The Nine – Review

“It was a bloody awful way to die. It had been a bloody awful way to live.”

The Nine is a debut fantasy novel and what an incredible debut it is!!! Townsend has built an incredible world, full of interesting species and a plot with enough twists and turns to make the read feel like you’re on a roller coaster. And the characters!

Rowena Downshire is a young girl trying to make it in a cutthroat world. Her mother, and only living relative, is locked in a debtors prison. Everything she earns, and most of what she steals, goes to paying down that debt. But, with new charges always being added, the battle feels never-ending to her. Her job as a courier for a black market delivery boss is the best life she can hope for, even if he is cold and brutal and unforgiving.

When Rowena is robbed delivering a mysterious book that seems to write itself to the even more mysterious and feared Alchemist, Rowena is terrified Ivor is going to kill her for the blunder. Deciding to risk going straight to the Alchemist instead, she finds herself in the middle of a complex and deadly mystery.

“It was the question Rowena had been dreading. She’d been under the Alchemist’s roof for nearly an hour and barely had anything been said of the package.”

Revered Phillip Chalmers didn’t intend on being part of anything historical or groundbreaking. His research with his partner Doctor Revered Nora Pierce was exciting, but he should have known she would push boundaries. Now, days before they are give the keynote speech in front of their peers, Nora has gone missing. When a young girl courier delivers a note from Nora making him fear the worst, he insists on giving the girl the book that started it all. Except, when the door to his office shatters later that night, he realizes that he should have known it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Rowena and The Alchemist, also known as The Bear, turn to Anselm Meteron, former mercenary and all around nefarious character for help. They have a history extending far back, though how exactly they are intertwined comes much later in the book.

“Something in the cold calm of Anselm Meteron’s voice told Rowena there were very few games he played that were at all fair to his opponents.”

Rowena, The Alchemist and Meteron must figure out who took the book and why, and how the missing Reverend Chambers fits into the puzzle. Of course, that isn’t easy with bribed officials trying to put you in jail, along with the deadly aigamuxa hunting down anyone even loosely associated with the book.

There is a lot happening within these pages. It isn’t just the primary mystery driving the plot forward, but also the smaller mysteries within the characters. The Nine is an amazing blend of both plot and character driven momentum and each page demands to be turned so that you can be closer to unraveling the answers to all the questions presented. It is complex in all the very best ways!

The world building is fascinating. It feels as if it could be our own world propelled far into some distant future, but the addition of the species the lanyani and the aigamuxa makes it clear it is a world far different from ours. With nods to steampunk, this world is detailed and unique.

One of the most fascinating parts of the plot was the blending of religion and science. In fact, this is one of the key tenets of the plot, the book that God wrote to keep track of his experiment, The Nine.

“Magic was just what the ignorant called systems they couldn’t understand in an organized universe.”

It was very interesting to read how they veered from the Old Religion to incorporate religion and all it’s tenets into a pillar of science. The tenets of the science was well done as well. Not overly explained, but not vague and uninteresting. I actually really liked how it was presented, examined and how it tied into the plot. Not to mention the Grand Experiment, which I won’t get into for fear of spoilers.

We get many more characters sprinkled throughout these pages, and even the more minor characters are very fleshed out. Rare was one of my favorites, although, she did drive me crazy with some of her decisions. City Inspector Gammon, Beth and Lord Regenzi were some of the more notable side players, and it was very interesting how their importance was woven in. But none of them quite weaseled their way into my heart the way Anselm did.

“My name is Anselm Meteron, and I’m a villain with a penchant for self-aggrandizement and a portfolio of maladjusted habits.”

I mean, come on! How can you NOT love someone who introduces themselves like that?! I want to be friends with Anselm and all his maladjusted habits. Also, is it bad form to steal that line for all future introductions?

In all, this was a very fast, very enjoyable read. The Nine is a first in a series, and I know I am dying for book two! The ending isn’t quite a cliff hanger so you do feel satisfied, but there are enough loose ends that when you start thinking about the book, you get questions bubbling to the surface. Amazing debut and I am thrilled I was able to read this!

The Nine is released TODAY! If you love complex fantasy with amazing characters, awesome world building and a ton of mystery, this book is definitely for you!

