As a Hugo award winner and Nebula award nominee, among many other awards and accolades, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin leaves very little doubt abouAs a Hugo award winner and Nebula award nominee, among many other awards and accolades, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin leaves very little doubt about its own quality. But even without the official recognition, The Fifth Season enchants easily, making it clear from the prologue that Jemisin’s writing is something extraordinary. This novel shines in its every aspect and shows precisely what a fantasy novel should be. It carries in itself everything from shiny worldbuilding to superb characterization and cleverly inserted traces of metanarration and metafictionality.
The Fifth Season flows easily, but not without effort on our part. It demands a bit of investment, a more careful consideration, but it isn’t intimidating or inaccessible. Jemisin’s writing is a symphony of words, a work of art in and of itself. She cleverly leads us through the story, often addressing us directly, and allows us to see what she wants us to see and realize only that she wants us to realize at any particular moment. At times the writing is so good that it temporarily draws our attention away from the storyline, leaving us breathless in anticipation of Jemisin’s next artful turn of phrase.
We begin with three very different women, of different ages and different social status. Their situations are vastly different but they all have one thing in common – they are orogenes, able to control various forms of energy and cause seismic events. Orogenes aren’t celebrated in their society, they provoke fear and disgust and they have two options upon discovery – they can be killed by their communities or they can go to the city and essentially become slaves.
Jemisin weaves this story like an intricate piece of filigree work, cleverly introducing new information and shocking discoveries at precisely the right time. There is an Appendix, glossary included, at the end of the book that is most useful since the author doesn’t spend much time explaining herself or her world. She sacrifices everything, even (or especially) the comfort of her readers for the good of the narrative, and the end result is nothing short of glorious.
The Fifth Season is a beautifully constructed, masterfully executed work of fiction that everyone needs to read. It may require some investment from its readers, but the rewards are more than enough.
Whatever by S.J. Goslee is a hilarious and honest YA coming out story and it’s in many ways unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s not a romanceWhatever by S.J. Goslee is a hilarious and honest YA coming out story and it’s in many ways unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s not a romance by any usual standards, but it can be painfully romantic and endearing at times. It’s a heart-warming story with so many laugh-out-loud moments and unparalleled honesty in dealing with subjects like self-discovery, bisexuality and coming of age.
Our protagonist Mike Tate is so easy to fall in love with, despite (or because of) his many shortcomings. He drinks, he smokes weed, he challenges his friends to do insane things. He is really a fairly typical and pretty obnoxious 16-year-old boy with wild hormones and plenty of time on his hands. At the same time, though, we see him caring for his 6-year-old sister, being secretly (and sort of reluctantly) kind to his friends and putting himself into danger to save a younger boy from a sure beating. Even when he’s being insufferable (which is often), there is such potential shining in Mike that it’s easy to imagine him becoming a wonderful adult.
That being said, teenage Mike is often kind of an idiot, prone to lashing out when he’s hurt or when he’s feeling insecure. Even though this isn’t a romance, there is a clear romantic interest, albeit one that Mike has a hard time processing. Through Mike’s relationship with Wallace, Goslee shows us that we never know what happens inside a person. The relationship was built realistically and brilliantly, which can also be said about other relationships in this book.
This is a story that teaches us, first and foremost, about the process of coming out and how intensely personal it is for everyone. Even when someone isn’t exposed to homophobia, even when judgment from friends and family isn’t forthcoming, they have a right to choose their own pace and come out (or not come out) when and how they see fit. Mike uncovers his own sexual identity slowly and reluctantly, preferring to not make waves. His mom is completely accepting, his hilarious grandmother has her own way of dealing with things, his friends are mostly open, but Mike just isn’t ready to face things. It should also be said that homophobia sometimes comes from completely unexpected directions. Preparing yourself for this careful and slow process isn’t a small matter at all. We follow Mike as he learns new things about himself and slowly finds his footing. His journey is poignant, honest and funny, painful at times, but so worth it in the end.
