Friday, November 30, 2018

The Aviary - Kathleen O'Dell

Summary: Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is a servant to the kind and elderly matron of the house. Clara has never known another home. In fact, she's confined to the grand estate due to a mysterious heart condition. But it's a comfortable life, and if it weren't for the creepy squawking birds in the aviary out back, a completely peaceful one too.

But once old Mrs. Glendoveer passes away, Clara comes to learn many dark secrets about the family. The Glendoveers suffered a horrific tragedy: their children were kidnapped, then drowned. And their father George Glendoveer, a famous magician and illusionist, stood accused until his death. As Clara digs deeper and deeper into the terrifying events, the five birds in the aviary seem to be trying to tell her something. And Clara comes to wonder: what is their true identity? Clara sets out to solve a decades-old murder mystery—and in doing so, unlocks a secret in her own life, too. Kathleen O'Dell deftly weaves magic, secret identities, evil villians, unlikely heroes, and the wonder of friendship into a mystery adventure with all the charm of an old fashioned classic. (summary and picture from goodreads.com)


My Review: I like myself a good spooky story.  Add in a curse, clever kids, and a spooky atmosphere and you've got it made.

This book was a lot of fun to read.  Our main character, Clara, is both cool and resilient, despite how she's been raised her entire life.  She is determined, kind, and has a lot of grit.  I also enjoyed how this book was in a historical setting.  I think that always lends itself well to spooky, haunted things.

Clara's friend (her first one ever) was also a fun addition, and I really liked her dramatic way of talking, and how she was able to help aid Clara as they discover the dark history of Clara's house, and the strange birds in the aviary out back.

What I always love about stories like this is when the kids solve the problems.  Magic and the like are always better seen by children, and they are more apt to believe.  So while the adults eventually come round, I love how we get characters like Clara who are able to unravel mysteries and curses, and then go to great lengths despite their inhibitions and shortcomings to try and mend everything.  I love that growth.

I liked the gentle flow of the story, how the events unraveled, and how we discover the curse.  As far as scary stories go, it's a slow burn, which I rather like.  It's also rather tame as far as scary stories go, so if you're hoping for jump scares, it won't be this book.  Overall, this one's more of a mystery, but well worth it.

My Rating: 4 Stars
 
For the sensitive reader: the story involves the kidnapping and death of children.  There is also an intense scene at the end with someone intent to do Clara harm.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Eventide - Therese Bohman

Summary: An astute novel following the life of an art professor at Stockholm University as she navigates the academic world, with its undercurrents of sexuality, competition, deceit, and fear

In her forties and childless, Karolina Andersson feels adrift living alone after the breakup of a long relationship. She finds fulfillment in her work, and when she starts advising a new postgraduate student, she is struck by his confidence. He claims to have discovered new materials from a female artist working around the turn of the century that would change the historiography of Swedish visual arts. Karolina soon finds herself embroiled in a game with unexpected complexities, both emotional and professional.

Eventide is a perceptive novel of ideas about love, art, and solitude in our time, and the distorted standards to which women are held in their relationships and their careers. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: This is the kind of book that I think is really captured well by the description. Of course the book has many complexities going on, but the actual feeling of the book--the kind of understated sleekness of it feels very Scandinavian. Let me explain.

The story is one that I don’t think is unusual or shocking, but what the book does do well is really let you inside of the main character’s head. In fact, I felt like I had basically lived a slice of her life with her. This didn’t feel intrusive or uncomfortable, just intimate. Because of this intimacy it made it difficult to view her as others might, and also made her an unreliable narrator. As you can tell from the book summary, she doesn’t think she’s that awesome, and this really colors a lot of what she thinks and what she does. Because the character is an academic, the author has made her inner dialogue and thoughts very complex, and this clouds what the reader is able to see on the outside. It’s quite beautifully done, actually, and although I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked Karolina, I did feel like I understood her as the author wanted me to.

This story has subtle politics that are very timely, but aren’t addressed in a heavy-handed way. Women in the workforce, and especially in the academic world, are facing equality issues that seem to be reverberating across all of the world, and this book does address it, but more in a manner of living it through Karolina’s eyes than an actual discussion.