Thank you Prometheus books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Daughter4254 – Review + GIVEAWAY

Daughter4254 used to think life in a community where art, music and names are outlawed would suffocate her creative spirit. Now that she’s rotting in a prison cell, she’s not sure her dying mother made the right choice when she entrusted her with the secrets of rebellion. Prison has given her plenty of time to relive every mistake and lose all hope.

Then she meets Thomas, a fellow inmate, who tells her stories of the mythical mountain colonies where people have names and the arts thrive. Together they plot an escape, knowing if they fail, they will die. Or worse, their consciousness will be taken by the MindWipe, leaving their bodies free for the government to use. When nothing goes as planned, Daughter4254 must choose between using her mother’s secret to better the world she hates, or following Thomas to the quiet life of freedom she has always craved.

DAUGHTER 4254

Welcome to November! I am so thrilled to be kicking off November with this book! thank you Rockstar Book Tours for letting me part of this awesome tour. Click the photo above or click HERE for more information about them and upcoming tours. And be sure to check out the links below for the rest of the tour for Daughter 4254.

“My mother’s words come back to me: “Beware of beauty in this life, child. It will break your heart.”

Daughter 4254 is a haunting dystopian set in a world far in the future. A world where only things deemed “useful” are legal. Beauty, art, love, color, compassion, laughter. These are not useful. They do not feed the population or help them fight illness, or live. so they are illegal. Forbidden. Names aren’t useful, so citizens are given numbers instead.

We meet Daughter 4254 as she struggles in a prison. We don’t know her crime, only that she fears having her mind wiped. Her very essence wiped from her brain, leaving her useful (and compliant) body in return. The days progress miserably, and we see that while positive emotion is frowned upon, absence of it doesn’t make people kind or tolerant. It leaves them harsh and sterile instead.

“Our civilization cannot survive if we don’t all comply. We have limited resources and must make the best use of everything, including our time.”

Statham alternates each chapter to be a Before and an After. Before prison and after. The tension in seeing what life is like between these two timeframes is incredible. Each reality holds its own horror, and the entire time you are wondering what could she have done to have landed in prison. And, even more importantly, what will happen next. In this way we get a lot of backstory for this society without losing the tension or fast pacing of the plot. It is quite remarkable to write a story where I want to know both what happened, what’s happening and what’s going to happen all at the same time!

Life for 4254 gets interesting when for reasons unknown to her, she is moved to a new cell block. One where she can hear and see other prisoners, though she is ordered to not speak to them. One prisoner in particular, Thomas, with a name not a number doesn’t listen to rules though.

“He smiles at me, an irresistible grin filled with mischief and mayhem.”

I loved this book! Dystopian novels always hold a special place in my heart, especially when they examine the dark underside of humanity. I found this society fascinating. Every detail that emerged made complete sense in the construct of their logic, and yet was just as horrifying to imagine. Even worse, (or better, for dystopian sake), was that it was easy to see how a society like this could emerge. There are some very famous psychological experiments that this society felt very similar to. It was chilling how similar they felt.

Daughter 4254 ends with the possibility of more to come, and I do hope this story continues! I need to know more, and am looking forward to exploring this world outside of the confines of a prison or strict community structure. More exists, and I can’t wait to unravel it. I am especially excited to see the development of 4254 herself. She was already pushing boundaries within herself, but was still stuck within the logic of how she was raised. It will be interesting to see how freedom truly helps her evolve into a more developed person.

Even the nature of the rebellion itself felt like there was more to them than we initially saw. Are they actually good, or not? Its an interesting question that I’m dying to learn more about! I also hope we see more of 4254’s roommate, 0203. She was a fascinating character, curious and smart, and I really hope she plays a larger role in upcoming books.

This is my first novel by Statham but I am already a fan! I will be dying to read the next book and will be looking up her other books in the meantime.

Anyone who loves good dystopian fiction needs to read this book! It is a fast read that will simply leave you breathless in it’s pages. You’ll love getting to know these characters while reviling the society they live in. Dystopian at it’s best, if you ask me. Daughter 4254 comes out November 7, and the links for purchase can be found below (none are affiliate links).

Be sure to enter the GIVEAWAY for your chance to win a finished copy or a $25 Amazon gift card! AMAZING!!!

Once again, thank you Rockstar book Tours for sending me a copy to read and review for this tour!

 

D4254-CoverTitle: DAUGHTER 4254

Author: Leigh Statham

Pub. Date: December 5, 2017

Publisher: Owl Hollow Press

Pages: 286

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Find it: AmazoniBooksThe Kings English (exclusive signed copies)Goodreads

ohp-LeighStathamLeigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho but found her heart in New York City. She worked at many interesting jobs before settling in as a mother and writer.