I loved every second of this book and I was so very grateful for its honesty and its authentic voice. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for Goslee’s next novel. ...more
4.5 stars After a hugely successful dystopian trilogy and her standalone exploration of insanity in a historical setting, Mindy McGinnis delves into a4.5 stars After a hugely successful dystopian trilogy and her standalone exploration of insanity in a historical setting, Mindy McGinnis delves into a new territory with The Female of the Species, which is perhaps best described a hyper-realistic contemporary examination of teenage life, human resilience and revenge. It’s a bold, daring book that shoves hard realities right into our faces, making no effort to soften the blows or make us feel better along the way. Those who are a bit more sensitive to drugs and violence in young adult books might have a hard time reading it, but in truth, the pain and heartbreak, the shock and outrage are so worth your time and trouble with this book.
The Female of the Species is an exploration of humanity at its best and at its worst, with no hiding or sugarcoating whatsoever. McGinnis’ teens have sex, they cheat, bully and take drugs, they live with no thought for tomorrow or their own safety. Sexual violence, date-rapes and slut-shaming all happen on a daily basis, perhaps not always visible, but lurking under the surface nevertheless. McGinnis does a fantastic job of bringing to light things we’d like to keep hidden. As a policeman points out during a school assembly, one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted in high school, but the statistics mean nothing until we give them names and faces. McGinnis gives us names on both sides of the fence, she gives us characters to care about and exposes them to more than enough to incite our anger.
The female of the species is more deadly than the male. The female defends, she protects herself and others. When pushed to her limits, she becomes quietly deadly, a force that shows no mercy while fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. This story is told from three perspectives: Jack, the popular boy; Peekay, the preacher’s kid, and Alex, the girl with the dead sister, the female of the species in the truest sense. Each of them somehow represents one conflicting, primal part in each of us. Peekay represents the kind, innocent part that still believes people are inherently good. Jack is that constant fight between right and wrong, he represents the choices each of us make daily trying to do what’s right. Alex is the most hidden part, the part that screams for justice and revenge, that violence that hides in everyone, tempered and suffocated by societal norms and expectations.
Make no mistake, this book will open your eyes and shatter your heart, and if you by any chance, have a preadolescent child like I do, it will leave you terrified of the future. This may be a gritty and grim portrayal of teenage life, but it’s painfully honest and necessary, designed to make us question gender stereotypes, the way we assign blame and the abnormal behaviors we take for granted.
The Female of the Species is a hard book to read, but a great one to absorb and take to heart. I have to applaud McGinnis for approaching these topics in a way that will surely stand out and remain vividly emblazoned in our minds, hopefully leaving us slightly more aware than we were before picking it up.
With its intriguing title and gorgeous cover, Black Flowers, White Lies immediately draws our attention and promises to be a great paranormal story, aWith its intriguing title and gorgeous cover, Black Flowers, White Lies immediately draws our attention and promises to be a great paranormal story, a frightening psychological thriller and a thorough exploration of loss and grief, all rolled into one. It is a pretty tall order for a relatively small book, so feeling mildly disappointed in the end doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Black Flowers, White Lies could have been a much better work, but it fell a bit short in execution and characterization.
Ella’s mother is getting married in a few days, but Ella struggles to let go of her father. He died before she was born, but she’s been thinking about him and visiting his grave her entire life. Ella is convinced that her father watches her and protects her, even though no one else understands her obsession. As a ghost story, Black Flowers merely scratches the surface and doesn’t give us nearly enough to justify describing it as such. Ella’s father could really be watching over her, or it could just be a figment of her imagination. There aren’t any definitive answers, which leaves us to wonder why this particular plot line was introduced in the first place.
The book fares slightly better in the psychological thriller department, where it at least makes a half-decent effort. The psychological mystery is thought through and developed, albeit with several plot holes, but the conclusion we work towards never actually comes. The person who works against Ella is painfully obvious from the start, and even though the red herrings draw our attention for a minute or two, we never really wander all that far. The biggest problem, however, is sheer lack of characterization for the villain. We never quite understand the person’s motives, and, without a final confrontation, we are left with a whole string of violent, manipulative actions that make very little sense. Motives are crucial for a good psychological thriller and leaving us without answers pretty much guarantees disappointment.
Nevertheless, Black Flowers, White Lies shows some potential and leaves things open for a (hopefully more focused) sequel, which has yet to be announced.
