Friday, May 31, 2019

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers -

Summary: Child experts will tell you that I'm way too young to carry such a burden of responsibility on my tender shoulders. But really, what do they know?' Who is Bobby Seed? He's just your average sixteen-year-old - same wants, same fears, same hang-ups. Dull, dull, dull. But then there's the Bobby Seed who's a world away from average. The Bobby Seed who has to wipe his mum's backside, sponge her clean three times a week, try to soothe her pain. The Bobby Seed whose job it is to provide for his younger brother, Danny, to rub his back when he's stressed and can only groan and rock instead of speak. That's Bobby Seed. Same, same, same, yet different, different, different ... (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  One of the things I have enjoyed about listening to the podcast by Kirkus Reviews, “Fully Booked,” is that that they feature books that are from a wide variety of points of view from around the world—diverse authors, books that address experiences that are not common or if they are common, are not always addressed, etc. The Weight of a Thousand Feathers is just such a book. The story features an older teenage boy who is the caregiver to his mother who is struggling with advanced MS. He is also the caregiver of his younger brother. As with many sad and progressive illnesses such as MS, the situation is not going to get any better. We know the outcome. It is inevitable. How it comes about and how soon is, of course, the unknown, but the outcome is not unknown.


I thought this book was really well-done. It was really sad, of course, but it was also hopeful and inspiring. I am constantly struck by people in very difficult situations and their resilience and selflessness. This is obviously such a book, as the situation warrants difficult discussions and hard topics to read about and discuss. I thought the author did a great job of creating a realistic-feeling situation where a young man would be faced with very difficult but very real situations in the face of being a caregiver, with equal parts of responsibility and also resentment and also love. It’s a strange dichotomy, of course, being a caregiver, and it is magnified when the caregiver is a minor and is taking care of his mother and his little brother.

I appreciated this book because it made the care-giving feel all-encompassing, as I’m assuming it would be, especially for a boy as young as this. It would be a burden and yet, this boy was still faced with normal teenager-like situations: school, friends, love interests, the future. The author was able to create a rich environment that felt both stifling but also really normal for a boy, which would be the dichotomy of being a teenage caregiver.

There were only a few characters in this book that were well-developed, but I think that that helped create the illusion of a closed-in world, such as it would feel if you were a primary caregiver to an ailing parent. You would know a few people and trust a few people, and everyone else would just be kind of peripheral as you tried to deal with your own reality. There wasn’t space and emotional energy for anyone else. I didn’t miss having other well-developed characters. I felt like the ones we knew were in equal proportion to their importance in the life of the main characters.

The most difficult situation, of course, was when the mother asked her son to help her end her life. (This is not a spoiler; this is on the description of the book, FYI). What goes through the mind and thoughts of both sons was hard to read and yet relatable. These situations are never easy, are they? Nothing seems cut and dry when faced with the situation these boys were facing. It certainly complicates everything. There is much dialogue in regard to this, and I feel like the author did a good job of helping the reader understand the impossibility of the issue and yet the obviousness of the answer.

I found this to be a powerful, enlightening, and emotional book. I think that older teens would benefit from reading it. It’s really scary because of a dying parent, but it would create a great degree of empathy in helping the reader understand that we don’t always know what others are going through, and that being kind and understanding and giving people a chance is very important. I feel like my young teen would have a hard time with some of the content, both emotionally and just maturity-wise.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is discussion of sex, same-sex attraction and some same-sex love scenes, as well as drugs, language, and the dying and death of a parent. I wouldn’t let my young teen read this, although I do think that older high schoolers could benefit from it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mirage - Somaiya Daud

Summary:  Her own face was the enemy.  In a world dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer.  She dreams of what life was like before the occupation, of writing poetry, of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day she, too, will have adventure and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects.  She is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace where she discovers that she looks nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek princess Maram.  The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double: someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she knows she is a pisoner in all but name.  Even so, she can't help enjoying the palace's beauty -- and her time with the princess's fiance, Idris.  But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear.  If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.  (Summary from book flap - Image from somaiyabooks.com)

My Review: In Mirage, a young girl named Amani is brutally ripped from her family and home, kidnapped by the vicious race that murdered thousands and stole the throne from her planet's rightful leaders.  Chosen for her uncanny resemblance to the usurper king's heir-apparent, Amani is quickly thrust into her role as body double for the hated Princess Maram.  In time, Amani learns to mimic the princess in every detail, and risks her life often in the royal's place, but still burns with a fierce determination to survive and return home to her family at all costs.

My favorite thing about Mirage was the setting and cultural aspects of the story, which reminded me a great deal of Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series (a book series that I loved).  The cultures aren't the same (Cinder has Asian roots, Mirage has more Arabic origins) but they do have the same intrinsic feel -- a blend of ancient, deeply-rooted cultures and futuristic technology woven together to create a beguiling new world.  However, every good story stands on multiple legs, and setting is just one of them.