She now resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, eight chickens, a fluffy dog, and two suspected serial killer cats.

Leigh is currently working on an MFA, has written countless short stories, and is the author of lots of mediocre poetry. She is also the winner of the 2016 Southeast Review Narrative Nonfiction Prize for her short story “The Ditch Bank and the Fenceline.”

Website |Twitter |Instagram | Facebook | WattpadGoodreads

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card, US Only.

2 winners will receive a finished copy of DAUGHTER 4254, US only.

Click below to enter!

Giveaway3

 

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

10/25/2017- BookHounds YA– Interview

10/25/2017- Fan-Girl-Tabulous– Review

10/26/2017- Reese’s Reviews– Excerpt

10/26/2017- Caffeine and Composition– Review

10/27/2017- Hooked To Books– Guest Post

10/27/2017- YA Obsessed– Review

Week Two:

10/30/2017- Maddie.TV– Interview

10/30/2017- The Desert Bibliophile– Review

10/31/2017- Wandering Bark Books– Excerpt

10/31/2017- Kindle and Me– Review

11/1/2017- Wishful Endings– Interview

11/1/2017- Jena Brown Writes– Review

11/2/2017- Stuffed Shelves– Review

11/2/2017- Life of A Simple Reader– Review

11/3/2017- Books, Vertigo and Tea– Excerpt

11/3/2017- Savings in Seconds– Review

Week Three:

11/6/2017- Two Chicks on Books– Interview

11/6/2017- Cindy’s Love of Books– Review

11/7/2017- Captivated Reading– Review

11/7/2017- Bookalicious– Review

Berserker – Review

“She was a Berserker, cursed to fly into action whenever anyone she loved was in danger. A killer who would be compelled to murder elegantly, viciously, and without remorse.”

Berserker is the story of a family blessed with the Nytte. Or cursed with it. It depends on who you ask.

The story is told through the alternating narration of Hanne, Owen and Rolf. Hanne is the oldest daughter in her family. Her older brother Stieg, and her younger brother Knut all have a variation of the Nytte. The youngest, Sissel, shows no sign of the Nytte. Owen is a cowboy in America trying to find his way in the wild frontier; with plenty of his own demons to fight along the way.

After an incident forces the siblings to pack up and flee their home in Norway. They head to America, where they have family living in Montana. They hope to be able to find someone with the Berserker gift to help Hanne keep her gift under control.

“Embrace the Nytte,” Aud said, as Hanne scrambled backward in the pine needles and dried leaves. “Open your heart to it, or it will be the ruin of you. And your siblings, too.”

Rolf is an interesting character, and I won’t say much about him though to avoid spoilers. His is mission finding the Nytte in children and ensuring that the gifts do not die out. The role he plays with Hanne and her siblings brings a richer understanding of the legend of the Nytte, and it keeps some of the mythical elements entwined in the plot.

“Rolf kept his eyes trained on the faces of the crowd. Despite the hectic and daunting landscape that presented itself, what Rolf saw again and again, on all manner of faces, was hope.”

Once the family gets to America, they manage to make it through immigration and onto the train that will take them to Wolf Creek where their uncle lives. But they have been pursued from Norway and fleeing the men who chase them causes their path to collide with Owen’s. Literally. Owen agrees to take them the rest of the way.

“It was a strange spell that had been cast. Disaster had been so narrowly averted, and by such sudden heroics. No one could think of quite what to do next.”

The relationships between the siblings was written well. Sissel goes from being a bratty younger sister, jealous of her older siblings, to quite loving and doting when necessary. There were a few times when her tantrums felt a little shallow, but overall, it felt natural. Tantrums and jealousy aside, it was nice to read how they all worked together as a team and really only wanted the best for each other.

Owen and Daisy, his dog, were great characters. It is through them that we get a real sense of the frontier, and how hard life could be back then. In his agreeing to be their guide, we also get to read details about what travel was like then too. He is teaching them at the same time he is teaching us. I thought that was really well done.

“Perhaps even the most friendly town might seem hostile when you were on the lookout for it.”

This book is a mix of western folklore and mythology. The blend was unique and refreshing to read. It was a very fast read, at only 288 pages, and they all flew by. Laybourne does a really good job mixing enough information to really submerse us deep into both the reality of the frontier with the legend of ancient mythology, all while driving the plot forward.

