Mercedes Lackey is one of those legendary fantasy authors that I am ashamed to admit I have never...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Mercedes Lackey is one of those legendary fantasy authors that I am ashamed to admit I have never read before. She has written so many books, for so many years but for some reason I’ve never got around to reading them. So when I saw she had a new book and that book was the first in a brand new series I knew this was my opportunity.
The House of the Four Winds begins in the kingdom of Swansgaard. It’s a small kingdom but a happy one. Unfortunately because it is so small there isn’t enough money for dowries for all twelve daughters. As a result when each daughter comes of age they’re sent out into the world to find their fortune – starting with Clarice, the heroine of this novel.
Clarice decides to make her fortune as a sword master, but to do so successfully she needs to make a name for herself. Disguising herself as a boy she books passage on the first ship that will have her – the Asesino. Things go alright at first, she learns about sailing, and makes a friend in the young (handsome) navigator Dominick. However she soon learns that she may have signed up for more than she bargained for. The captain is a cruel and horrible man and she finds herself in the middle of a mutiny. From princess to pirate is no time at all.
The House of the Four Winds is an entertaining read. It has everything you would want in a fantasy novel – brave and bold characters, an interesting world, adventure, danger and a little bit of magic. I sincerely hope that pirates are one of the next big trends. Having grown up on the water myself and worked on some boats (not pirate ships of course, but boats nonetheless) there is something particularly wonderful about being out on the water. Add pirates and sorcerers and in my mind you have the perfect recipe for a novel.
However, The House of the Four Winds is not without its problems. The plot is a tad formulaic and there aren’t a lot of surprises for readers, particularly readers familiar with the high fantasy genre. And the dialogue often felt a bit clunky – a little too formal for sailors. I also wanted to know more about the magic system in this book. It’s hinted at and spells are cast but information about where it comes from, who can practice it etc. is never revealed. Hopefully that will come in subsequent books.
Overall I did have fun reading The House of the Four Winds. It’s a simple story that’s a little light on the world-building but an enjoyable one. Despite my few reservations I look forward to continuing with the series.(less)
In a market flooded with dystopian novels I can guarantee you’ve never read one like this before....moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
In a market flooded with dystopian novels I can guarantee you’ve never read one like this before.
The Bees is a metaphorical dystopia. The characters aren’t women, men or children. They’re actual bees. And I have to admit this made me a bit skeptical at first. What could a story about bees have to say about humanity and relationships? But then I saw it compared to The Handmaid’s Tale (one of my favourite novels) I thought I should give it a chance.
And I’m glad I did because The Bees was a fascinating and dark story. The protagonist is Flora 717. She’s a sanitation worker in the hive. The bottom rung of the ladder. But unlike all of her kin Flora 717 is unwilling to simply accept her lot in life. She wants more and she begins moving her way through the hive – first the nursery, then everything from attending the males to becoming a forager. Through Flora’s travels the reader is exposed to the full complexity of the hive and the way different groups are treated within it. There is a very rigid pecking order in the hive and those who rank above are never to be questioned.
At the top of the pecking order is The Queen and royal males. This is where the comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale really come into play. The Queen is all powerful and also the only one allowed to breed. Anyone else who does so, even if they produce a perfect male (valued above all other kinds of bee) is put to death. Anyone who is deformed or unable to perform their designated tasks is also put to death. The Queen’s guards rule with an iron fist and there is no room for individual thought or identity – something that makes Flora 717′s life very difficult. The only exception to these authoritarian rules are the males. They live like spoiled royalty – they’re given the best food, are attended on by young female bees and have the run of the hive. But they seem to contribute less than all of the female worker bees. Particularly the foragers. It’s easy to see the parallels to other dystopian novel in these interactions.
Though The Bees was an incredibly interesting and thought provoking read, unlike some other novels with animal protagonists, like Watership Down or Yok, I was never truly able to connect with the characters. There were moments I felt bad for Flora 717 but it didn’t go much further than that. The story didn’t have that same emotional bite that some others do. I could never really get past that these were bees I was reading about.