While the when and where of this story felt deeply resonant, the whowhat and how of it all sped a long a little too quickly.  I liked the characters, but I feel like I barely got to know them and the story line felt glossed over.  Amani's training to impersonate the princess took less than 25 pages and (SPOILER HERE) Maram's evolution from sadistic mistress to sister happened unnaturally fast. (SPOILER ENDS) It's not that there was anything necessarily wrong with bones of the story, I just wanted more time so that the progress of the story felt organic and unrushed.

Overall, I liked the story (not love, but like) and appreciated the wonderful blend of Arabic culture with space-age tech, I wasn't overly blown away.  It was renter not a keeper, if that makes sense.  I was hoping that Mirage would be a light one-and-done kind of story, but the end made it clear there is another book in the works.  Court of Lions is due to hit bookstores in August 2019.  I may read it it.  I may not.  I'll let you know if I do.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  A brief excerpt of lewd poetry (unintentionally given) and one scene where sex is inferred but not described. I can't remember anything else.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dragons & Monsters - Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda

Summary: Lurking behind this intriguing cover, a Kraken grapples with a ship on the high seas; dragons from Eastern and Western traditions spring to life; and a Medusa, snake-hair twisting and hissing, turns the reader to stone. Deeper inside, an ancient, decrepit vampire rises from his coffin; a lycanthrope is caught in the light of the full moon and transforms; and Bigfoot hides behind a tree, ducking his human pursuer. Master paper engineers Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda unfold the legends and lore of cultures around the world to reveal these stunning creatures and many more. Pop-up fans and fantasy lovers will be equally enthralled by the dynamic creatures depicted in this astonishing volume, the climax of the Encyclopedia Mythologica trilogy. 

In a breathtaking grand finale, the world’s mythical pop-up masters unleash monsters and dragons that have prowled countrysides and imaginations for centuries. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I love monsters.

I'm always drawing them, writing stories about them, telling people about them, and they're like, 'why are you drawing creepy things?' and 'who are you and why are you telling me about kappas?'

This book is chalk-full of monsters, and in all their three dimensional glory.  We get ancient beasts like Medusa, giants, and centaurs, European dragons, Eastern dragons, sea monsters, vampires, werewolves, yetis and Loch Ness Monsters.  So, for someone who loves monsters as much as I do, this book is a real treat.

We get a taste of these different monsters from around the world, and Reinhart fills us in on all the details and history, while Sabuda gives us a visual with his marvelous pop ups.

The great thing with this pop-up book, as with other Sabuda books I've read, is he doesn't stop with just one pop-up per page--there are separate little mini booklets within each page that expand on different monsters, and some have multiple pop-ups within this one little booklet, and some pages have multiple of these.

And Sabuda's pop-ups aren't your run of the mill pop-ups, they are truly these intricate works of art.  I mean, just look at the Eastern Dragon page:


This book is absolutely a must if you love pop-ups or monsters, or, if you're like me, both.  

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: discussions of monsters, which includes some scary imagery and content where monsters are concerned.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Secret Life of Mrs. London - Rebecca Rosenberg

Summary: 2019 Gold Medal IPPY Winner! 

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: One of my favorite things about historical fiction, or historical fact-based fiction, is that I learn about connections in history I didn’t know about before. I am, of course, talking about this book in particular, but it seems to happen a lot. Did you know that Jack London’s second wife, Charmian London, had an alleged affair (and I don’t know how extensive it was, the book is fiction) with Harry Houdini? It didn’t even occur to me that Jack London and Harry Houdini lived at the same time, let alone had a relationship, let alone that Harry Houdini would then have an affair with Jack London’s wife. I mean, my mind is blown. Maybe you do a better job of putting history together than I do, but I love finding out these little fun facts. Even though this book embellishes the relationship between Houdini and Charmian, the fact that there was any relationship at all is just fascinating to me.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was learning more about both Jack London and Harry Houdini. I feel like Harry Houdini is on everybody’s radar—he’s still legendary, even with all of the magic acts that that go on today. He is, without a doubt, a legend. I didn’t know as much about Jack London. I knew he was an author, but I didn’t realize how prolific he was or how popular he was at the time. His books are still popular today, of course, but at the time he was really, really famous. This is something else I love about historical books—they can give you an idea of what was popular then and how it relates to our history in general. Just like we have popular authors today and popular magicians today who have made an impact on our culture, these two made a huge cultural impact on people living at that time.

Another thing I love about historical fiction is that it gives a cultural glimpse into what life was like back then. I am fascinated by how people used to live—what they ate, what they did, where they lived, what they saw, etc. Good historical fiction does a great job of transporting the reader back to time and place. I feel that this book did a good job of that. There were cultural things that existed then that don’t exist now, especially in regard to food and servants and medical treatment. I don’t know about you, but I am forever grateful for modern medicine when I read about historical medical treatments.