What I rally liked was how each of the characters all struggled with acceptance in some way. Owen, to accept that he was good enough, even if his family thought he wasn’t. Hanne’s struggle for acceptance is a little more complicated. Her impulse to kill when her loved ones are in danger must be controlled, so she isn’t necessarily looking to ‘accept’ that aspect of herself. Sissel and Rolf both struggle with acceptance as well, though I don’t want to give anything away. And acceptance means different things for each of the characters, some leading to tragedy and others to triumph. I really enjoyed the complexity of each of these characters and how their journeys were both internal and external.

“Feelings didn’t seem to care if they made sense.”

We read books to get lost in a story, but the best stories teach us something as well. Legends and folklore often had morals to them. Endings to help us see a bigger truth either about ourselves or the world at large. So, it felt right that a book based on legend and folklore would have a moral wrapped up in it as well.

Overall, this was a fun read with a good story. It did feel a touch on the younger side of YA to me, so some of the conversations and plot pacing felt a little simplistic to me. But, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Thank you NetGalley and MacMillan for approving my request to read and review this book!

Blade’s Edge – Review

“Was it impossible to hide who you really were forever?”

What an incredible book! Blade’s Edge is such a phenomenal story. A fantasy world built with similarities to feudal Japan, but written with such intensity that it mirrors a dystopian novel. I was immediately swept into the enormity of this world and immersed in the beauty and horror of these characters lives.

To be a woman in Gensokai, the island that this story takes place on, is a terrible fate. We don’t know the details, but learn that the actions of one powerful female Kisoshi have damned the future of all females for the past one thousand cycles. It is dangerous to be a girl. Even more dangerous to be born a girl with any detectable kiso.

“Fear can be a powerful destructive force.”

Kiso is the ability to manipulate energy. People have various levels of kiso and some are stronger than others. Once trained, they test to become kisoshi and can move up to higher ranks. At the beginning of the book, we get a glossary of terms and even a forward by the author ensuring that while this may feel and sounds like pieces of Japanese history and culture, this is entirely fantasy.

I will say that this is an instance when having the physical copy would have been enormously helpful. I find it a pain to toggle to an index with a kindle, and would have preferred to simply be able to turn the pages.

That said, the terms and their uses are so thorough that I didn’t feel lost while reading, or really feel that I needed to flip to know the terms. You learn them quickly as you read and by the end, they are as much a part of the story as if you had known the definition all along. That is quite an accomplishment in writing!

The story is written entirely from two main characters, Taka and Mishi, both female. We do get a third perspective thrown in from a woman we are introduced to who plays a larger role later in the book. Given how dreary this world is from a female perspective, it was a nice touch to only show us the viewpoint of female characters. It really focuses on how awful and male driven this society is. It isn’t just the power that the men hold. It is the way they look down on women, dismissing them as not being worthy of any respect or worth the air they breathe.

“It was clever work really, the work that the instructors put into making the girls fearful, then timid… wouldn’t that timidity eventually lead to self doubt?”

This book reads a bit like The Last Airbender blended with The Handmaid’s Tale. The fantasy portion of this book is incredible. Amazing world building with such vivid descriptions of the sweeping landscapes that you practically smell the forest and feel the mountain breezes. The elemental magic and magical beings are very creative and come to life on the page. But the portions that depict life as a woman, are so bleak, it’s nauseating. The contrast between the beauty of the land and the horror of life as a girl is stark and severe.

While there aren’t any graphic scenes, this book tackles incredibly brutal topics. Abuse, rape, murder, slavery, war. These are the horrifying realities of this world. With each new truth revealed as the girls grow into their own powers, the more you are chilled to the core at how this society functions.

“She hadn’t understood it very well when she was still living under Haha-san’s roof, but over the cycles since then she had come to understand the cruel fate that produced the girls with the empty eyes.”

Regardless of the brutality and dark nature of their surroundings, the girls Taka and Mishi are incredible characters. Both strong in their own unique ways, the journeys their lives have taken them on give us a broad view of this country and society. Even though Mishi’s journey seems easier than Taka’s in some aspects, they both have an incredibly difficult road in their futures. Regardless of the difficulty in their paths, though, they are smart, strong, funny, resilient women.