The Bees is a great book if you’re the kind of person who likes to analyze and discuss what you’re reading. So if you prefer books with strong messages and unique style than I highly recommend you give The Bees a try. However, if you prefer books that are more stirring and emotive in tone you may find The Bees lacking. No matter what side you fall on however there is one thing I can guarantee – you will never look at a bee the same way again.(less)
When I opened this small grey book a few days ago I had no idea what to expect. I had been hearin...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
When I opened this small grey book a few days ago I had no idea what to expect. I had been hearing some buzz about this title and how great the writing was but didn’t really know what it was about. And the gold horses combined with the blurb from Erin Morgenstern made me think I was in for some sort of magical circus story. In case you were under the same impression let me set the record straight – that is not at all what this book is about. In actuality The Enchanted is a dark yet gorgeous novel about life, hope, and the death penalty.
The story opens on Death Row. Our narrator has been in the “dudgeon” for some time now. He doesn’t speak, he simply observes. But the world he observes is much different then the one you or I might see should we visit that same place. Everything he sees and hears is affected by his belief that the prison is an enchanted place, and that gives his words a magical quality. He is particularly focused on the comings and goings of “the warden,” “the priest” and perhaps most importantly, “the lady” – a death penalty investigator who is on the case of the inmate in the cell next to him. All the characters are interesting but “the lady” was the one that stood out for me above all the others. She had a foot in both worlds – in the darkness of the prison and in the light of hope and humanity.
Before reading this novel I had no idea that “death penalty investigator” was even a job and I was fascinated by the lady’s process and the information she discovered. She looks into the childhood of one of the inmates and some of the things she discovers are incredibly disturbing. It’s not that her efforts are trying to excuse the crime but simply better understand it. I think through her eyes the reader is given a very balanced look at both perpetrator and the consequences of his actions.
In addition, The Enchanted provides a bit of an inside look into the correctional system. It’s a very honest and at times difficult account of what that life is like. This takes place in the United States, so of course there are a number of differences from our own system. But there are a lot of similarities as well. I have a number of family members who work in corrections and from listening to them I can attest that there are definitely some issues in this book that pop up in the Canadian system as well. Things like food, corruption, contraband, rape etc. Denfeld doesn’t sugar coat anything, but rather lays out the truth for you to draw your own opinions and tap into your own humanity.
What really amazes me about this book is how Denfeld uses such beautiful prose to describe such horrific things. Her writing is lyrical and poetic and I dog eared so many pages of my copy because I knew there were passages I would want to come back to over and over again. The way this book touches on hope, on love, on compassion – even in the midst of all the darkness and despair – is a beautiful thing. There is magic inside this book, just not in the way I expected. The magic is in the prose, in the characters and in the story. Trust me when I say this book will defy your expectations and blow you away.(less)
As the title suggests What We Hide is a book about secrets. Not just about keeping secrets and th...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
As the title suggests What We Hide is a book about secrets. Not just about keeping secrets and the dangers of keeping the wrong secrets but also about the motivations behind it. Why do we hide parts of who we are? What makes us distrust those around us?
The story opens on an American girl named Jenny, who has just come over from America with her draft-dodging brother. She’s attending an English boarding school and sees this as an opportunity to reinvent herself. No one knows her at this school she could say anything and they would believe it. This sets the tone for the entire novel. Though it opens on Jenny and her new version of herself this theme is reflected in every other character you meet as well. They all have a way they wish to be perceived and they all mold the truth to try and reflect that.
But in addition to secrets this is a book about perspective. About how the same world can look different depending on who’s looking at it. Even in such a small sampling of the world the reader is treated to the perspectives of eight different students who all see their surroundings in completely different ways. This point is emphasized during a particular discussion between the characters Nico and Jasper.
“Who is telling this story?…The story of the English lesson on Friday morning in a shabby ex-stable that hasn’t had the windows washed in a hundred years. We have-” he looked around- “Sixteen stories in here right? And all of them are true, right? According to the narrators.”
I think this is a great point to keep in mind, not just when you’re reading but in real life as well. You never know what someone else’s story looks like. What’s true to you isn’t always true to others.
I think the most compelling examples of this truth are Robbie and Luke. What We Hide takes place in 1970s in a small town. Being gay and openly dating another guy was absolutely unthinkable. And yet somehow Robbie and Luke found one another and had a real connection. When reading chapters from their perspective the world looks very different from that of Jenny, Nico, Oona or Brenda. (Which is not to say that they all didn’t face their own challenges.) But what made it really interesting was how it looked different from one another. Even though they were keeping the same secret it still affected their perspective differently.