Although I found the content of this book to be really interesting, I didn’t always love the execution. It was very much a women’s literature book, and at times it felt like a romance novel. I’m not saying this because there was excessive, descriptive sex or something (although there was some), but the emotional instability of the women and the somewhat cheesy writing in regards to the women’s thoughts and feelings made it feel like a women’s lit book. I know some people really enjoy that, I’m not necessarily one of them. These were strong female characters, don’t get me wrong, and they definitely had some depth to them, I just felt like the writing was a little cheesy at times in regards to them and their relationships with the men. I am not a romance novel reader, however, and I think that this part of the writing could be more on par with romance novel writing, albeit very tame romance novel writing.

If you are interested in history, especially Jack London and Harry Houdini, I think this would be an interesting book for you to check out. As mentioned above, much of it is fiction, although it is based on the real relationships between the men and women in this book, which I found to be fascinating and also really surprising.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Clementine - Sara Pennypacker

Summary: Clementine is having not so good of a week.
-On Monday she's sent to the principal’s office for cutting off Margaret’s hair.
- Tuesday, Margaret's mother is mad at her.
- Wednesday, she's sent to the principal... again.
- Thursday, Margaret stops speaking to her.
- Friday starts with yucky eggs and gets worse.
- And by Saturday, even her mother is mad at her.
Okay, fine. Clementine is having a DISASTROUS week. (image and summary from goodreads.com)
My Review: I gave a review earlier in Clarice Bean about how a strong first person voice can carry a story, and Clementine is another great example of this.  Pennypacker, like Lauren Child, has also captured the child voice incredibly well, the mannerisms of how they speak and phrase things, and the inherent humor.  
Clementine is a bit of a troublemaker, but it's truly not her fault, things just tend to happen to her because she has such a vivid way of seeing the world.  She doesn't cut off her friend's hair with malicious intent, no, it's to help fix what her friend already started by trying to cut her own hair--see? Clementine just happens to get caught as the one who instigated it in the first place.
Clementine's family are all great characters too, because they understand her, and know she has a big imagination.  Her dad in particular is a favorite, and he always allows Clementine to help him out with his duties and apartment manager, including a fun escapade known as 'The Great Pigeon War.' 
This is another story that could be seen as mundane--just a kid going to school and dealing with every day things (like her annoying baby brother), but the way Clementine speaks and views the world make it a very charming tale.  It's another of those books that I've read multiple times because the writing is just so clever.  Plus, we have cute illustrations by Marla Frazee that fit Clementine perfectly.
My Rating: 4 Stars
For the sensitive reader: nothing offensive (though kids might get some ideas in the cutting-off-hair department)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rosie Revere, Engineer - Andrea Beaty & David Roberts (Illus.)

Summary:  This is the story of Rosie Revere, who dreamed of becoming a great engineer.  Where some people see rubbish, Rosie Revere sees inspiration.  Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends.  Hot dog dispensers, helium pants, python-repelling cheese hats:  Rosie's gizmos would astound -- if she ever let anyone see them. Afraid of failure, she hides sthem away under her bed.  Until a fateful visit from her great-great-aunt Rose, who shows her that a first flop isn't something to fear -- it's something to celebrate. 

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, the author-illustrator team behind the classic pictures books Iggy Peck, Architect and Ada Twist, Scientist have whipped up another stunning, witty invention that honors pursuing one's passions -- with persistence. 

(Summary from book - Image from pinterest.com)

My Review:   I found Rosie Revere, Engineer at the store the other day and, after a quick read- through, it went straight into the cart.  I didn't try to find it elsewhere for less or check if it was available at the local library.  I wanted this one for my permanent collection ASAP. You see, I'm a complete sucker for children's picture books that empower and encourage kids (especially girls, since I have four of 'em) to reach their potential and Rosie Revere, Engineer completely fits the bill.  Here's why...

Rosie Revere loves to make gadgets and gizmos, but when someone laughs at one of her creations she becomes embarrassed and stops sharing her ideas with others.  She tries to suppress her creative talents until her Great-Great-Aunt Rose inspires her to make something new.  When her next invention succeeds briefly then fails spectacularly, Rosie is ready to throw in the towel until her aunt convinces her that failure is just another step on the pathway to success 

Rosie Revere is a a thoroughly relatable character for those young and old.  It's likely we've all struggled with failure and being worried about what others might think of our ideas and efforts.  And we all need someone in our lives who will encourage us to develop our talents and keep trying.  I loved how Rosie's character evolved over the course of the book, from young and self-confident, to slightly older and shy, to hopeful, frustrated, and finally determined.  I appreciated that the author took Rosie through all those feelings, because I think it will allow more children to identify with the story no matter where they are in their emotional development.   

Aunt Rose's character is based off of "Rosie the Riveter," a fictional character whose poster and slogan "We Can Do It!"(see right) was created to inspire women in World War II to tackle tough jobs in a typically male-dominated industry.  While Aunt Rose's history is given only a few lines attention, one of the book's illustrations is dedicated to some of the women who have broken barriers in the aviation industry.  It wasn't part of the actual text but we stopped and talked about the women anyway and their contributions to history. 