Even though we see only from the perspective of Mishi and Taka, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a good idea of the people in their lives. We are introduced to a wide array of men and women, some good, some evil. They are all complex and unique. The side stories are well developed and even though we don’t know their thoughts, we get a really good sense of who they are based on dialogue and the girls’ observations. Again, this is solid writing.

The main accomplishment of this novel, (outside of the brilliant character development and fantastic world building, is that throughout the very dark and brutal topics woven into this society), these girls never lose hope. This is such an amazing novel of the strength of finding yourself and resiliency. No matter what is thrown at them, they never lose faith that they are fighting for a better future. And it made the book an amazing read!

“How can anything about me surprise you, when you know absolutely nothing about me?”

In addition to creating this divine landscape and these incredible characters, the book itself is gorgeous. Each section has a haiku written for it, and the chapters have Japanese characters depicting the timeframes they take place in. It just feels balanced and beautiful. The physical layout of the book is as poetic as the writing.

I haven’t been as enthralled in a world like this in a long time. This novel is simply phenomenal. As both a fan of fantasy and dystopian, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves either genre. The themes and topics are difficult but eerily relevant to not just history, but our present as well. This book would be fantastic for a book club. There are so many detailed and complex topics to explore. I cannot wait to dive into the second book, and will be looking for this author in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Rockstar Book Tours to read in preparation for for m participating in their tour of the sequel, Traitor’s Hope. I was not required to review it.

 

A Dangerous Year – Review

“Grades aren’t always good enough,” he said. “Right now, the only extracurriculars you can list on a college application are street fighting and instigating international incidents.”

It is with this sentence that Riley Collins finds herself heading away from her life as a diplomats daughter and into the illustrious halls of Harrington Academy. She wonders which is more dangerous: the streets of Pakistan where a price is on her head, or the halls of a school filled with spoiled rich kids who would rather eat her alive than befriend her.

“They may not kill you here, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to eat you.”

Her attendance is a little more complicated than just attending her Senior Year and getting some talking points for her college resume. She has been tasked with an actual mission from the State Department. Official oath and everything.

Once she agrees, it takes little time to whisk her to New York. There she is groomed to within an inch of her life, thrown into a shopping spree most girls only dream of and given an “emergency” American Express. Maybe this year won’t be quite so bad after all.

“They had to perform an extraction. In my world, that meant a black ops team going into dangerous territory to recover a lost man. Here it involved squeezing every pore on my face until I would have willingly confessed to anything.”

Why does there always have to be an ‘except’?

Her reception to Harrington is less than warm and fuzzy. The head mistress makes it clear she is actively looking for a way to throw her out. Her roommate, Hayden, ignores that she even exists. This is sort of a problem though, since Hayden is the mission. Well, protecting her is the mission. Riley finds it difficult to make sure she’s okay when you have no idea where she is throughout the day. Or acting like a stalker.

Even worse, she finds out that the reason for Hayden’s chilly reception is that Riley is taking the place of her former roommate and best friend Rose. Who was killed a week before the term began.

“There was a reason Harrington didn’t admit seniors; they had to wait for one of them to die to make room! What else was out there waiting to ambush me?”

This was such a fun read! I loved it! Riley is a delight. She has an incredibly fun sarcastic humor to her. I loved that she used growing up as a diplomat’s daughter to her advantage by applying the lessons her dad would teach her. Very useful in negotiating angry head mistresses and demanding teachers. She also comes fully equipped with all the lessons her bodyguard and second father, Benson, taught her. Mainly fighting and military tactics. The combination is entertaining and extremely amusing!

In addition to Riley and Hayden, who does eventually thaw to Riley, we get an ensemble of characters, each just as enjoyable as Riley. Von, the cute boy who she meets her first day. He is helpful in showing her around the school, but also in helping her get near Hayden. Quinn, Hayden’s new sidekick and BFF. She starts off nice to Riley, but as Hayden warms to her, Quinn takes a jealous turn for the worse. Stef, who is probably my absolute favorite character outside of Riley. Gorgeous and charming with a lovely penchant for the dramatic, Stef is delightful to read. And then there’s, Sam. The insanely hot head of the MMA club who makes Riley’s insides melt when he looks at her. Too bad he’s Hayden’s ex, which equals very off-limits. It’s also too bad he doesn’t agree with that assessment.

The adults in this book are excellent too. There is nothing worse than reading a YA book with great teenagers and all the adults are duds. This is not the case here!