The story itself is one that matters but doesn’t, really, although I very much enjoyed the resolution of it. I obviously don’t want to give anything way here, but the story serves as a microcosm of Karolina’s life and career as a whole. Bohman is a very competent author who addresses the story and social issues with subtlety and finesse. This is a very quiet book and is a very beautiful reflection of the main character’s life and the issues it wants to address.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has language and some sexual situations, although I would say it’s all on the tame side for an adult fiction novel.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Trail of Lightning - Rebecca Roanhorse

Summary: While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.


My Review: This book was awesome.  Seriously so, so cool.

First of all, I loved the concept.  I don't normally drift to 'grown up books' as it were, preferring middle grade, but when I read the synopsis of this book I knew I wanted to read it right away.

Second of all, I loved our main character, Maggie. She is so dangerous and so damaged.  She is a hard-core monster killer who is also dealing with plenty of emotional and psychological drama.  Her view of the world is obviously hardened and harsh because of what she is (oh my gosh monster slayer yes).  The fact that she cannot really come to grips with what she is just adds to the roundness of her arc, she is just so savage yet so vulnerable.  Ah, such a great character.  On that note I also loved her partner Kai, someone with equally cool powers but a complete opposite to Maggie in terms of how he handles things (she, violence; he, healing).

Third of all I just loved the world.  Another genre I normally steer clear of is the post-apocalyptic one, but this one just worked so well for me.  The Dine (Navajo) culture is filled with such vivid and fascinating lore, and Roanhorse really allowed this to shine.  We get a story set in this land, Dinetah, and with it all the ancient monsters, gods and tricksters that have returned after the apocalyptic 'Big Water' that has destroyed most of the world except this part.  These Dine get to shine and use their clan powers to survive.  They are visited by those ancient gods (nerdy me was super excited when Ma'ii (Coyote) showed up).  And these ancient gods and monsters are equal parts menacing and fascinating and I loved being a part of The Sixth World.

Also, on a note of the visual aspect of this world, I could totally see this being an awesome series/movie as well because I could just see everything so vividly in my mind as I read.  We don't get enough/hardly any proper Native recognition in media, and it's about time we start getting some, and it's awesome to get it from Native authors too.  Can't wait to read the rest of the series.  Problem is this book just came out a few months ago so now we have to wait....

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: harsh language, sexual innuendo, blood and gore

Friday, November 23, 2018

What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty

Summary: Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over… (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is another book club read of mine, and I bet that at this point you’re not only wishing you were in my book club (so many great ladies) but you pretty much feel like you’re in my book club. Minus the treats. Sorry about that. You really missed out. We always have good treats which is, as you know, a key essential for a good book club meeting.


It was my turn to host book club for this meeting, and this is the book I chose, albeit a blind choice. I hadn’t read the book before, which I don’t normally do. I like to choose a book that’s a known good read for me, but sometimes I just have to browse through the library’s offerings and do my best to choose what looks good. I always read reviews and ratings and such before choosing an actual book, and usually this works for me. Every once in awhile we’ll have one that’s not as good as I had hoped it would be when I chose it, but for the most part it works out well. This was one of the times when it worked out well.

I think this book did two things really well. First, it presented a captivating story line that kept you reading, even though for our book club standards it was longish. It didn’t seem like a long read, though, and most people read it within a few days of starting it. I know I did. Once I started, I simply had to see what would happen next. That is the sign of a good book. The story line itself was really interesting—the idea of waking up and thinking it’s ten years ago really gets you thinking about what your own life was like ten years ago. Living this situation with this woman made it easier to evaluate the way my life was ten years ago. Things I hadn’t thought of changing were brought to light as she discovered different parts in her life that had changed over the ten years.

That brings me to the second thing that this book did really well—it really makes you think. Not only should a good book have a captivating story line, but it should make you think and evaluate. This doesn’t, in my opinion, necessarily always have to be about me. Sometimes the story can make me think about our society as a whole, or history, or current events, or any number of things that may or may not affect me directly. This book, however, made me think deeply (and the other women in my book club, as well) about my life. The biggest question this brought about for me was am I leading the kind of life, am I making the kind of day-to-day decisions, that will lead me to where I want to be in ten years? It’s a captivating question, no? In fact, this book felt so real that there was a woman in our book club who couldn’t stand to read it because it felt too close. She is an older woman who has lead a very good life, but this book certainly does put you inside the main character’s head and because of that you feel exposed not only to her shortcomings and discoveries, but to your own as well.