As a little sneak peek, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

  • But questions are tricky, and some hold on tight and this one kept Rosie awake through the night.  (I just loved the imagery there...of clingy questions that won't let us sleep. Been there!)
  • "I failed," said dear Rosie.  "It's just made of trash.  Didn't you see it?  The cheese-copter crashed." "Yes!" said her great aunt."  It crashed.  That is true." But first it did just what it needed to do.  Before it crashed Rosie...before that...it flew! Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!  Come on, let's get busy and on to the next!"
  • Life might have its failures, but this was not it.  The only true failure can come if you quit.

Overall, it's easy to love a book with a bottom line that says (in far more eloquent prose than my own): Embrace our own talents and strengths.  Keep trying.  Don't quit.  It's okay to try new things.  Be proud of who you are.  You can do it!!

You just can't go wrong with a book like Rosie Revere, Engineer.  I look forward to tracking down other books by the same author-illustrator team.
  
My Rating:  5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  I've got nothing.  Unless your offended by helium pants or snake-repellent hats.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Confessions of an Innocent Man - David R. Dow

Summary: A thrillingly suspenseful debut novel, and a fierce howl of rage that questions the true meaning of justice.

Rafael Zhettah relishes the simplicity and freedom of his life. He is the owner and head chef of a promising Houston restaurant. A pilot with open access to the boundless Texas horizon. A bachelor, content with having few personal or material attachments that ground him. Then, lightning strikes. When he finds Tieresse--billionaire, philanthropist, sophisticate, bombshell--sitting at one of his tables, he also finds his soul mate and his life starts again. And just as fast, when she is brutally murdered in their home, when he is convicted of the crime, when he is sentenced to die, it is all ripped away. But for Rafael Zhettah, death row is not the end. It is only the beginning. Now, with his recaptured freedom, he will stop at nothing to deliver justice to those who stole everything from him.

This is a heart-stoppingly suspenseful, devastating, page-turning debut novel. A thriller with a relentless grip that wants you to read it in one sitting. David R. Dow has dedicated his life to the fight against capital punishment--to righting the horrific injustices of the death penalty regime in Texas. He delivers the perfect modern parable for exploring our complex, uneasy relationships with punishment and reparation in a terribly unjust world. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: It’s no surprise that with the uptick in podcasts and TV shows and various other media that focus on wrongfully accused people that a book like this would come to fruition, nor is it a surprise that this book is written by a law professor who has strong views on the subject. I myself have been sucked into this current wave of podcasts and shows that focus on the wrongfully accused, and so this book is right up my alley. I think it’s one of those things that we take for granted—we have a great legal system in a lot of ways, and we feel comfortable letting that legal system “do its job,” per se, but we don’t necessarily think about how that job is done or who it’s taking advantage of. We certainly don’t want to consider that maybe the legal system isn’t doing things the right way. However, I think that I’m not the only one who has had more than a few second thoughts when regarding the legal system and those who are wrongfully accused.

This is not a true story. It’s completely fiction, written in first person. This is unlike normal first person fiction, however. The writing felt so personal and so internal that it’s almost like reading a well-kept journal or an autobiography. The narrator didn’t seem to be a particularly unreliable narrator other than the fact that it was first person (which is a big fact, I know), but he seemed to be fairly even-keeled and even-handed in his description of events. He is, of course, very passionate about many things (he didn’t much like being incarcerated wrongfully, as you might imagine), but that only serves to fuel the very intimate feeling of this book. I felt like I was living right alongside him. It’s one of the best, most realistic-feeling ventures into prison that I’ve read. It didn’t just deal with the normal day-to-day dealings of prison and the minutiae of prison life, but also addressed the bigger scale of prison life—relationships, environment, surroundings, etc. These were all viewed through the protagonist’s eyes, which made it feel more authentic because it was more than just a description or a report, it was an actual experience. It felt contained and yet broad; the fact that it could do both was refreshing.

This book is divided into parts, and these parts represent different…well…parts of the main person’s life. I liked the structure. It made sense to me. I like very structured books or books that at least stick to a structure. The first couple parts were really interesting and I felt swept up in what was going on. Although the last two parts were also really interesting, I found them to be less believable. It seemed very out of character for the protagonist, and it left me questioning the whole time whether this is something he would really do (and since I felt like I’d been living in his head for quite some time, I felt at least somewhat knowledgeable on that topic). I don’t want to give anything away because I think it’s quite a surprise, not only what happens but how it all twists and turns to the end. I will say, though, that I have my doubts. That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting or wasn’t compelling, because it certainly was, I just found it to be out of character. At some points I thought it was to invoke a philosophical discussion and allow a space where that would make sense in this book.