Juggling eight unique perspectives is challenging. Juggling eight perspectives with their own set of secrets and lies is even more so, but Marthe Jocelyn makes it look easy. In under 300 pages she has created a rich and layered world within the walls of Ill Hall. Though there are some characters I could relate to better than others, I wouldn’t be able to pick out a single one I didn’t love reading about. What We Hide has a simple premise but it doesn’t take long to suck you into its complex world.(less)
There’s something particularly captivating about cases of mass hysteria. They grab my attentio...moreThis review originally published at More Than Just Magic
There’s something particularly captivating about cases of mass hysteria. They grab my attention in the similar way as cults. I can’t help but wonder what makes people act this way and how it progresses to such intense levels. Apparently Katherine Howe wonders the same because these are some of the exact questions she tackles in her new novel, Conversion.
Conversion is a modern day incarnation of the Salem Witch Trials. The students of St Joan’s Academy have many of the same symptoms as the historical girls, and their sickness progresses along similar lines, sucking in more victims the bigger it gets. And as an added bonus, their town (Danvers) is near the location of historic Salem. There was a period of time in high school where I was obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials and read everything I could get my hands on about them. So the teenage history buff in me found this book fascinating. Throughout the novel, Howe intersperses short chapters from Ann Putnam’s confession after the real-life Salem Witch Trials. It was fascinating to read about the trails from the point of view of one of the “victims” and see the parallels between the two cases.
One thing that really stood out for me was the variety of characters affected by the symptoms. It wasn’t just a certain type of girl. However I would have liked to see a few guys thrown in as well. Though there are some similarities between now and then there are some big differences too. I know there are some unique pressures on girls in high school but teenage boys are not free from expectations, stress and anxiety. It felt a little unlikely that not a single guy was afflicted with the mysterious illness as well.
The narrator of the modern day narrative is a smart, fairly self confident girl named Colleen. She is a difficult character and that is both a good thing and a challenge. It’s good because it makes her a bit of an enigma, which helps deepen the mystery. It’s not so good however because it makes her difficult to connect with, because we don’t get a lot of character development or growth from her. The focus of Conversion is on the mystery, which was well plotted, but the limited character development hindered the emotional impact of the story.
I appreciated the comparisons Howe was making between the seventeenth century to modern day. They may be completely different time periods but there are more similarities than you would expect. Particularly the pressures based on young people. It isn’t as character-driven as I would have liked but the mystery of what was causing the girl’s disorder kept it interesting. Conversion is a fascinating book if you’re interested in the Salem Witch Trials or simply in the bizarre causes of human behaviour.(less)
There are three kinds of stories in One More Thing – the ones that made me laugh, the ones that m...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
There are three kinds of stories in One More Thing – the ones that made me laugh, the ones that made me think and the ones that really stood out. I thought for this review I would break down each kind.
The ones that made me laugh
This title is applicable to the majority of stories in this collection. Novak’s stories are short and sweet but also quite charming and many left me with a smile The following were some of the highlights. Stories like “All You Have to Do,” ”No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg” and “Chris Hansen at the Justin Bieber Concert” flowed smoothly, used charming language and were just all around easy to read. Other stories like “Great Writer’s Steal” were simple and straight forward but would always have one line (in this case: ”they misunderstood literature on an unusually fundamental level”) that stood out and really brought the story together.
Of all the ‘stories that made me laugh’ there were three that stood out in particular. The first was “Closure.” Partially because it was just a fun story with a great twist. But also because I listened to the audiobook sample (read by Mindy Kaling and B J Novak) and it reminded me so much of Kelly and Ryan from The Office. Then there was “Julie and the Warlord” which physically made me spit out my coffee when I got to the discussion questions at the end. And last but certainly not least “The Something by John Grisham.” I went through a HUGE John Grisham phase when I was in high school and I loved how perfectly this story captured some of his more common tropes.
The ones that made me think
There are less stories in the ‘ones that made me think’ category but that makes them no less meaningful. What really stood out about this stories was that it was often only one line that really grabbed you and worked its way into your head. For example in “The Best Thing in the World Awards” - ”the fun isn’t whether love is going to win the fun is seeing how.” Or “If You Love Something” - ”If you love something let it go. If you don’t love something definitely let it go. Basically, just drop everything, who cares.” And perhaps best of all “J C Audetat, translator of Don Quixote” – ”Have you heard this song? It’s like poetry…Have you read this book? It’s poetry. Oh no thank you”
The ones that really stood out
There are really only two stories in this category – “Sophia” and “Kellogs.” I don’t want to say too much about them because I think part of the reason they were so great is that you truly had no idea where the story was headed when you started reading. “Sophia” got much more serious than I expected and I loved when the narrator talks about the nicks and dents that happen every time you get your hopes up and are disappointed. “Kellogs” has so many twists and surprises but was ultimately a great story about family, values and potential. What both of these stories had in common was their length – they were both on the longer side, which really allowed B J Novak’s true story telling ability to shine through.
