the story did have some interesting characters. Maybe you like not-so-ominous old crones who are more watchers than causers.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is rather tame with some language and mild situations.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Katurran Odyssey - Terryl Whitlatch & David Michael Wieger

Summary: "The Katurran Odyssey" is a remarkable visual achievement, filled with spectacle, fantasy, and wonder on every page. This epic tale of faith, hope, and selfless heroism is illuminated by the stunning illustrations of Terryl Whitlatch, the principal creature designer for the Star Wars prequels, and is brought to dynamic life by the storytelling of screenwriter and author David Michael Wieger.Bo-hibba is a remote island in a faraway time and place that is populated by animals who are at once fantastic and startlingly real. The island's survival is threatened by the Long Winter, and not even the High Priest's ancient ceremony of renewal can put an end to the suffering from the hunger and the cold.

Katook, a small but courageous young lemur, lives in the village of Kattakuk. When he dares to enter a forbidden area on the island and witnesses a shocking act, the outraged priests banish him from the island forever. Forced to journey across the vast sea in search of a new home, Katook encounters great perils and marvels on his quest and undergoes profound tests of trust and friendship. At last, he finds the place where the secret of the Long Winter is revealed and where he must confront his greatest fear if he is to save his family and his island home.

Like such classic works of fantasy as Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," Rien Poortvliet's "Gnomes," C. S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia," Brian Jacques's "Redwall" series, and Brian Froud's "Faeries," "The Katurran Odyssey" creates a mythic world imbued with beauty, adventure, and transcendent imagination. (image and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: I've had this book for years, and it has also been years since I last read it, and I found myself wanting to delve into this unique world again and see if it held up to when I first read it.  I love original worlds with their own cultures and gods, and I also love following the story of little outcast lemur Katook, and his friendship with the very vain quagga, Quigga.

What really makes this book is the art.  Terryl Whitlach is a masterful animal artist, and has worked on several movies (including Star Wars, of which I have another book of hers detailing all her creature art for that world), and Brother Bear, another favorite of mine.  She has a fantastic knowledge of animals (and even made up creatures) that is so inherent in her artwork that you just can't help but adore, the fluid motion and poses and the sheer number of animals she illustrated for this world.

And that's another cool thing about this book.  Every animal in it (except one or two that are fantasy-related) are real animals, whether they are alive now or extinct.  You can have extinct fare like thylacines, moas, and quagga aside much lesser known currently existing animals such as sables and gerenuks and fossah.  It's truly a feast for animal lovers, and Terryl's art is just spectacular.

The story itself is fine.  It's enjoyable, but it's not stellar.  I do really like the world that was crafted, a world inhabited entirely by animals (and mostly in their animal states too, meaning four legged animals walk around on four legs.  Some do wear clothes, but it's mainly the monkeys, as they fill the human niche of this land, writing books, riding larger animals as steeds, crafting buildings, etc).  It's a typical hero's journey story, which I have no qualms with, but I think the art outshines the actual writing.

It did bring into question several things I didn't feel were fully addressed.  Back to the monkeys riding other animals--is this slavery?  Because we know these animals are cognizant, even our main character's friend, a quagga, explicitly tells Katook he will not be ridden.  Another question I was left with was where is the predator/prey line drawn?  Both were included in this world, but I couldn't tell if the predator animals were able to communicate/if they were seen as equals?  In some scenes you see them walking about in the market with prey animals, in others, they are the attack dogs for royalty. It was just something that, for a world that went into as much detail as it did with the monkey cultures, I felt a little more of a solid line could have been drawn on some of these other important facets of worldbuilding.

But overall, the Katurran Odyssey is well worth the time as we go with Katook on his journey in this world filled with strange gods and cultures, masterful art and design, and a unique look at different animal species.

My Rating: Four Stars


For the sensitive reader: the priests in Katook's village are pretty threatening and scary, and along his journey, Katook is thrown into peril after peril, kidnapped, enslaved, and hunted.