I adored her dad and Benson. Her dad teaches her diplomatic skills and parents her the best way he can. And Benson sends her a footlocker full of tasers, tactical equipment and spyware. Which is how he helps and loves her the best way he can. It’s awesome! I smiled at every interaction they had.

“My dad would probable be appalled at what I was considering, but Benson would cheer me on from the sidelines.”

Mr. Bracken is also a treat! Described as “Bracken the Kracken” by other students and known for being extremely tough in his classroom, he was far more well-rounded than just another hard-ass teacher. Yes, he takes student expectations to a whole new level, but there is a lot of substance to him and he was very enjoyable to get to know.

“I’m thinking I should send you on your way. I wouldn’t want to lose the most entertaining TA I’ve had in years.”

This novel sounds like a spy novel for kids, but it’s so much more. It’s James Bond meets Mean Girls. How does that NOT sound like an amazing combination? Every obstacle Riley encounters feel real. She has to balance trying to be a bodyguard and navigate the treacherous waters of High School. Sometimes she makes mistakes, or does the wrong thing. Which you would expect. I didn’t find the adults to be flat or annoying, or the kids to be uber-adult. They all felt exceptionally well balanced and well rounded.

Using her dad as an international diplomat, along with Benson training her with military tactics and skills, the way Riley problem-solves various situations make a lot of sense. And again, she doesn’t know everything. She asks for help. She makes mistakes. She just uses what she knows to try and problem solve.

This is the first book in an expected series and I cannot wait for book 2! I will absolutely be continuing to read future books. This is a story I could easily see becoming a movie or a TV show, although I really hope they do the writing justice. If you’re a fan of spy novels, or military type novels, and you also love YA, this book is definitely for you! Less explosions, but no less entertaining.

Thank you BookSparks and Curiosity Quills Press for sending a copy to read and review!

 

The Outskirts of Hope – Review

“During the height of the civil rights movement, my family moved to a small, all-black town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, where my father opened a clinic and mother Aura Kruger, taught English at the local high school.”

This book is a memoir, written by the youngest daughter Jo, but mainly told through the diaries of her mother Aura. At the time, the Kruger family was one of the only white families living in Mount Bayou. Aura kept journals from the time she lived there, so the book is built on those. Jo destroyed her own, but recreated her entries.

I have some seriously mixed emotions on this book. I understand that this is a memoir so this is her telling the story of her family. However, it comes across at times as very privileged and skates dangerously close to perpetuating racist stereotypes. Which is where I struggle, because I don’t think that was the intention of the author. Obviously no one intends on coming across as borderline racist, but I actually don’t even think they had racist views, privilege aside. It just comes across the way this is pieced together.

First, let’s touch on the privilege.

The first few chapters are from Aura’s perspective on her sudden move from a nice middle-class life in Boston to living in a trailer in Mississippi. The change is drastic, and according to her mother, she didn’t even have a vote. She simply went along with her husband, who decided this was what he wanted to do with zero input from his wife. Yes, it was the 60’s, but it doesn’t make him likable at all.

I had issue with how she complained, extensively, about her concern for where they were going to live. When offered that they should live in a “shack” like the rest of the town population, she nearly had a stroke. Coming from the perspective of someone who wanted to help end racism and bring change during this tumultuous time, she seems very self-centered. Even after she gets two trailer (not one, but two), and they have carpenters build them a connecting room, plush with all the luxuries of water, AC, power, heat and indoor plumbing, she never takes any time to consider how to help the town.

The most frustrating part of reading this, is that she makes friendships with people in this town. Yet, it’s never discussed or talked about how her family lives in drastic luxury compared with most of the other people. Or at least, that is how it comes across.

She mentions quite a few times her “worry” for their lack of heat, shoes, clothes that fit, etc. But, there isn’t any mention of her trying to do anything about it. She has connections to get three students full scholarships to an east coast college, yet she can’t raise money to buy shoes or clothes?

Which is my major problem with the underlying privilege of the book. She has her own views and standards, and insists on everyone meeting them. Take the three page example of teaching phonetics and the word ‘ask’ for a glaring example of that. Education was important to her. And I agree, and even see where she is coming from. But, shoes are probably an immediate problem she can help with.