I think this book really excelled at being a book club book. Some books lend themselves well to discussion, and this is certainly one of those books. Our book club does a good job of actually discussing the book (I’ve been in a book club that basically turned into a dinner club, and I know that’s not uncommon) and we discussed this book for a long time. There was just a lot to say and a lot of things to address. I thought about this book long after I read it, and I think I will always try to live my life how I want to be in ten years because of this book and this discussion.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and sexual situations, although I would say it is pretty normal compared to other books in the genre.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

11/22/63 - Stephen King

Forgive the Bonus Post on Thursday this week! It went against everything in my brain to try to post this review on ANY other day than 11/22.

Summary: Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: Well, hello there! It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been able to post. Turns out when you’re teaching full time (which was a temporary and a wonderful experience), reading doesn’t happen much. Especially when you’re trying to get a bunch of seniors ready for AP tests! And when reading doesn’t happen, it’s pretty darn hard to write reviews! I’ve missed it, terribly.

So, funny thing about teaching seniors who have finished their AP exams - their brains are fried. They’re done. Dead. Nothing academic is going to happen happily after that test is turned in. Unfortunately, I still had to have them do a project and a final ... enter, CONSPIRACY THEORIES! My government kids were tasked with researching and presenting a conspiracy theory to the class. We had quite a few lizard people, a few flat earthers, one or two crazy ones I’d never heard of, and JFK. So much JFK. So many interesting twists on the JFK assassination that I decided it was time to check off two boxes on my bucket list: read a Stephen King novel, and delve into the JFK conspiracy. Enter 11/22/63.

I now understand why King is the king of authors. In the past few years as my kids have gotten more busy and my reading time has shrunk, I’ve gotten more and more picky about what I want to read. If I’m 100 pages into a book and nothing has happened, I bid the book adieu and move onto something else. I just don’t have the time to waste on a snoozer anymore.

That being said, this is no snoozer. 100 pages into it, nothing major had happened yet, but the writing was so beautiful, so engrossing, I couldn’t put it down. 800+ pages and I finished it in a couple of days. 

It’s an interesting concept - what would change if you could stop the assassination? What ramifications would that have for the world that forms post-attempt? Couple that with the undebatable talent that King possesses in creating and weaving worlds, and I was absolutely enthralled. 

That being said, the language is ROUGH. I was surprised to see so much profanity and such bad profanity when the writing was so good. It took me aback. It’s a pity, too. Based on what I’ve read, I have no doubt that King could have gotten the point across without the language to that extreme, and it almost felt lazy. However, that didn’t stop me from telling everyone I know who could handle the swears that they have to read this book, right now this very minute.

Rating: Four stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Language. And sex. And violence. But so much language.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

My Fair Godmother - Janette Rallison

Summary:  When you wish upon a star....
...if you're Savannah Delano, you end up with a gum-chewing, cell-phone carrying, high heel-wearing, teenage fairy godmother named Chrysanthemum (Chrissy) Everstar.

After a dramatic break up with her picture-perfect boyfriend, Savannah needs a true prince -- and fast, because the prom is only weeks away.  But looking for love can be a Grimm experience!  If only Chrissy were more than just "fair" in the wish-granting department.  After two botched attempts that land Savannah in the past, first as Cinderella and then as Snow White, Chrissy must send Savannah to save Tristan, a surprisingly cute boy from school whom Chrissy accidentally sent to the Middle Ages.  Hopefully the third time's a charm...as in Prince Charming.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Hey all.  A while back when I took a break from blogging it was in an effort to 'cut the cord', as it were, and stop treating my blog like my baby.  Because, you know I have four actual babies running around that need my attention.  Well, my efforts to cut the cord may have worked too well.  Now I sometimes I forget I have a blog.  Whoops.  Eventually, I'll get it all worked out and find the right balance.  Until then, please forgive me if I drop the blogging ball on occasion.  Life. You know?  Anyhoo, on to the review....

I picked up My Fairy Fair Godmother because I was hoping for a light and easy book that I could read in one sitting.  What can I say?  Sometimes you just need to read a book cover to cover, am I right?  I wasn't expecting anything too cerebral, just some good, clean old-fashioned fun.  Well, you know how they say, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it?  Let's just say it's a lesson that both I and the protagonist learned.