   

Friday, January 18, 2019

Bird Box - Josh Malerman

Summary: Something is out there...something terrifying that must not be seen.  One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence.  No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children.  Living in an abandoned house near the river, Malorie has long dreamed of fleeing to a place where her family might be safe.  But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat--blindfolded.  One wrong choice and they will die.  And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey -- a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her.  Interweaving past and present, Josh Malerman's breathtaking debut is a horrific and gripping snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

My Review:  I don't know if you are Netflix fans, but just before Christmas, Netflix released a film called Bird Box that I really wanted to watch.  This is unusual for me, since I don't generally watch or read anything that falls into the horror/thriller category.  It's just not my bag; I like being able to sleep at night.  Eventually, I decide not to watch it, but imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I stumbled upon the book version sitting on one of my own bookshelves.  I didn't even know there was a book version, let alone remember I owned a copy!  It seemed meant to be, so I crossed my fingers and dove in.

Bird Box (the book) is a nerve-wracking, pulse-pounding, nail-biting, hand-wringing, edge-of-your-seat-the-entire-time kind of book.  Not sure what I mean?  Think The Walking Dead meets The Reapers Are the Angels meets The Quiet Place, with an unquantifiable foe that incites brutal, homicidal madness in anyone who sees it. 

The story itself alternates between past and present perspectives.  In the present, a woman named Malorie is desperate to survive, as nearly everyone she loves has been killed.  The only way out of her current situation is to escape down river in a rowboat in search of a rumored safe haven.  As if that weren't hard enough, she does so with two young children. Oh, and everyone is blindfolded.  On a river. And did I mention they were BLINDFOLDED!! Yikes, right?!

In flashbacks to the past, a little more of Malorie's backstory comes to light -- the early days of "the problem," societal degeneration, her harrowing journey to the house that would become her home until she was forced to flee, and several things that happen in the interim.  Thanks to the author's narrative technique, I understood little more than the characters themselves, and nearly nothing about the pressing threat, and served more as a silent spectator, pressed against the wall, in a truly frightening nightmare.  As you can imagine, that is a pretty terrifying place to be.  But also kind of deliciously so. 

For me the most nerve-wracking part of the book was the obvious differences between past an the present.  In the past viewpoint, Malorie shared a house with more than a half dozen people -- healthy ones, with a good stockpile of food. They should have been their four years later when, in the present, it's just Malorie and her children.  Obviously something happened.  But what?  WHAAAT!??!  I read this book cover to cover in around 5 hours and it seemed like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire time.  Drop it does and it's a doozy -- a veritable pelting of shoes, so be ready.

I won't say more, because to do so would be giving too much away, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting scared senseless while reading this book.   I'd recommend this book to anyone with a strong stomach for suspense who isn't bothered by some cursing or violence, and likes any or all of the following: The Walking Dead (tv show), The Quiet Place (movie), and/or The Reapers are the Angels (book).  
   
My Rating:  4 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Some swearing and fair amount of violence.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster - Jonathan Auxier

Summary: For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on "climbing boys"--orphans owned by chimney sweeps--to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless and brutally dangerous. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived--and a girl. With her wits and will, she's managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again. 

But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature--a golem--made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire. 


Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster. Together, these two outcasts carve out a life together--saving one another in the process. (image and summary from goodreads.com)



My Review: Call me strange, but several years ago I did some research on chimney sweeps for a book I wanted to write.  Ever since then, sweeps have been on my radar, so when I heard about Auxier's book that had both a sweep AND a monster, well.  There you go, I was sold.

This book was so tight.  Auxier is a masterful storyteller, especially with his historical fiction.  I read another of his books, The Night Gardener, and felt the same way.  He is able to capture the history and feel of the past that makes it accessible and also understandable.  In the circumstances for this book, it's 1800s London, and the vast use of climbing boys and girls to clean out chimneys.