The Women in the Walls is a mildly disappointing sophomore novel by Amy Lukavics, author of Daughters Unto Devils. It delivers all the things one expeThe Women in the Walls is a mildly disappointing sophomore novel by Amy Lukavics, author of Daughters Unto Devils. It delivers all the things one expects from such a read – the deep atmosphere, the chilling moments, the compelling paranormal mystery – but it proves lacking in terms of substance, characterization or any real depth of emotion.
When Lucy’s beloved aunt goes missing, strange things start happening in her house. The cook commits suicide, her cousin Margaret is talking to walls, and her aloof father lies about reporting her aunt missing to the authorities. Lucy herself is struggling to come to terms with her aunt’s disappearance. Prone to self-harm since she was a kid, she constantly fights the desire to hurt herself to the point of leaving scars.
As a protagonist, Lucy inspires neither confidence nor affection. In fact, her personality is very difficult to pinpoint or describe. She always appears too whiny, forever on the verge of tears, and her lack of action and her cowardice are enough to annoy and disappoint even the most patient reader. Mostly we are told things about her, but never shown enough to believe. We are told that she often feels awful enough to cut herself deeply, but those feelings never reach us. We are told that she and Margaret are best friends, but their bond never manifests. If anything, it’s clear that Margaret barely tolerates Lucy and that jealously long ago destroyed any real connection the girls might have had.
It needs to be said that Lukavics does an excellent job scaring the living daylights out of us. Her writing is very evocative when it needs to be and she is capable of provoking real fear and disgust. In terms of pacing, however, she leaves us with too many problems to count. Things happen at the beginning and at the very end. The whole middle part of the book seems like a filler we could have done without. The revelations, such as they are, all happen in the final pages. Unfortunately by that point, we are mostly uninterested in Lucy or her fate.
The novel’s contemporary setting is also quite confusing. The (admittedly odd) values of Lucy’s family, their behavior and their way of life, all seem to belong to a historical setting, perhaps early 20th century. The bits of contemporary life that were thrown in haphazardly were somewhat jarring.
The Women in the Walls leaves us with a somewhat bland taste in our mouths, made more tolerable by Lukavics’ potential, which can be read as a promise of better things to come. With some work on characterization and pacing, her next novel, The Ravenous, might turn out to be a much better read. ...more
The first thing you need to know if and when you decide to read Revenge and the Wild is that it will be the most fun you’ll have in ages. Ent4.5 stars
The first thing you need to know if and when you decide to read Revenge and the Wild is that it will be the most fun you’ll have in ages. Entertainment is pretty much guaranteed, regardless of your usual reading preferences. For a book that refuses to be labeled or in any way categorized, Revenge and the Wild is pretty universally lovable. I challenge you to be grumpy while reading it.
The second thing you need to know if you’re a curious sort of person is that you need to throw your expectations right out the window. With a 16-year-old one-armed alcoholic for a heroine, you’ll certainly be in for a few surprises. And when I say alcoholic, I don’t just mean a drink here and there at parties – I really mean nasty, belching drunk prone to fits of rage and unseemly behavior.
For all the entertainment it provides, Revenge and the Wild offers a surprisingly deep characterization and great emotional moments. Westie was left alone as a child when her family (and her arm) were eaten by cannibals. She was saved and adopted by a famous inventor, who created a mechanical arm for her and raised her as his own. Westie has never given up on finding the cannibals who killed her parents so when they show up in her small, protected town pretending to be rich and civilized, it’s a pretty big challenge for her family and her addictive personality.
Revenge and the Wild is a fantastic blend of paranormal steampunk with elements of horror. There’s something in it for everyone, and yet it doesn’t seem crowded and it works surprisingly well. Modesto pulled out all the stops with her worldbuilding by creating a colorful setting that can be enjoyed from the very first page. The only thing missing were dragons, everything else was already there. She did the same with romance, which seemed honest from the start, despite many roadblocks. I love romances that develop from years of friendship, especially those that are a bit weird and quirky on top of that. Westie and Alistair seemed perfect for each other from the start.
Overall, Revenge and the Wild is quite a surprise and perhaps not entirely suitable for readers with delicate sensibilities. Since I most certainly am not one of those (the nastier the better, as far as I’m concerned), I’ll be keeping my eye on Michelle Modesto, hoping to get another one of her wonderfully wicked adventures very soon.