In My Fairy Fair Godmother, a young girl named Savannah wishes for something she thinks she wants and she gets it but is a bit disillusioned at the result, eventually realizing that what she wants isn't necessarily what she needs.  I can relate.  This book was light and it was easy.   It wasn't too cerebral and it was good, clean old-fashioned fun.  It was all the things I thought I wanted and yet in the end I found I didn't really care for it.  Weird, huh.  The problem?  I never engaged in the story.  It was completely take it or leave it.  I could pick it up, put it down, read a little, walk away, without ever really feeling a loss.  It was entertaining at points, but there was no depth, like the characters and plot were just floating on the surface of the page rather than firmly rooted.  Honestly, this is a common problem with certain YA books in this genre, so I really shouldn't have been surprised or disappointed, but I was both.

Before you right this book off as a total fluffy loss, there were a few things that I did enjoy about the story.  For one, it's pretty darn clean.  The most scandalous thing that happens is the non-descriptive loss of a bikini top.  I could, and likely will, hand this story over to my daughter without qualms.  Second, it's creative.  I appreciated that the story didn't always zig the way you thought it would. It begins talking about a completely different character, and it took a while before I was able pinpoint the protagonist.  Similarly, I wasn't able to identify the Bad Guy until right before he was identified in the story.  So....points.  Also, once in a while there were cute little "fairy side notes" that interjected a bit more levity into the story, sort of a la "A Tale Dark and Grimm" but with a lot less gore.

So. Long story short.  It was an okay, one time read. I finished slightly entertained but mostly underwhelmed.  I do plan to pass it along to my teenage daughter(s), as I feel they might enjoy the light, escapist fare that My Fairy Fair Godmother offers and be a little less picky about its failings.

For the sensitive reader:  PDC.  Pretty Darn Clean.  Some light kissing. The accidental (non-descriptive) loss of a bikini top.

My Rating: 3 Stars.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus - Dusti Bowling

Summary: Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms. (summary and image from goodreads.com)


My Review:  This book was delightful.  Aven is such a fun and spunky character, and she has a hilarious sense of humor and personality.  I loved, loved, loved her voice, and found myself laughing out loud at several of the things she said--she was just so honest and felt so real.

Here's the thing I really loved about this book--it wasn't about her disability.  Yeah, it came up often, but that wasn't the main drive of the story, which is always awesome (meaning, it's great to have characters with a disability, but they can just be regular characters too).  She explains how she does things without arms, gets uncomfortable when people stare at her too long, and often spends lunch in the bathroom to hide, but those are just things that happen to her, and yeah, it's hard.  But in moving to live at a fading amusement park, Aven works to uncover a mystery that lies hidden under the dust of the desert, and it's this that drives her along, as well as helping her newfound friends and working to better the park.  Her personality is so spunky and full of good humor which aids in how she lives her life.

It was also great to have a story with more than one character with a disability.  Aven befriends a boy with Tourette's.  This is a misunderstood condition, and I loved the care and effort Bowling put into this character.  You can tell she did her research into these disabilities, reaching out to those who have them, and treated them with respect.  They weren't just a ploy for the plot, they became real people. 

I love one of the themes of the book--we're all different.  Aven even brings this up near the end in a guide she writes on how to live without arms.  "You think you're the only one out there who feels different?  What about that kid sitting alone in the library or out on the sidewalk?"  Just by being herself, she reaches out to those who are overlooked, who feel like they don't belong.  She talks about how people sometimes just don't know how to be around those who are different.  I feel like this book showed how you can be.  And how to reach out to those who are different.  I think this is important for children, because they can be both so honest and so cruel.  But then again so can adults.  People need to understand their actions and cruel words have consequences.  And that's why it's important we have books like this, because they help you learn to empathize, and people who are so different at first become less and less so as you share their story, and in turn, teach you how to be a better person. 

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: the characters often talk about how they feel alienated (Connor, the boy with Tourette's specifically, but also Aven, and another friend, Zion, who is overweight), and the emotion is pretty real when you see how much it affects them.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan

Summary:  An outrageously funny debut,  Crazy Rich Asians is the story of three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occur when Nicholas Young, heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia, brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry.  What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.  Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond her imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor; Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about whom her son should - and should not- marry.