If you’re into podcasts/reading/watching about the wrongfully accused, and especially those where issues of race come up, I think you would enjoy this. It’s a very personal-feeling account and yet talks about and addresses issues on a grander scale as well.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has language, violence, and some discussion of sex. I didn’t find it to be overly offensive although the aforementioned adult content does exist in this book.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Iron Gold - Pierce Brown (Red Rising #4)

Some say this is the fourth book in the Red Rising Series.  Others say it is the beginning of a new saga in the Red Rising universe.  Either way, if you're not familiar with the series, I recommend starting with our review of Red Rising (#1) here.  Reading this one first would be too confusing.   And talk about SPOILERS.

Summary:  They call him Father, Liberator, Warlord, Slave King, Reaper.  But he feels a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy.  This is the tenth year of war and the thirty-third of his life.

A decade ago Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society.  But the Rising has shattered everything:  Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war.  Now he must risk all he has fought for on one last desperate mission.  Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow's to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp, and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy--or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the Sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one.  Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I took this book with me on a trip to San Diego where I spent a good deal of my trip holed up in my hotel room, under the covers, devouring each page.  It took less than two days of determined (occasionally interrupted) reading to finish this 600-page book.  I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself again in the world that Pierce Brown has created, and have only one true lament...

...I waited too long.

I have had this book for a few months and could have read it at any time, but I really wanted to enjoy it and so I saved it for my trip.  Consequently, some of the details of who-did-what-where in the last book were fuzzy.  It took me a while before I settled back into the book, but I never felt entirely secure that I wasn't missing connections I might have made had I read this book directly after the other one.  That's on me.  That having been said, I really would have liked to see a short paragraph-sized summary of what had happened in the previous book at the beginning of this one (like there was in the last book, Morning Star).  It would have helped refresh my recollection. *sigh*  Thankfully, there was an extensive character glossary and a galaxy map to help clarify a few things and the rest I was able to glean while reading.

As with the other books in the Red Rising series, there is a whole heck of a lot going on in Iron Gold.  It was nuts -- in a good, pulse-accelerating, holy-crap-did-that-just-happen kind of way. In true Pierce Brown style, the story twists and turns on a dime.  You think you know what's going to happen?  How it's all going to end?  Read a few more pages and then tell me that again.  Oh, wait.  You can't! Enemies have become allies and friends turned into foe.  Up is down and left is right.  Everything you thought you knew just got lit on fire and tossed right out the window.  Enjoy!

One of the big changes in the story is that ten years have passed since the close of the last book and a lot has happened in the interim.  Many familiar characters remain, some of whom have become frustratingly distant and/or adorable parents.  Additionally, those who were once young children have now become major players in the story.  I hope you're ready to welcome a whole new generation of awesome.  There are also several entirely new characters that enter the story, namely, a young girl named Lyria and an ex-soldier named Ephraim.  Although the last three books have been told almost exclusively from Darrow's perspective, Iron Gold alternates between several different perspectives that eventually begin to intertwine.  There really was no other way to tell this part of the story without the additional perspectives, so the change didn't really bother me once I got into the swing of it. 

One of the things that I both loved and hated about this book was the author's tendency to drop subtle, seemingly insignificant clues along the way that end up being pivotal plot-twisting details later on.  I don't really want to give away any of these little tidbits, because I think they are tortuously brilliant, but I did spend certain sections of the book flipping back and forth from one spot to another trying to confirm my suspicions about this-that-and-the-other.  I will say that the first small, but gut-wrenching, example of this happens before you even hit Part I.  It was mean, Pierce Brown.  Just plain mean.  And yet, I remain impressed (and paid close attention after that).

It wasn't until a good way through the book that I first heard the titular term "Iron Gold" used to describe a person of gold lineage who seemed particularly honorable, duty-bound, and willing to do anything for the benefit of the people.  There have been several examples of "Iron Gold" characters in this series and, up until this book, I might have said that Darrow was one of them.  Now I am no so sure.  In the first three books, Darrow was the kind of character who did what needed to be done, regardless of the personal cost; he was always willing to sacrifice himself and others for those he loved and for his people.  Till now, that has felt like an admirable thing, but this book shows a new side of Darrow -- a man changed by years of brutal warfare and convinced that only he can bring an end to the violence.  When Darrow makes a call that kills a million people and conceals vital information from newly formed leadership, even some of his fiercest, most loyal supporters begin to question whether his way is the best way to achieve peace.  Darrow's fall from grace was hard to watch.  It made him harder to love and his actions nearly impossible to justify, but made his character feel more human, vulnerable, and authentic.  Ultimately, Darrow faces an impossible choice...and I'm still not sure if he made the right one.  Only time, and the next book, will tell.  Dark Age, the fifth book in the Red Rising series will be released July 30, 2019.