I loved our main character, Nan.  She is a climbing girl, and as such, is always going up chimneys for her job.  This was a dangerous position to be in, however, and many young children were seriously injured or died.  But Nan is a tough girl, and despite the danger, she loves her job, particularly when she can be on a roof and see all of London.  I love how Auxier told her story and crafted her character, she felt very real to me.

Auxier weaves in memories of Nan when she was younger and in the care of a gentle, loving Sweep. Before he left, he gave her a gift to watch over her, a small piece of char, or coal, which we later discover is our monster--Charlie.

Charlie was adorable.  He's a golem, a creature from Jewish mythology, that Nan works to protect and teach as he grows up much like a child.  I loved his view of the world and how he saw things.  I called him a monster earlier, the title calls him a monster, but he is not a monster in the sense most people see the word. He is gentle, childlike and caring.  Nan and Charlie's friendship was so pure and so true and it tied this story together so well.

I also loved the quiet pacing of this story.  There was still danger and high stakes as well as harsh circumstances, but the story was able to weave its way along in this almost old fashioned telling that I found very appealing.  A very well deserving book that explores friendship, chimney sweeps, Jewish culture, and change.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nan live in a harsh world, and she and other climbers are put in dangerous situations.  This story also deals with death.   

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Winters - Lisa Gabriele

Summary: Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a spellbindingly suspenseful novel set in the moneyed world of the Hamptons, about secrets that refuse to remain buried and consequences that can’t be escaped

After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiancé Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell. She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere.

As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too. The Winters is a riveting story about what happens when a family’s ghosts resurface and threaten to upend everything. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I was immediately interested in this book because I loved Rebecca, and it is a retelling of that story. I don’t know if you’ve read Rebecca, but if you haven’t, you should. It’s so creepy and well-written and well-told. I first read it when I was a very young high schooler, maybe even junior high, and it was a completely different book to me than when I read it as an adult. I really enjoyed it both times. I had hoped for that experience with this book. I have read another retelling of Rebecca in the past, as well as the sequel to the original (not written by du Maurier), so I have read quite a few retellings and feel like although I may enjoy the books on their own merits, there is nothing that can beat the original. This book was no exception.

There were some things I really liked about this book—it definitely had some of its own story and charm that separated it from the original story. The introduction of the male protagonist having a daughter was a nice addition, and she provided for some good tension and misunderstanding. It was a natural fit for a second-marriage-with-problems kind of situation. Also, the female protagonist was a lot younger, and that gave her a naiveté that was also interesting. She was not to be underestimated, however, and she had some wiliness that also added to the story.

The house, of course, is also a great character in Rebecca. This house definitely has some interesting things about it, but it wasn’t the same creepy old mansion I imagined in the original story. To be fair, that one would be hard to beat.

In the end, I just don’t think the storytelling was as good, nor the story as compelling. The ending was interesting, but wasn’t as shocking as I think the author thought it would be. It definitely had some shocking and maybe surprising elements, but it just can’t compete with the original. I also found the female protagonist (who is unnamed, which is interesting) to be weak at times, which is fine, but it seemed out of character. She was a strong and independent person who had lived on her own for a long time, and so when she would react in ways that made her look weaker than I think she really was, it felt contrived. I also hate love stories that make the woman look like an idiot around the man, especially if it seems out of character for the woman before the man came around.

However, if you liked Rebecca, I think you should check out this book. Everybody has something they like about the classics, and this book may capture some of that for you. Also, if you are into romance and love stories, this might be a book you enjoy.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, sex, and some violence in this book. Still, I would say it’s PG rated.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Comet in Moominland - Tove Jansson

Summary: When Moomintroll learns that a comet will be passing by, he and his friend Sniff travel to the Observatory on the Lonely Mountains to consult the Professors. Along the way, they have many adventures, but the greatest adventure of all awaits them when they learn that the comet is headed straight for their beloved Moominvalley. (picture and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I reviewed the fifth Moomin book in December, so I thought I should write a review of the first book.  (Strictly speaking, this book would be the second, however, packaged as they are now, this falls first. The first Moomin book Tove wrote was called The Moomins and the Great Flood, and is more of a picture book than a novel, and is often considered a prequel.  That being said, while it is a wonderful little story, the saga of the Moomins could be said to truly start in Comet in Moominland, and one doesn't necessarily have to read Flood.)