I’ve loved (loved!) John Corey Whaley ever since he published his first novel, Where Things Come Back, before all the awards and accolades that are noI’ve loved (loved!) John Corey Whaley ever since he published his first novel, Where Things Come Back, before all the awards and accolades that are now attached to his name. As a National Book Award finalist, winner of William C. Morris award for his debut and Michael L. Printz gold medalist for his sophomore novel, Whaley needs no more official confirmations of quality for his work. It’s becoming quite clear that he is extraordinary.
Highly Illogical Behavior seems lighter than Whaley’s previous work. It’s very approachable and easy to read. The lightness, however, is merely superficial. This is a novel that can be discovered one layer at a time. It’s a deceptively simple story that’s actually quite complex underneath, making us feel as though it could read it over and over and discover something new each time.
Solomon Reed is agoraphobic. He doesn’t leave the house and doesn’t really communicate with people outside his family. He realizes he’s a burden to his parents, but he simply can’t face the world outside. His house is safe, and the safe environment keeps his panic attacks at a minimum. When Lisa shows up with her understanding and friendliness (and her hidden motives), Solomon is terrified, but ready to let her in. As difficult as it is to allow Lisa into his life, Clark challenges him in whole new ways, making him see that the world can be even more dangerous than he thought, but that it also has so much to offer.
Whaley does a fabulous job in bringing us close to our three characters. Although their story is told from just two perspectives, the three of them are equally important. Paradoxically, the one who is being fixed isn’t the one who needs fixing the most. For all his troubles and phobias, Solomon has a loving family, a stable home and a very firm sense of self. Perhaps Lisa is the one who needs interventions even though she is initially the only one who seems to have it all together. Despite her ambition (or perhaps because of it), she is in many ways far less steady than she appears to be.
This author excels at gentleness and subtleties – there is no need for big sentences, dramatic solutions or grand gestures. He understands that life is in the small things and that there are no definitive solutions. There can be hints of hope, possibilities and changes in circumstances, but life offers no easy fixes for any of us.
This is a quiet, gorgeous little book that seems simple at first, but leaves you deep in thought and profoundly happy to have read it. This young author has already achieved so much, and we still have so much to look forward to. ...more
Girl Mans Up, M-E Girard’s astonishingly honest book, might just be one of the best things that happened to YA fiction in a very, very long t4.5 stars
Girl Mans Up, M-E Girard’s astonishingly honest book, might just be one of the best things that happened to YA fiction in a very, very long time. There have been books about gay, lesbian and trans teens, but I don’t think there are many, and certainly not this good, about genderqueer characters. Written with a light hand and breathtaking emotion, Girl Mans Up shows us how damaging traditional gender roles can be.
Pen doesn’t quite meet the expectations of her traditional family or the teachers of her catholic school. She is a girl, but she is only comfortable with her hair short, her clothes loose and doing things that are traditionally viewed as “men’s work”. She doesn’t feel like a boy in girl’s skin, she is quite comfortable with who she is, but the people around her, her parents included, are making her life a lot harder than it needs to be.
Then I realized I don’t have to be trans to still confuse people with the way I look. I had my hair then. Now, there’s nothing left that makes me a girl, except for the fact that I am one.
The best thing about Pen is that she is quite comfortable in her own skin. She has no doubts about her identity, gender or otherwise. Her problems come from the discrepancy between who she is and how the society sees her. She doesn’t fit into any of the expected roles, therefore she needs to be cast out, changed or made to fit some stereotype, at least.
During the course of this book, Pen deals with everything from whispers and gossip to outright bullying. She finds very little true acceptance for who she is, but she does find it in her brother Johnny, her girlfriend Blake and several new friends. Pen’s relationship with her older brother Johnny is a true thing of beauty. At one point, she calls him her friend, her brother, her parent, and he really is all those things. He is pure acceptance, the epitome of unconditional love with plenty of patience and a few flaws that merely make him more real.
There is also a very healthy relationship between two girls that has a supporting role and changes things for Pen. Blake’s only dated boys before falling for Pen, but she is attracted to Pen exactly for who she is. Several friendships are born in this book and several others die in flames. All of them, as well as Pen’s thoughts om them, come across as genuine, realistic slices of teenage existence.