Ugh.  Waiting sucks.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Plenty of violence and swearing, specifically of the F variety but also some others    Some sexual innuendo and mild sexual situations.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Courtney - John Burningham

Summary: When the children bring Courtney home he's just a loveable scruffy old dog. But the-mongrel-that-nobody-wants has the most amazing talents. He can cook! He can juggle! He can even play the violin! Then one day Courtney the wonder dog packs up his trunk and leaves home - but the children find out his helping paw is not far away. . . (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: In third or fourth grade, we had an assignment to bring a favorite picture book that we would read to the class.  I very nearly went with my default favorite book, Where the Wild Things Are, but then I went to the library and spotted Courtney (which is also my name), with the titular character being a dog (my favorite), and that was that.

Courtney is a simple story of three children who want a dog, and their parents finally agree, asking them to find a pedigreed hound.  However, the children ask an employee if there's a dog that nobody wants, and he introduces them to Courtney.  The children want him straightaway, and while the parents are at first upset that he's a mutt, they change their mind when Courtney proves to be more than just a regular old dog.

I always loved reading and looking at the art of Courtney's many talents, from juggling, to cooking, to being a hero.  The art itself is fairly simple, but suits the story, and the story is a fun little tale about a friend who will do anything for those he cares for, even when he seemingly isn't around anymore.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: nothing much of note--the house starts on fire at one point with the baby trapped inside, but never fear, Courtney is a noble hero.

Friday, May 10, 2019

On a Highland Shore - Kathleen Givens

Summary:  From acclaimed historical novelist Kathleen Givens comes a magnificently conceived, intricately detailed novel that brings to vivid life the tumult, adventure, and passion of thirteenth-century Scotland, when Norse invaders laid claim to the land and its people -- and an explosive clash of cultures, politics and personal pride changed forever.

1263: On Scotland's western shore, the village of Somerstrath prepares for the joyous wedding celebration of Margaret MacDonald, the laird's daughter.  But a dark storm of bloodshed and betrayal is closing in, as a merciless band of Vikings threatens the Highlands.  Margaret is determined to hold the MacDonald clan together and to locate her abducted younger brother.  But can she trust the noblemen from King Alexander's court, who insist that only by adhering to a betrothal conceived for political gain will she find safety?

My Review:  On a Highland Shore was a bit of a risk for me.  I don't often read romance novels because some end up being what you might call...er...overly descriptive...which is not my cup of tea.  Unfortunately, unless you are familiar with the publisher or it has a semi-explicit cover, it's often hard to discern just what kind of romance novel you're getting into until the clothes go flying off and you suddenly find yourself up to your eyeballs in sexual euphemisms.  Personally, I prefer a little more mystery and a little less detail when reading the romance genre. Thankfully, this book was listed on a book of "clean" romance novels on GoodReads, so I figured it would be a pretty safe bet for a quick and clean romantic read while I was on vacation.  

Mmmmm....Nope.  It's not the worst I've read in terms of sexual content, but On a Highland Shore was not what I would categorize as a "clean romance."  Cleaner, perhaps, than others....but not clean (see For the Sensitive Reader section)However, I can't really blame the author for not meeting my expectations in this sense, as I'm guessing she didn't put it on the GoodReads list.  It wasn't all bad though. I didn't take a lot of notes about this book (vacation!), but I did enjoy the setting, historical, and cultural aspects of this book and really appreciated the research that must have been involved in pulling it all together.  The story was oftentimes quite engaging, but ultimately because of the more descriptive elements I can't recommend it to my friends and family.  Less sensitive readers might disagree with my assessment.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There was a tiny amount of swearing (at least one F-bomb) and a fair amount of violence.  There is one 'scene' where two lovers are caught having sex (mildly descriptive),  another where a woman exposes herself in an attempted seduction, another where a woman watches (and admires) man get dressed, a rape scene (mildly descriptive), an attempted rape scene (more descriptive), another sex scene (most descriptive in the book, likely would be considered graphic if you weren't a frequent romance reader) and countless times where someone admires so-and-so's breasts or talks about being physically aroused.  It's possibly I've missed a few things, but you get the idea.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Bleak Harbor - Bryan Gruley

Summary: Their son is gone. Deep down, they think they’re to blame.

Summertime in Bleak Harbor means tourists, overpriced restaurants, and the Dragonfly Festival. One day before the much-awaited and equally chaotic celebration, Danny Peters, the youngest member of the family that founded the town five generations ago, disappears.

When Danny’s mother, Carey, and stepfather, Pete, receive a photo of their brilliant, autistic, and socially withdrawn son tied to a chair, they fear the worst. But there’s also more to the story. Someone is sending them ominous texts and emails filled with information no one else should have. Could the secrets they’ve kept hidden—even from one another—have led to Danny’s abduction?