Moomins are plump little trolls that live in the lovely Moominvalley.  Moomintroll, our hero, lives with his mother and father and best friend Sniff.  When a comet threatens to destroy their fair hamlet, Moomintroll and Sniff set off to discover all they can so they will be prepared when it comes.

Along the way they meet characters that become staple in the Moomin series, Snufkin, Snorkmaiden, and Hemulen.  They all join along for the adventure to the observatory, getting into scrapes and learning how to rely on each other when disaster strikes.

Tove was greatly affected by World War II, and that can be seen in Comet in Moominland as it revolves around an outside force that cannot be controlled by the characters, a terrifying thing that is coming and can easily destroy everything.  Despite that terror, the characters learn to stick together, and when disaster is averted, they see the world with a strong new sense of hope where they can continue to live.

I love this book.  We get to interact with such interesting characters that we can find ourselves relating to, even as they do ridiculous things and go on crazy adventures, like fighting an octopus, walking on stilts across what was once an ocean, and being reunited by a cake made by Moominmamma.  As I've said before, the Moominbooks are a delightful series, with charming characters and unique situations, and I highly recommend them to everyone.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: our heroes are faced with many scary situations, but they bravely come through. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Sisters of the Winter Wood - Rena Rossner

Summary: Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life - even if they've heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother's warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods...

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be - and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is just the kind of book that I‘ve really enjoyed lately. First off, I’m totally digging these fairytale retellings. This one is based on an old Russian fairytale, and I think it’s mixed with a few different fairytales including some cultural lore (according to the afterward), and I think it worked really well. The characters were interesting and mysterious, just as they should be in a good fairytale. I loved the magical realism as well, and I think that’s one of the things that made it really work. So many people who have lived throughout history, due to their lack of scientific knowledge and discovery, basically lived magical realism. Things that we are able to explain away today with science or with natural phenomena would have been magic to them, and I think that is the power behind fairytale—who knows where the natural phenomena or fairytale begins when everything is confusing and new? Some people died from a plague, some did not. Was this just magic or bewitching? Maybe. Fairytales just seem so authentic and real to people who have lived pretty much throughout history without the modern inventions and knowledge we have. And let’s face it—tons of things happen even now that we can’t explain. Is it magic? Is it science?

I enjoyed the writing in this book. Rossner is an adept storyteller and she has organized the book into being told first person by the two sisters. Each of the sisters has a very unique and telling style, and I enjoyed how the writing and the style of prose reflected each of the sisters.

The story is also very compelling. It is full of the age-old troubles of girls falling in love with boys they shouldn’t, family complications of all shapes and sizes, discovering oneself and embracing your destiny without losing sight of your own desires, and cultural strife between different ethnic groups living side by side. Really, this book encompassed a lot of themes and addressed them well. The fact that it was based on actual historical happenings gave it a feeling of authenticity, even though it was well within the realm of fantasy. I found it very interesting and enjoyable.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some cultural strife and mentioned violence.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Golden Son - Pierce Brown

HEY!! We're back!  I hope you had a great Christmas, New Years, winter break, etc.  I know I enjoyed the downtime.  

Golden Son is the second book in the Red Rising series. If you haven't yet read the first book book, we highly recommend you read our review here.

Summary:  As a Red, Darrow grew up working the mines deep beneath the surface of Mars enduring backbreaking labor while dreaming of the better future he was building for his descendants.  But the Society he faithfully served was built on lies.  Darrow's kind have been betrayed and denied by their elitist masters, the Golds -- and their only path to liberation is revolution.  And so Darrow sacrifices himself in the name of the greater good for which Eo, his true love and inspiration, laid down her life.  He becomes a Gold, infiltrating their privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within.