A romp through the Far East's most exclusive playgrounds - from the glittering penthouses of Shanghai to the private islands in the South Chine Sea-- Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian jet set, a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money and between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese, and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:   I picked up Crazy Rich Asians because I heard some positive reviews of the movie and decided I'd like to give the book a go before heading to the theater.  I love the basic premise of the story:  Girl meets boy and they fall in love.  Boy is secretly super-duper rich and girl finds out far later than she should.  Snooty relatives disapprove.  Hi-jinks ensue.  Will they make it through?  Was the plot particularly original?  Not really.  Was it potentially amusing?  You bet.  Crazy Rich Asians delves into the lives of the ultra-rich Asian population, a culture utterly unfamiliar, and therefore fascinating, to me.  With talk of dinner parties, high fashion, romance, and vicious betrayal, I had high hopes for a delightfully romantic, slightly catty, afternoon read.  Alas, it was not to be.  Oh, it was full of all the jaw-dropping opulence and high-society drama you might expect (and secretly enjoy), but the story still left something to be desired.

Perhaps the first clue that things weren't going to go my way was when I opened the book and, searching for the beginning, came across an extensive family tree. As a general rule, I am not a fan of books that pelt you with a million hard-to-keep straight characters.  I'm just not in that place right now, and that is what Crazy Rich Asians does right out of the gate.  Pelt pelt pelt.  I'm glad the family tree was there though, because, boy howdy, was I forced to continually refer to it while reading.  My mind was in a near constant state of: Now who is that?  So-and-so's cousin?  No, brother?  *refers to family tree*  Oh okay....that's the brothers granddaughter's husband.  Got it.  And repeat every few minutes.  Also, there were footnotes.  While I appreciated the extra explanations/clarification about certain aspects of Asian language, culture, or history, they were yet more things that I had to "pause" the story to read.  Now, if I were reading a textbook, charts and footnotes would be welcome additions to the text, but I just wanted something easy.  Some fun chick lit!  I didn't want to have to work for it, you know?

Another aspect of the book that sort of soured the experience for me was the frequent language and occasional innuendo. Several characters were prolific in their use of profanity and others didn't mind engaging in all sorts of less savory pursuits.  While it may have been perfectly in keeping with their character, it wasn't in keeping with mine.  That's my personal preference, and might not bother you at all, but I have to call them like I see them.

Overall, I loved the basic bones of this book -- the story line, setting, and some of the main characters -- but I think that for those readers bothered by profanity or some lewdness and innuendo Crazy Rich Asians might be one of those rare stories that is best consumed in movie form. *Gasp*  I know.  It's not a recommendation I make often, but I'll let you know when I see it.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:   The review pretty much says it, but this book isn't for you if you are sensitive to profanity or lewdness/innuendo.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Wolf's Boy - Susan Williams Beckhorn

Summary: An outcast boy and a young wolf have only each other against an Ice Age winter . . .

Kai burns to become a hunter and to earn a rightful place among his people. But that can never be. He was born with a club foot. It is forbidden for him to use or even touch a hunter’s sacred weapons.

Cut off from the other boys, Kai turns to his true friends, the yellow wolves, for companionship. They have not forgotten the young human they nurtured as an abandoned infant. When Kai discovers a motherless cub in the pack, he risks everything to save her, bringing her back to live with him.

But as winter draws near, Kai’s wolf grows ever more threatening in the eyes of the People. When the worst happens, Kai knows that they must leave for good. Together, they embark on a journey into the north—a place of unimaginable danger—that tests the power of friendship and the will to survive.

Award-winning author Susan Williams Beckhorn delivers a tale set in Paleolithic times. Inspired by modern discoveries, Susan’s careful research creates a vivid picture of a time when the first wolves came to live with humans and forged a bond that lives on to this day. (summary and image from goodreads.com)


My Review: This was a delightful happenstance of a book--I was at the library searching for an entirely different novel, and when it wasn't there I happened to glance down and saw The Wolf's Boy.

I ate this book up.  I loved our main character Kai from the off, an underdog, considered tabat among his people, an outcast, a curse.  He doesn't even have a true name.  Yet even with that hanging over him, he longs to be a hunter, something a person of his standing can never be according to ancient traditions of his people.  Despite being outcast, Kai was kind and caring, and I loved the interactions between him and his younger siblings, and of course his love and care for the wolf cub he adopts.  As well as his longing for the relationship lost between him and his older brother.

This book was filled with awesome words that related to people and things that gave this world a very real feel.  Words like Ama and Apa for mother and father, keerta for a warrior's weapon, and bah and bu for girl and boy.  Simple things woven through the text and dialogue helped this feel like an authentic world.