Even if you don’t normally read short stories I would recommend this collection. They’re not all fantastic offerings but more often then not you’ll find yourself chuckling along or wanting to highlight a certain passage so you can come back to it. If you like humour, witty dialogue and great twists, One More Thing is for you.(less)
I reviewed this is in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but the short version is that I absolutely loved it. Highly recommended for fans of C J Redwine...moreI reviewed this is in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but the short version is that I absolutely loved it. Highly recommended for fans of C J Redwine, Sarah J Maas and Robin LaFevers. (less)
My first love is fantasy. There is no contest. I love the word building, I love the magic, I love...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
My first love is fantasy. There is no contest. I love the word building, I love the magic, I love the politics. I love it all. And I have high expectations for my fantasy books. Seriously. I want the book to be rich in detail but still have a compelling and dynamic plot. I want the characters – particularly female characters - to be three-dimensional AND experience real growth. And I want the tension to be so thick that I won’t want to put the book down because I HAVE to find out what happens next. See? I told you – high expectations.
The Queen of the Tearling met every one of them.
First let’s talk about the world building. The Tearling has some familiar high fantasy markers but it still managed to surprise me. On the surface it looks like your standard medieval, European set up. There is a monarchy and a Queen’s guard, women wear long gowns, books are rare, medicine is not at its highest standard etc. But there are some elements of modernity woven throughout as well. At first I found this a little strange but as the story continued I really got into it. It was like our society never really hit the Industrial Age but was still progressing just at a much slower pace.
My favourite thing about The Queen of the Tearling however was Kelsea – the heroine of our story. Kelsea has been raised in isolation. When she was still an infant her mother sent her away, afraid for her safety. She was raised by an intelligent couple that taught her everything they could about running a kingdom. It was a great education but now thrown into a deadly political game, Kelsea realizes that she has no practical experience being a ruler. A lesser person might hesitate, or run away, or panic. But not her. She’s rises to the occasion and then some.
I liked that we got to see her decision-making process as it happens. Kelsea was raised with a very clear idea of what is “right” and what is “wrong” but was also raised to be a thinking queen so she doesn’t take any situation lightly. Every move she makes has rewards and consequences. There are people who want her to succeed and people who want her to fail. This kind of high stakes political plot makes for exactly the kind of story I can’t put down. The marketing copy compares this book to Game of Thrones and while there are some major differences story-wise I think there are some similar themes and you will be just as obsessed with how the characters are going to survive.
There are many things to love about The Queen of the Tearling but I will say this – if you primarily read young adult fantasy you may find this book a bit slow. It takes a little while for Johansen to set everything up and for the real action to start. And it is a very different feel from the more fast pace YA fantasy books like Shadow and Bone and Throne of Glass. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort I think the pay off is well worth it. I really appreciated the extra time to get acquainted with Kelsea and how she viewed the world, before all the drama began.
High fantasy fans mark your calendars. You won’t want to miss this.(less)
With the release of volume 2 of Inaccurate Realities (a.k.a the Time Travel issue) I went on a bi...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
With the release of volume 2 of Inaccurate Realities (a.k.a the Time Travel issue) I went on a bit of a time travel bender. Yesterday has been on my shelf forever and seemed like the perfect fit. I loved the premise of this story – people sent back in time because humans have messed up the planet so badly in the future. Despite the fact that time travel doesn’t exist this seemed incredibly plausible. We already know when it comes to the planet we don’t have good long term planning skills -it felt like exactly the kind of band-aid solution some governments would come up with.
I also really enjoyed the way Martin split the chapters between the 1980s and the future. I found both settings interesting, but I think I preferred the 1980s chapters overall. Partially because I thought you got a better sense of the characters in those parts and partially because it takes place in Toronto and I recognized so many of the places they went to. It’s always fun to read a book set in the place where you live.
Overall I think Yesterday is an exciting, well paced adventure that provides an interesting look at the environment, politics and friendship.(less)
From the very first line – “Alek stared at the menu suspiciously. He smelled marinara sauce and a...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
From the very first line – “Alek stared at the menu suspiciously. He smelled marinara sauce and a trap.” - I knew I was going to love One Man Guy.