As pressure from the kidnapper mounts, Carey and Pete must face their own ugly mistakes to find their son before he’s taken from them forever. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: If I felt I was alone in this admission, I would be more worried to say it. However, I know I’m not, and so I’m just going to say it. I like murder. I like crime. Do I commit murder or do crimes? No. But I sure love watching and reading about them! Tough day? Let’s watch murder! Good day? Let’s read about murder! Go on a fabulous Caribbean vacation and sit on the beach and think about nothing except whether it’s too far away to walk and get dessert back at the beach restaurant? Time to read murder and crime! That was my exact scenario for this book, actually. I’m not being facetious. My husband and I had been planning a vacation to a fabulous resort in the Dominican Republic to celebrate our anniversary and a birthday, and so I brought along this little book to read on the beach. It was a great choice! And actually, I had such fond feelings towards it and noticed so many other people enjoying their murder books that I left it in the towel cabana’s library, where I can only hope that other resort goers will enjoy its disturbing content in paradise as much as I did.

One of the things I liked about this book is that I didn’t have to think a lot. Sure, the mystery was great and I enjoyed the twists and turns, but it didn’t make me work and leave me emotionally stressed out and challenging my every viewpoint. Do I want that on the beach? No. I want to be entertained and enjoy the characters and that was what this book was—it had a fun story, with characters who are super flawed (because: reality and also: crime book), and a good story that had all kinds of twists and turns. There were other great features as well—weird people who do sketchy things for money, high up businessmen who are super rich and super corrupt, and the main characters are just trying to survive in all this fiasco and make it out alive and help their peeps make it out alive. There is also some pretty heavy duty family drama, and that always makes for some interesting reading. The whole set up of this book involves the family drama and class structure and the haves versus the have nots. It’s also juicy when those two categories of people marry each other. And is it for love? Or something more nefarious? I dunno! That’s part of the drama! Doesn’t that sound like great beach reading? If you’re like me, I’d say that it does.

Now, will this book make you think and be impressed with its literary prowess? Probably not. Will this book keep you entertained? You betcha. Will it be a fun and interesting diversion? Yep. There is even space for discussion and thought about how we treat people with autism, as the son is autistic. However, I found it to just be a good read that kept me engaged and entertained.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, some violence, and some discussion of sex. I would say it is pretty tame compared to some books in this genre.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant - Tony Cliff

Summary: Lovable ne'er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she's picked up on the way, Delilah's adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan's guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life. 

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine... and globetrotting adventures. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: Delilah Dirk is one of the most fun and adventurous graphic novels I've ever read.  This first adventure introduces us to the swashbuckling heroine as she uses her skills and wit while traveling the world to cause mayhem and good.

I love this character--she is hardcore and doesn't give a toss about what people think of her.  She loves swords and causing trouble, and she's good with both.  Deep down, too, she also has a good heart.  Equally delightful is our other main character, Mr. Selim, who gets roped into Delilah's shenanigans against his will, but eventually grows to enjoy the wild life she experiences.

Mr. Selim is a great foil to Delilah, always trying to talk sense to her when she just doesn't want to hear it.  However, he too gets caught up in the explosions and chaos because wherever Delilah goes, those sorts of things follow.  They also have fantastic banter with each other.

Cliff's art is also vibrant and dynamic, and you can feel the adventure and action as the panels carry the story along.  The facial expressions are great, the color and the scenery--it's a very immersive world, and a whole heckalot of fun.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: some language and violence

Friday, May 3, 2019

Still Life with Bread Crumbs - Anna Quindlen

Summary: Rebecca Winter is a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women.  Now, with her career descendent and her finances shaky, she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere.  There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to the world.  Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the heart and mind of a woman, as she discovers a way forward that is richer and more exciting than she ever imagined. (Summary from book - Image amazon.com)

My Review:  Rebecca Winter is a once-famous photographer whose career is in now in the proverbial the toilet.  Cash-strapped and desperate, she must rent out her luxurious apartment to strangers to make ends meet.  Embarrassed by her misfortune (or current lack of fortune), Rebecca rents a ramshackle cabin in the woods (complete with raccoon squatter), intent on hiding herself away until she can renew her creative mojo, boost her finances, and finally return to the life to which she has become accustomed.  There, in this tiny corner of the world, Rebecca finds a different version of herself, a life and love that she never could have imagined.  A yet, when fame comes calling again, will she choose the life she once adored or the new one she has created for herself?  Now, it's not quite as simple as all that, in fact it's a great deal more complex, but I tried to boil it down a bit for you without giving away all the details. 

Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite female authors.  Like Elizabeth Berg and Alice Hoffman, I pick up a title by my gal Anna when I need to read something that I know will be well-written and worthwhile.  I have reviewed several of her other works, including Black and BlueEvery Last One, and Blessings and come away from them having run the gambit of human emotion and with an ever-increasing respect for her abilities as a writer.  My experience with this book was no different. 

Still Life with Bread Crumbs isn't a fast-paced read.  It's quiet, and slow, but steadily paced, with characters that started to feel like family and enough 'unknowns' to keep me turning the pages.  The narration is third-person omniscient, meaning that occasionally the narrator would let slip little tidbits of  information unknown to the characters, give glimpses of what the future might hold for Mr. So-And-So, or what Ms. So-And-So was really doing in her spare time, etc.  I think this is probably my favorite kind of narration because I like to feel like I'm getting the full story and not just someone else's perspective.  I'm nosy like that.