I always love a good boy and his dog story.  This was a tale set in ice age France, when the first dog began to work with the first human.  I loved Kai's dedication to his wolf, named Uff, and how he needed her as much as she needed him. 

This was a great character story, and also a great adventure and survival story set in a prehistoric time where mammoths, cave bears and saber tooth cats roamed the land.  A quick read too, but very fulfilling.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Kai lives in a harsh eat or be eaten world, but it's handled with taste.  There are several accidents where characters are injured, sometimes very badly, and there is talk of blood.  Animals are also killed for food.

Monday, November 12, 2018

When Elephants Fly - Nancy Richardson Fischer

Summary: There are some battles worth fighting even if it means losing yourself.

T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she's not developing schizophrenia.Genetics are not on Lily's side. 

When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily's odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there's a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.

But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can't abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf's life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: There are a lot of steps you can take to prevent getting sick. Wash your hands. Eat well. Exercise. Get your flu shot. Sadly, the answer isn't as clear when you're talking about schizophrenia. T. Lily Decker is bound and determined to do everything she can do to stave off the genetic predisposition to the disease. She's avoided boys, coffee, stress, stimulus, even learning to drive. Her best friend gives her monthly not-schizophrenic-yet quizzes. She is determined to beat the disease. However, what happens when something more important than your desires come up? Do you walk away? What are you willing to sacrifice?

Honestly, this is one of those books that seems like it would be a quick, set-and-forget kind of books, but it asks the hard questions. What's more important to you than you? Are you willing to sacrifice what you want for what someone else needs? How damaging can our own unintentional narcissism be to our relationships? What if your parents aren't perfect? What if you're not?

Lily is a flawed main character, and not because she's fearful of her future. She's flawed because she's an 18-year-old girl. She's self-obsessed. Her problems create a myopic view of her world - sound like any other eighteen-somethings you know? The best part, however, is that she's able to learn. Her flaws are room for growth, not stereotyped and fluffed up for the reader. The fixes are raw, they're messy, and they're open-ended--almost like real life fixes tend to be. The result is a relatable (at any age, let's be honest, I have T-shirts older than Lily!), real character I couldn't help but root for. The supporting characters are equally as complex and realistic. It was a breath of fresh air.

Even better, this book brings up and highlights two well-researched and pertinent topics: mental health and the plight of elephants around the world. Are they related? Not at all, but in Fischer's hands, they become inseparable. Included at the back of the novel are lists of resources for both issues when readers' interested are piqued and they want to learn more. (My teachy-sense got a little giddy at that.)

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There's a sex scene that, while necessary to the plot, goes further than I'd prefer. There is mention of pedophilia, attempted filicide, animal abuse, and a murder most foul. Trigger Warnings: abuse, schizophrenic breaks 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Nightbooks - J.A. White

Summary: A boy is imprisoned by a witch and must tell her a new scary story each night to stay alive. This thrilling contemporary fantasy from J. A. White, the acclaimed author of the Thickety series, brings to life the magic and craft of storytelling.

Alex’s original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping the witch Natacha happy, but soon he’ll run out of pages to read from and be trapped forever. He’s loved scary stories his whole life, and he knows most don’t have a happily ever after. Now that Alex is trapped in a true terrifying tale, he’s desperate for a different ending—and a way out of this twisted place.

This modern spin on the Scheherazade story is perfect for fans of Coraline and A Tale Dark and Grimm. With interwoven tips on writing with suspense, adding in plot twists, hooks, interior logic, and dealing with writer’s block, this is the ideal book for budding writers and all readers of delightfully just-dark-enough tales. (summary and picture from goodreads.com)


My Review: Nightbooks was a fun, dark adventure that's a mix of Hansel and Gretel and Scheherezade.  It's filled with witches and curses and clever kids, the perfect mixture for any good story.

Our villain is properly spooky and the haunting dilemmas Alex and his friend Yasmin get caught up in are frightening.  Only by reading a different story he has written every night can Alex keep himself alive another day, and the stories he's concocted are pretty creepy and delightful.

The characters are fun and full, and the magical apartment always has something up its sleeve that adds to the spooky atmosphere, and is definitely not always as it seems. This book is a must for those who love ghost stories or dark fairy tales.