It’s narrated by an intelligent, kind of nerdy, very sarcastic Armenian boy named Alek and it is impossible not to fall completely in love with him. At the beginning of the novel his parents inform him he’s going to summer school – not because he’s failing any classes. But because his grades aren’t quite high enough to be on Honour Track. This opening scene is perfection – its establishes Alek’s quick wit and the pressure he faces from his family. But it also demonstrates that even though Alek is the protagonist, his family is going to play a central role in his story, and you are going to love them just as much as him.
Though Alek hates the idea of summer school – what kid wouldn’t? – he has to go. And it ends up being a life changing event because it is at summer school that Alek meets Ethan. In many ways Ethan is everything that Alek isn’t. He’s out and proud, he’s adventurous and bold, he goes into New York whenever he feels like it. And yet somehow they are drawn together in what is arguably one of the sweetest, most adorable love stories you’ll ever read. When Alek tells his best friend, Becky, that ““It’s like all my life I’ve been eating frozen yogurt. And kissing boys is ice cream.” I audibly “awwed” even though I was sitting in the middle of a busy coffee shop.
One Man Guy is a novel about falling in love for the first time and but it’s also about finding yourself. Before Ethan, Alek had never had a boyfriend. He had barely even considered the fact that he was gay. But that’s not the only thing he learns about himself. As you’ve probably gathered, his parents are rather strict and he’s always lived life by their rules. As the novel continues Alek gains more courage to try new things – like food and clothing. He gains the freedom to develop his own tastes and interests, making this an excellent “coming-of-age” story in addition to a “coming-out” story. In fact, in this case, they are one in the same.
I have to admit I didn’t know very much about Armenian culture before this novel but Baravika fills it with so many rich details, including a recipe for stuffed grape leaves at the back. There is a lot of scenes that revolve around meal times so beware this book will make you hungry! But there is also a lot of information about the Armenian genocide – a significant historic event that is often forgotten about by non-Armenians. I liked that even though Alek was trying to figure out his place in the world, he was still very connected to his culture and history. His choosing to be more independent was not a rejection of his family and that’s an important message for readers of all ages.
One Man Guy is an absolutely lovely story about relationships, friendship, family and New York City. Alek, Ethan, Becky and the whole Khederian family feel more like friends than simply characters on the page. It’s a short read, the pages will fly by much faster than you want them to. But thankfully this is the kind of book you can read over and over again. Highly recommended.(less)
Jax and Devorah may have grown up in the same neighbourhood but they are as different as can be....moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Jax and Devorah may have grown up in the same neighbourhood but they are as different as can be. Jax is from a West Indian family, and Devorah is an Orthodox Jew. Jax’s family is busy and noisy. Devorah’s is traditional and modest. But when they find themselves trapped inside an elevator during a thunderstorm they feel an lnexpiblcable pull. Their relationship (and cheeseburgers) are forbidden by Devorah’s religion but against their better judgement they find a way to see each other again. Jax is her cheeseburger.
There is something about star-crossed love stories. They are so much more epic. So much more heart-breaking. When the odds are stacked against a couple but they’re still making a go at it, you can’t help but cheer for them. You can’t help but hope that love will find a way. The drama levels are high in this book but I never thought it felt cheesy or over the top. And I liked that LaMarche was honest about their situation. There’s no magical solution to their relationship being forbidden and they are forced to deal with the dangers/consequences of trying to be together.
I really appreciated the attention to detail when describing Devorah’s religion and its traditions. Orthodox Judaism is not something you read about in a lot of mainstream literature and Like No Other is a fair depiction of its benefits and flaws. I could have sworn LaMarche was Orthodox herself it was so well researched. As a former religious studies major I loved all of the Devorah chapters, especially when she was with her family. I would love to see more books set inside the Orthodox community.
There is less time spent on Jax and his family, which was a little disappointing because I really enjoyed his character. He’s a very earnest and passionate person. When he decides he’s in love with Devorah that’s it, he’s all in. I think most teenagers (male or female) would give up when faced with the impossibility of their situation. But not Jaxon. He’s determined to find away. Even the most cynical will find themselves admiring his dedication. (It helps that he’s pretty funny too.)