A lamb among wolves in a cruel world, Darrow finds friendship, respect, and even love -- but also the wrath of powerful rivals.  To wage and win the war that will change humankind's destiny, Darrow must confront the treachery arrayed against him, overcome his all-too-human desire for retribution -- and strive not for violent revolt but a hopeful rebirth.  Though the road ahead is fraught with danger and deceit, Darrow must choose to follow Eo's principles of love and justice to free his people.  He must live for more.  (Summary from book - Image from Amazon.com)

My Review:  Woah.  I just finished Golden Son a few minutes ago and I feel as if I need to sit here, catch my breath, and maybe look in a mirror to see if my hair looks wind blown.  I also feel an intense need to get some thoughts down on paper, however informal they may come across.  Holy crap what a ride.  I read the first half of this burst in fits and spurts as I tried to ready my home and family for the Christmas holidays.  I read the last half with white-knuckled dedication.  Like it or not, I've become invested in Darrow and his crazy companions.  I might not always like what they do or the reasons they do it, but just now they feel a bit like family.  You put up with them because you care.

Golden Son takes place several years after the events of Red Rising, and finds Darrow in a position of relative power, biding his time and waiting for Ares, the leader of the rebellion to make contact.  When Darrow is tasked with a horrifying act of destruction, he must decide what kind of man he is and how far he is willing to go for the sake of the mission.  At first, Darrow is still loyal to the cause, playing the loyal Gold while scrapping and plotting to bring freedom to the lowColors and destroy their masters.  However, as the story unfolds a new Darrow emerges -- one who recognizes the true value of those who fight alongside him and begins to realize there might something more and another, better, way to live.  I found I liked this new Darrow even more than the old one.  The old one was pretty much a rock star, but new Darrow showed more vulnerability, compassion, willingness to trust, and wisdom than you might expect from a battled-hardened warrior.  It rounded out his character nicely.  As for the other characters, some major players return and new ones emerge but not all survive.  Many of the deaths came as a surprise and I mourned each loss, however necessary for the story.

Where the first book in this series had a Hunger Games vibe, Golden Son definitely had more of an Ender's Game feel, due in large part to much of it being set in space and a variety of planets and moons.  I enjoyed the change in scenery from the first book and the widened scope of the story.  I also believe Game of Thrones fans would feel right at home in this storyline.  To be clear, I've never actually watched GOT, but from what little I hear there is enough subterfuge, back-stabbing, power grabbing, and general mayhem to go around.  (No dragons, though, but there is a griffin.)

As with the first book in this series, success doesn't always come easy for Darrow.  He has his fair share of victories (minor and major) but he also suffers some fairly devastating setbacks, both personally and for the cause.  As hard as it was to board that particular emotional roller coaster, it made the story feel more believable and the struggle more intense.  And boy was it.  Intense, I mean.  Golden Son had more battles, betrayal, intrigue, and surprises, than I ever expected, enough romance to keep things interesting and more moments of Whaaaaaaaaaat, NO WAY?!?! than I would have though possible in one book.  I'm fairly certain I held my breath for much of the latter half, up until the ending, where the author knocked the win right out of me.  (To be read in the voice of your mother) Pierce Brown....that little hanger of cliffs was just plain mean!  As such, I plan to start the third book, Morning Star, in short order, as soon as I manage to get my hands on it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars.  (Honestly, I'd love to give this book 5 Stars, if it weren't for the things outlined in the sensitive readers section)

For the sensitive reader:  If you are bothered by scenes of intense violence (lots of stabbings, decapitation, limb and eyeball removal), some PG-13 language and innuendo, and one brief, fairly vague sexual encounter, then I'd probably look elsewhere for your book fix.

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