I always like a story about stories, and that theme runs strong in this novel.  Alex has been gifted with a mind for telling dark tales, something which sets him apart from others around him, and something he thinks he needs to squelch in order to fit in.  But as the book goes on, he realizes that gift is something that makes him special, something that he loves to do, no matter how creepy or dark the tales he tells.  I totally understand where he's coming from too--when you're 12 and you hit that middle school stage, you want to do whatever you can to fit in, even if it's going against who you really are inside.  We've all done it, I think.  What's cool is coming out of that and realizing who you're supposed to be, and this ordeal helps Alex come to that point, and how his stories, and stories in general, help him--and us--to be.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: the stories Alex tells are spooky, and some deal with death, and the witch can be scary at times.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Girl Who Smiled Beads - Clemantine Wamariya

Summary: A riveting story of dislocation, survival, and the power of stories to break or save us.

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were "thunder." In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years wandering through seven African countries, searching for safety--perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.

When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted asylum in the United States, where she embarked on another journey--to excavate her past and, after years of being made to feel less than human, claim her individuality.

Raw, urgent, and bracingly original, The Girl Who Smiled Beads captures the true costs and aftershocks of war: what is forever destroyed; what can be repaired; the fragility of memory; the disorientation that comes of other people seeing you only as broken--thinking you need, and want, to be saved. But it is about more than the brutality of war. It is about owning your experiences, about the life we create: intricately detailed, painful, beautiful, a work in progress.

Review: Remember that scene when Oprah reunited the family split apart by the Rwandan genocide? There were tears and cheers, the whole audience cried, Oprah solidified herself as  America’s fairy godmother, and it was super heartwarming. But what about after the cameramen shouted “Cut!”? What happened to get them to that point? What happened to their relationship after?

Clemantine Wamariya was so young when she and her sister fled the genocide. The goal was to stay with her grandmother until things calmed down, but the mobs that engulfed Rwanda didn’t stick to the cities. Her story, the story of flight and survival, the story of bouncing from refugee camp to refugee camp, of growing up without a country, relying on her sister to be mother, father, family, and friend, and of her eventual asylum in America is the side of the stories we don’t know. 

With the struggles in Sudan not settling down anytime soon, and with the ongoing debate of what to do with refugees, The Girl Who Smiled Beads aims to change the ignorance that surrounds the label of refugee. Wamariya’s experiences, so beautifully and hauntingly detailed here, give the reader the opportunity to see more than a byline. These experiences throw off the shroud of stereotype that those who have never been a refugee all carry, exposing the truth of the struggle refugees have of supporting themselves, of fear of becoming obsolete or nothing but a burden, of the loss and uncertainty that comes with admittance into a camp.

I don’t know about many, but I always thought I understood it as much as I could without having been in this experience. I’d never thought of the boredom that comes with running. The fear of trying to join the black market had never occurred to me. The nuance and the reality struck me, so much so that this book stayed with me for weeks. I found myself literally incapable of starting another book until I’d come to grips with what I’d read, and encouraging everyone I knew who knew how to read to join me in this incredible, heart wrenching, life-altering journey. Even better, I’ve lost count of how many friends who heard about the book when I obsessively posted about it, and who have turned around and asked me “Have you heard of this incredible book!? Wait, did you tell me about it? Isn’t it amazing??”

Trust me, it’s that good. It’s not an easy read, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Rating: Five stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Given how difficult and how terrifying life is for two young women on their own, this is quite clean. There are some beatings that are described. At the end of the book, Wamariya addresses sexual assault in the most respectful acknowledgement and condemnation I’ve ever read.

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Taste For Monsters - Matthew J Kirby

Summary: It’s London 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of the city. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, who has nowhere to go, does not know what to make of her new position as a maid to the Elephant Man in the London Hospital. Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world, like he is, shut in from the filth and dangers of the streets. But in Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, she finds a gentle kindred who does not recoil from her and who understands her pain.

When the murders begin, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the Ripper’s dead, setting Evelyn on a path to facing her fears and uncovering humanity’s worst nightmares. (summary and image from goodreads.com)


My Review: This book took me completely by surprise, meaning I didn't really expect to like it as much as I did.  I don't often delve into historical fiction, but the premise excited me and from the moment I began reading, I didn't want to put it down.

This is a proper ghost story, though as the book's tagline states, the scariest ones might not be the dead.  I loved our main character, Evelyn--she is fully rounded  and feels so vividly real and believable.  We get to experience this gritty world through her eyes in a way we don't often think of.  