Like No Other is a ballad to star crossed lovers everywhere. Una LaMarche’s writing makes it so easy to imagine yourself in their world and the characters come to life on the page. From the moment that elevator gets stuck and Jax and Devorah meet, this story will enamor you and you won’t be able to put this book down. I predict you’ll see Like No Other on a lot of “Best of 2014″ lists this year. So if you’re a fan of Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Titanic and/or West Side Story (you get the idea) you will fall head over heels for Jax and Devorah’s tale.(less)
The Art of Lainey initially grabbed my attention because of its fantastic premise – a girl trying...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Art of Lainey initially grabbed my attention because of its fantastic premise – a girl trying to win back her ex-boyfriend using The Art of War? Now that was something I hadn’t read before! But once I started reading I realized this book was so much more than a great concept.
First off there was the character development. I absolutely love when characters really grow throughout a novel – when they’re pushed and challenged and come out the other side a more well-rounded individual. Which is exactly what happens in the case of Lainey. At the beginning, Lainey is a bit selfish and shallow. She doesn’t pay much attention to the people around her – from her co-workers, to her family and even her friends. And she’s very focused on how everything will “look.” Is she tanned enough? Does she have the right clothes? Hang out with the right people? But the more you keep reading the more Lainey’s true personality will begin to show.
I felt like I could relate to Lainey on a very personal level. I know exactly how it feels to have your identity centred around being “so and so’s girlfriend.” My high school boyfriend and I were together roughly the same amount of time as Lainey and Jason and when he broke up with me I felt all the things Lainey did. My whole identity felt like had been turned upside down and inside out and all the plans we had been making disappeared in a puff of smoke. So much of me was tied up in him. I couldn’t imagine my life without him and didn’t want to try to. I’ll admit there was a period where I tried to get him back. It failed and I am extremely grateful for that because it allowed me to grow into my own person. I got to experience new things that he would have hated (re: most of the extremely nerdy things I LOVE now) and I am extremely happy with the way things turned out. Paula Stokes perfectly captured every emotion I felt back then. I may not have been a soccer star or worked at a coffee shop but I could easily see myself in Lainey’s shoes. And I don’t think I’ll be the only one. Anyone who has ever suffered an unexpected break up or the ending of a long-term relationship will be able to relate.
Enough personal stuff though! More about the book!
In addition to the great plot and character development there is also a terrific set of secondary characters – particularly Bianca. Bianca is Lainey’s best friend and a better friend you could not wish for! She’s supportive and thoughtful and always ready to listen. But I also appreciated that she wasn’t constantly at Lainey’s beck and call. She had her own life and was sometimes too busy to come running. This made her feel more like a real person then a generic best friend trope.
And then of course there’s Micah. Micah is definitely going on my list of YA crushes. If you like Guyliner from Victoria Schwab’s The Archived you are going to love Micah. Though he was a little edgy – tattoos, mohwak, the whole deal – he was a genuinely good person who really cares about the people in his life. I appreciated that he was going through his own issues as well. He was a big part of Lainey embracing the wide world around her, but I like to think she did the same for him. He helped show her a world that was a little less shallow and she showed him a world that was a little less dark. They initially team up to ‘fake date’ and make their exes jealous but the chemistry between them in undeniable and they make every scene sizzle.
Oh and have I mentioned that this book is just good plain fun? Lainey, Micah and their friends get up to some hilarious hijinks and the dialogue is razor-sharp and witty. I loved imagining Mizz Creant’s House of Torture (and pancakes) and what the TV show Undead Academy would look like (for the record I would totally watch that). It’s hard not to smile at least once while reading.
So this post got away from me a bit. You know when you watch movies like Clueless, Mean Girls and Easy A and they’re funny and entertaining but the more you think about them the more you realize how smart they are? That was this book for me. On the surface it’s a simple book about a girl trying to win back her boyfriend. But dig a little deeper you’ll find a fantastic novel about relationships, love, finding yourself and embracing new possibilities. I highly recommend everyone read this book over the summer and then promptly go out and try one thing you’ve never done before.(less)
Natural disasters are not uncommon occurrences. It seems like every time you turn around there’s...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Natural disasters are not uncommon occurrences. It seems like every time you turn around there’s been a tsunami, or tornado, or earthquake or hurricane. We see the damage done on television, we read the numbers – homes destroyed, people injured or killed. And we know it’s devastating but sometimes I feel like we’ve become a little too desensitized. After some time passes the news moves on to the next big story and we forget that there are people still trying to cope with the aftermath of the disaster, still trying to survive after they’ve lost everything.