I don’t want to be her girlfriend, though. But there’s this part of me that totally knows I could be her boyfriend. I don’t want her to think of me as a boy, or a boy substitute, though. I want to be a boyfriend who is a girl. I have no idea how to explain that stuff to anyone, let alone a girl I like. I just wish it was already understood.
This book should be required reading in every high school, not only because of Pen’s gender identity and the society’s acceptance, but also because of the healthy lesbian relationship, wonderful friendships, and the example of a non-traditional, supportive family. ...more
I picked up One Grave Too Many after reading a recommendation by Ilona Andrews, knowing I would surely enjoy something she liked enough to recommend.I picked up One Grave Too Many after reading a recommendation by Ilona Andrews, knowing I would surely enjoy something she liked enough to recommend. She doesn’t do it often, but when she does, the books are always worth checking out. The Diane Fallon Forensic Investigations series has nine installments, published between 2004 and 2010. One Grave Too Many is the first one.
We meet Diane Fallon after a very traumatic period in her life. Past evens are revealed slowly, but we learn right away of her determination to quit forensic work and dedicate herself to being the director of a museum. Diane can’t handle any more mass graves and her new career is guaranteed to keep her away from dead people. Naturally, things don’t turn out the way she planned. Soon she is involved in an investigation that reminds her of her past traumas and opens wounds that could easily break her.
Diane fights battles on many fronts. Being new to leading a museum and a perfectionist to boot, she has plenty of problems to deal with daily. Connor offers great insight into the inner workings of a natural history museum and successfully inserts plenty of detail without suffocating the plot. Forensic details are also aplenty, giving the impression of a thoroughly researched book, which is always appreciated. With a whole family murdered in cold blood, the reader gets victims that are easy to care about and a reason to get invested into Diane’s investigation.
Diane’s character, however, is insufficiently developed. There are a few hints that could later lead to deeper characterization, but mostly we are given the picture of a solitary perfectionist with past traumas we can’t quite feel. Any description of her appearance is omitted – likely purposely – which makes it a lot harder to see her in our minds. Her relationships, such as they are, could also be described as underdeveloped, but with some hope for future installments.
Overall, this is a worthy read that follows the path of writers like Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, but doesn’t quite reach their heights. If you’re looking for a decent forensic mystery, this might just be it, as long as you don’t expect too much of its characters.
Apprentice in Death, the 43rd installment in Nora Roberts’ wildly successful In Death series, won’t leave a single fan disappointed. By now, we’ve leaApprentice in Death, the 43rd installment in Nora Roberts’ wildly successful In Death series, won’t leave a single fan disappointed. By now, we’ve learned to expect only the best from this series and only the best is precisely what we always get. When a series has been successful for over 20 years, every new installment is pretty much a safe bet.
In Apprentice in Death, Eve hunts a LDSK (long-distance serial killer) – a laser sniper killing from a distance. The victims seem like random choices, but Eve senses a deeper motive in the killings. She quickly familiarizes herself with weapons and tactics while also assessing the targets and doing what she does best – entering the minds of killers. Eve has an uncanny ability to connect with killers, and she uses it rather well. Every now and then, Robb allows just a touch of paranormal into the series and it’s becoming quite obvious that there’s something supernatural to Eve’s talents. She sees murders unfold with little evidence and she can put herself completely in any killer’s place and fully understand their thoughts, emotions and motivations.
While the killings aren’t as bloody and messy as they sometimes can be, the killer is one of the worst in the series, difficult to accept and process. Their identity isn’t difficult for Eve to discover, but catching them with minimal loss of life is a whole different matter. Once again Eve has to be smarter, faster and more intuitive to outwit and capture a danger to her beloved city.
The frenzied hunt leaves little room for personal things, not only between Eve and Roarke, but also between Eve and her friends. I missed seeing her interact a bit more with people like Mr. Mira, Mavis or Leonardo, but Robb gave us just enough with Bella’s birthday celebration to keep us satisfied.
Each new release by J.D. Robb is considered a holiday in my house, and probably thousands of other homes around the world. Today is that day, my friends. Join the horde, grab a copy and enjoy.