One of the things I love about Quindlen is that she just gets women.  She understands what makes us tick, our thoughts, fears, insecurities, hopes, and aspirations -- and dang does she know how to write about them.   Despite our completely different lives, I was able to slip into Rebecca's head as easily as breathing.  For the brief time I read this book, her life became my own.  And when she started to notice a certain someone, I half fell in love with him myself.  And speaking of that...

Alongside Rebecca, there are several other secondary characters who breathe life into the story, but none more so than Jim Bates.  Rebecca meets Jim, a local jack-of-all-trades not long after she moves in. Jim is one of those guys you just love right away.  He's down-to-earth, honorable, hardworking, endearing, and reliable -- just all the good adjectives.  That's Jim.  It was impossible not to root for their relationship to become something more than neighborly.  And (spoilers) it did.  But that's not the end of the story...

As her fans might know, an Anna Quindlen book is not an Anna Quindlen book without some horrible Thing that comes along when you think everything is fine and smacks you heartily upside the head, leaving you curled into the fetal position and gasping for breath.  The Thing in this book is not as truly horrific as the Thing has been in other books (I'm looking at you Every Last One.) While there were moments of 'awful' in this book, I never got my heart ripped out of my chest and, eventually, it all worked out in the end for (nearly) everyone involved.  I never thought I'd say this but I kind of loved and hated that. It's just not what I was expecting.  Clearly, Anna likes to keep people on their toes.

In conclusion, I enjoyed my time with this book, and while I might not read it again (it loses a little something when you know whats coming) I certainly savored the initial experience.  . 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  A handful of swearing, some brief sexual discussion, a kick-the-door closed kind of sexual encounter, and (slight trigger warning) a character with mental illness.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Night Tiger - Yangsze Choo

Summary: When 11-year-old Ren's master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master's soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother's Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin's dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren's lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I really wanted to like this book a lot. The summary makes it totally seem like my kind of book—folktales and superstition overlay with the modern and modernizing world, cultural strife amidst a changing societal structure, a magical story background where nothing is as it seems…it’s totally my jam. However, in practice, it didn’t turn out to be quite what I had hoped.

First of all, the story itself was interesting sounding, but in practice, the way it was carried out didn’t make for as interesting story as I would have liked. There were essentially two stories going on that then ended up making one story in the end, but the writing wasn’t my favorite. In order to make a story work, the writing is key, of course, and I didn’t feel that the writing in this book was overly strong. I prefer it when writing is either so beautiful and lyrical that you can’t help but appreciate the beauty of it, or that it is so well done that you don’t think about it at all and instead are just immersed in the story. The writing in this book just seemed a little clunky. It’s not novice-writer clunky, it’s just awkward in some of the transitions and the writing too noticeable in places. Sometimes the sentences are short and choppy and not as complex as I would have liked. All of this bugged me and I wasn’t as willing to just let the story flow in my mind as I would have liked.

The story definitely had the capability of being deep and complex. There were lots of issues at play, and addressing these in a story format is a good way to go, I think. The two main story arcs dealt with the similar issue of class and station in Malay society in the 1930s. The main characters were all forced to confront this at some point—the female character wasn’t able to be a doctor because she was a woman and the little servant boy came from a lower class and so his station was limited as well. I think it’s always important to give context to different cultures and different times. It’s easy to romanticize the past and to fault or own future, and vice versa. However, stories like this allow us to “keep it real,” per se, while confronting the past (and also present) of many places around the world, including our own place where we are now. The questions presented then still need to be answered today, even though we have come a long, long way from there.

One of the things that drew me to this book is that my Granny was also born in Malaya during this time because her parents (who were British) owned a rubber and tea plantation in Malaya. It was so interesting to have some cultural context to those family stories, and it ultimately led me down a rabbit hole to finding out more about them and where they were located (they were in Ipoh, where part of this novel takes place). I even found their rubber and tea estate, which still exists, and has been restored and is now a museum. How cool is that? I DON'T MEAN TO PANIC YOU BUT THIS IS MY FAMILY'S HOUSE! Well, not anymore, of course, but it was my great grandparents' house and the house my Granny was born in. It was part of the family until it was overtaken by the Chinese. I’ve posted that picture below because this is my review and I can hijack it if I want to. Also, to see a living building that reflected the time period of the book (and indeed the plantation homes of the book, although this home is now restored) is really interesting, in my opinion.


(Pic is from db.ipohworld.org)

Overall, I’d say that this book had some very interesting and compelling things going for it—the story is old and yet timely, and the characters are relatable. However, the writing is not the best and therefore inhibited some of the actual storytelling, which is why I’m giving it three stars instead of four.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is pretty clean, although there is some violence.  

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