“what the news crews couldn’t show was the real damage Elizabeth’s monster tornado had left behind. How do you record the wreckage left in someone’s heart?”
Torn Away brings the reader right into the heart of the disaster itself as well as it’s aftermath. The tornado strikes right at the start of the novel and Jennifer Brown does an amazing job setting the tone and the atmosphere for it. Jersey finds herself alone when the storm touches down and her fear feels so real. It comes through in every paragraph. But that’s only the beginning of the story. What really impressed me throughout the novel was how well Jennifer Brown described what Jersey’s world looked like after she lost everything – from the half-destroyed buildings, to the injuries her neighbours suffered, to the lists of missing people, I felt like I was walking the wreckage right alongside her.
In addition to the tornado, Torn Away is also a book about family. The storm not only took away Jersey’s house but it also took her mother and sister who weren’t able to make it to safety. Her step-father is unable to cope with his grief and sends her off to live with her father’s family, whom she has never met before. If this was a different kind of novel, they may have welcomed her with open arms – a long-lost daughter/sister/granddaughter finally come home. But Torn Away is not that kind of book. Through Jersey’s struggles Brown shows that ‘family’ isn’t something that comes automatically with blood relation. It’s something that requires effort and co-operation and there may be some obstacles that people are unwilling to tackle. It’s a tough message but it’s one that makes the reader appreciate their own family that much more.
My one complaint is that her father’s family – grandparents, her alcoholic father and step-mother and her half sisters – were so cruel and so unrelenting that at times it was almost too much. They were perfect stereotypes of white trash, so much so they became a little cartoonish in nature. This diminished the severity of her situation a touch, but was only one piece of the overall story. It wasn’t my favourite part but I don’t think it took away from the overall strength of the work.
Torn Away is tough, somber and unflinchingly honest story about loss and what it means to be a family. It demands to be devoured in a single sitting and will manage to both make you cry and warm your heart.(less)
My full review for Half Bad will be appearing in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but short version is I really enjoyed it. Particularly the way Sally...moreMy full review for Half Bad will be appearing in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but short version is I really enjoyed it. Particularly the way Sally Green examined the idea of nature veruss nurture. Are we born bad? Or does society shape us?(less)
Grasshopper Jungle is an incredibly weird book. If not one of the weirdest. But that weirdness is...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Grasshopper Jungle is an incredibly weird book. If not one of the weirdest. But that weirdness is part of its charm.
It’s the story of Austin, an incredibly confused, hormones-charged teenager. He’s in love with his girlfriend Shan and he’s also in love with his best friend Robbie. This of course leads to some…complications. Trying to figure out how you feel is enough of a challenge but unfortunately for Austin that’s only the beginning. After finding a collection of strange object’s in his boss’s office, Austin (and Robbie) accidentally unleash a plague onto their small Iowan city. This plague turns people into giant praying mantises (yes you read that right) who only want to do two things (yes you read that right too). Once the plague is unleashed the book goes from strange to stranger as Austin, Robbie and Shan discover an underground bunker in Shan’s backyard, Austin struggles with his libido, and they try to save the town.
Bizarre plot aside I really liked the way Smith handled Austin’s sexual ambiguity. Yes Austin is attracted to both a boy and a girl but I don’t know if bisexual is really the right word for him, at least not at this point in his life. He’s still figuring it all out and I’m happy Smith left it vague. Not everyone has that epiphany moment. Love is not logical, you can’t plan it and you can’t help who you love.
Another big theme of Grasshopper Jungle is history – how we remember it, how we talk about it, how it intersects. Austin is obsessed with history and making connections between seemingly unconnected things. Austin also looks to historical precedent when dealing with current events. I liked this idea of him constantly looking to history for the right answers, as one of the big reasons we study history is so we can learn from it and try not to repeat past mistakes. Austin is just doing that on an individual scale. At the same time, however, he recognizes history’s (as we know it) limitations. I thought one of the most profound quotes of the book was
“”You could never get everything in a book. Good books are always about everything.”
I’m still thinking over the implication of those two little lines.
Though Grasshopper Jungle is a unique and clever read, it wasn’t always for me. There is a limit to how many times I want to read about sperm in one book. But I do think it’s important to read books that push you out of your comfort zone and to force yourself to see the world from a different perspective. So in that sense I really enjoyed the experience of this book. Though I think many people of all ages can appreciate this book, the group that is going to get the most out of it are teen boys with questions about sexuality. And perhaps the parents of those teens. Grasshopper Jungle is the kind of book that encourages conversation and tells teens that it’s ok to still be figuring it all out. And there are definitely some people who need a book like that.