Because this book was so visual.  This is London in the late 1800s, the slums and its peoples, their way of life.  Kirby doesn't powder it up--I could just feel the grime of the dirty streets, the degradation, the fear, hopelessness.  Evelyn wishes to escape that, not only because she's a woman and hopes to avoid prostitution, but because of her facial deformity which makes everyone gawk and stare.  And it is in the London Hospital where she becomes a maid servant to Joseph Merrick that she believes she's finally found safety.

What I love about how Kirby spun the narrative of this book is that he took two simultaneous timelines, that of Joseph Merrick's stay in the London Hospital, and the Whitchapel murders, and wove this theme of monsters.  We have Leather Apron (a name of Jack the Ripper), the killer murdering and slicing up women in Whitechapel slums, we hear his horrible deeds as the characters ponder on who it could be and if he will be caught.  This comes in stark contrast to Mr. Merrick, who has been seen by the world as monstrous, put in freak shows as the Elephant Man with a disability and disfigurement that keep him separate from the world, and even exploited by his doctor, but was known to all as the most sincere, kind and guileless man.  This book showed how tender and gentle he was.

It further goes on to address the theme of monsters in our main character, Evelyn.  She sees herself as a monster, she has lived a difficult life that has hardened her, done things she's not proud of, and we can see that fight in her demeanor--but that hard life has not taken away her kindness.  She is a stalwart if ever there was one, facing up to her fears over and over again, caring only for the safety of her friend Mr. Merrick even over her own position or safety.

I must also add I like how Kirby humanized those who were murdered--often they are seen as merely victims, faceless names attached to a notorious killer--but this book gave us stories behind the women, let us see their hopes and dreams and eventual peace. 

Gripping ghost story, murder mystery, and character piece.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: The descriptions of the Whitechapel murders are fairy vivid.  There are numerous ghost hauntings, some more frightening than others. There is also an attempted (but thankfully halted) sexual assault, brief discussion of men's anatomy, and some mild language.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

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

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: It will be no surprise to you, I’m sure, from just reading this title, that this book is very emotionally charged. I feel like this is a good time for me to give a disclaimer—I am not from nor do I live in a city where there is a large African-American population. I did grow up where there were other minority groups, and indeed I live in a place right now where the minority population is 25%, but I did not grow up in a place where there was a ghetto to avoid or shootings going on. Sure, there were things that happened, and there were places we did not go at night, but there was nothing like the situations in this story. That being said, maybe I’m the worst person to review this book. Then again, maybe I’m the person perfect. Although I am not unfamiliar with the police shootings and racial profiling, reading a first person account of these situations is something I have not done before. This is obviously a fictional book, but it is based on current events and situations that many people experience on a daily basis.

There were several things I really enjoyed about this book. I think it wouldn’t be nearly the book it is if it weren’t for was the voice of Starr, the main character. She was basically our guide through the book, and I loved her sassy attitude and her strength and vulnerability. I also loved how it felt like she took the reader along on a little cultural excursion, letting us into her teenage life complete with slang, social situations, parents, school, and living the dual life of being a kid from the “ghetto” (her words, not mine) but going to a private school in a privileged area. She felt real and made bad decisions just like a normal teen would, but she was also really strong and a force for good. I liked her a lot. I wouldn’t be nearly cool enough to be her friend, but I really liked her.

Another thing I really appreciated was how the author created a very authentic-feeling neighborhood. I don’t believe that all people in the ghetto are all bad. Of course not. I love how Thomas created a vibrant neighborhood full of people who loved and took care of one another. There were the neighborhood kooks like every neighborhood has, right alongside the giving and sharing people who are essential to making it like it is. That being said, Thomas didn’t pull any punches. There was gang activity and scary things, and ultimately that leads some big life changes for Starr and her family, which I won’t give away here. I just really appreciated how honest and authentic it felt.

I really appreciated the humanizing of the victim. Yeah, Khalil was a kid from a “bad” neighborhood and yeah he was selling drugs, but that doesn’t mean he deserved to die in a situation where he was innocent. I find it so hard that this kind of thing happens still, and this book was an eye-opening experience, not because I wasn’t aware of these things that are going on, but because I am aware and yet this insider perspective really fleshed out what it all means. I thought it was a very powerful book, and very worth a read, especially for the young adult audience. Maybe they’ll be able to create a better world than the one they were raised in.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is a lot of bad language, drugs, and some violence. There is teenage sexual fooling around but nothing too drastic.

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