Crazy, surreal, bananas. These are all words that could be used to describe Grasshopper Jungle. But insightful, thoughtful and humorous all work as well. If you’re looking for a truly unique read you need to look no further – Grasshopper Jungle is like nothing you’ve ever read before.(less)
The Martian is one of those books that once you get into it it is impossible to put it down. Ever...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Martian is one of those books that once you get into it it is impossible to put it down. Everything else will seem less important than this question – “What is going to happen to Mark Watney?”
It is one intense read. Mark Watney has been (accidentally) left behind on Mars. The very first line of the book is “I’m pretty much fucked” and I can’t imagine a more accurate description of his situation. But despite the initial hopelessness of his situation Mark Watney keeps fighting to survive, keeps fighting to beat the odds. Watney was the ship’s botanist and engineer and those skills come in handy. He’s quite clever and he’s able to employ quite a bit of “back of the napkin” math to solve problems I couldn’t even begin to process. And every time I let your guard down even a little bit and allowed myself to believe he might make it, Mars would throw a new curve ball his way.
Part of the reason why you become so obsessed with what happens to this poor astronaut is Mark Watney himself. Personally, if I was stuck on Mars, I would probably curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out. But Mark Watney rises to the occasion. It’s impossible not to cheer for him. He’s clever – able to think up bizarre solutions to even the most intense problems. Think of him as a kind of space MacGyver. But he also has a great sense of humour. He is able to make jokes about his situation as easily as he makes them about his colleagues’ taste in music and television. The Martian is not the story of any old astronaut in space, it is Watney’s story and he is a very likeable guy.
Also it needs to be stated that I am not a science person. Not in the slightest. I even worked the system in high school so I could sub out Grade 11 science for “Hospitality” because it technically counts as a technology credit. My point is that I could have cared less about physics, biology and most of all chemistry. But The Martian made me care. There is a lot of science in this book – from rocket science to growing potatoes on Mars – but it was presented clearly and made me want to learn more. If there had been books like this on my shelf in high school I probably would have stayed in science.
The Martian is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Andy Weir has clearly done his research. Even though we haven’t reached this level of space exploration it seemed completely plausible. And he balances all this detail with so many twists and turns it will keep your heart racing. “Suspenseful” doesn’t even begin to describe it. (less)
I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy bender lately. I’ve read some good books, some alright books and...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy bender lately. I’ve read some good books, some alright books and some real standouts. Stolen Songbird definitely falls into the latter category. I sat down one evening while dinner was in the oven to read it. Next thing I knew it was 3 AM and I was finished. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that obsessed with a novel.
But once you read it you’ll understand why.
I have to admit that when I first read the synopsis of Stolen Songbird I was sceptical. Trolls aren’t usually a huge draw for me but these aren’t your ordinary trolls. They’re not little green, wart covered monsters who live under a bridge. Instead they’re much more human-like – except they possess some pretty powerful magic and they have been cursed to remain under the mountain. I loved this take on a character I had previously only associated with a Don Bluth movie from my childhood. Jensen has taken an underused and often forgotten character and breathed new life into it.
As I mentioned the trolls live in a very human-like society and it is every bit as complicated as you would expect. Their politics in particular. Tristan (Cécile’s prince) belongs to the current ruling family of Trollus. But others are not always happy with the way things are run. Especially those trolls with less magic who are treated like servants or slaves. Though Cécile is an outsider she soon finds herself in the middle of a very dangerous, potentially fatal, political tug of war. I really enjoyed the way Jensen used the politics of Trollus to touch upon more universal themes like equality, freedom and standing up for what you believe in.
There are a lot of great characters in Stolen Songbird and they all have great character arcs. When I started reading this book I was like Cécile – I knew nothing about the people under the mountain. And like her I formed a lot of first impressions but so many of the characters ended up surprising me – sometimes more than once. But my favourite two by far were Cécile and Tristan. They’re so similar in that they are both incredibly stubborn. Which equals a lot of fighting as they get to know each other. But through all that fighting is this surprising and fantastic slow burn romance. I went from not liking them together at all to biting my nails wondering what was going to happen to them.
Stolen Songbird is one of those books that reminds me why I love fantasy. It was layered with great characters and an exciting magical system, which meant that anything could happen. I may have stayed up way too late reading this book but it was completely worth it.(less)