Where we come near perpetuating racist myths is in Jo’s entries. Nearly every entry she talks about boys grabbing her and trying to reach down her pants. Of the 8 entries she has from her childhood perspective, 4 of them are about this type of molestation. She certainly makes it seem that every teenage boy in that town grabs her in inappropriate ways except for her three friends. Again, I understand this is her perspective, but she’s writing this from memory. If she didn’t want to perpetuate that racist myth, she could have worded these entries differently, or added a few that actually talked about other experiences.

Overall though, they just aren’t very likable. I think the biggest piece of enjoying a memoir is actually enjoying the people you’re reading about. I didn’t like the husband at all. He seemed cold and indifferent to his wife and children and never noticed their struggles. Either this portrayal didn’t do him justice, or he simply cared more about helping people other than his own family.

Aura doesn’t come across as very likable frequently either. She seemed spoiled, privileged, slightly arrogant and very self-centered. She complains about how her husband is oblivious to her unhappiness, yet seems absolutely just as clueless about her own children. The scene where she made her injured daughter get out of bed to create a “scene of familial tranquility” is absurd. Her attitude is described as Pollyanna positive but seems to be very passive-aggressive instead. She complains but then tries to spin it after complaining. It gets old.

Yet, when Jo revisits the town decades later, the scene she paints are like reading an entirely different book. People remember her cleaning tables for pinball money, and she seems to have good childhood memories. Yet, all that was recreated was the bad. For someone trying to bridge the gap in race relations, painting living in an all-black community as terrifying and miserable probably isn’t the right angle to take.

Her students even had more powerful stories about how she helped them. These memories from the students takes away from the self-righteousness and savior type attitude, and highlights more of what they remembered. It makes her seem actually more giving and helpful than she made herself sound. The journal entries were maybe focused on her own view of what was important, but again, perspective matters.

Of course, her own encounter with a boy who assaulted her left a bad taste in my mouth. But, that whole last section of the book was infuriating all around.

 

It’s probably not surprising that I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. I would have preferred to read a book that was less reliant on only journals and memory, and perhaps had included some of the impressions the students themselves had. It would have taken more of the white savior feel out of it, and made it more in depth and meaningful.

Thank you to BookSparks and She Writes Press for a copy to read and review as part of your pop up blog popportunity!

No Plain Rebel – Review

“I only recently discovered that what we have here is no more peace than death. Silence is not peace.”

No Plain Rebel picks up right where No Ordinary Star left off. Felix and Astra in the cabin at the North Pole, trying to unravel the mystery the Clockmaster left in their hands.

We get more information in the second installment, answering questions of both Felix and Astra’s past. They uncover diaries and letters left to Felix from the Clockmaster, that he prepared in the event of his death. These letters help guide Felix and he learns the real purpose of the Clock leading up to the year 2525. Let’s just say, it isn’t good.

“People get dangerous ideas from books, ideas about how to fight and how to be cleverer than their enemies.”

We also get more information about the years leading up to the present. What happened to cause this society to diverge so far from the utopia it was trying to be? Finally getting some answers felt enormously satisfying and rather than feeling satiated by the knowledge, you simply want to know more of what happens next. As with any good dystopian, the more you know, the worse things seem to get.

“Chaos haste ceased to exist. It still existed all this time, he was just isolated from it. And along with the chaos, he was kept away from life.”

I am also happy to start seeing more of the world outside of the shack. While I adore the shack, (and the gorgeous library in the basement), we need to start seeing some action in the outside world. We don’t see as much action in this installment, but the plot is set at the end for an explosive ending filled with action. Or so I hope.

This book is definitely focused more on Felix than Astra. She is really only heard in her voice in a handful of chapters. I understand that Felix is the one who is tasked with fixing the Clock and the one who the letters are directed to, but I do feel like Frank could have balanced between the two a bit more. In a society where women are brushed away as second class (or worse) citizens, it felt symbolic to want Astra more involved in her own story, using her own voice.

I also think it’s important, as Astra is the one who can really give us the sense of what is hanging in the balance. Women like her being propped in laboratories against their will, being powerless and voiceless. Even as a solider, Felix never lived a life like that, so to diminish her voice diminishes that harsh reality as well. This book is focused more an bigger picture world, but we need to remember the details. It’s Astra that gives the book heart, so I wish there had been more of her.

Christmas again is a heavy theme in this book, and it does turn a bit slanted towards the religious. Some may argue that Christmas is religious, but in my opinion, that’s debatable. Here it becomes less about the holiday and more about the religious undertones, and the religious history of the holiday.

Book two does have an info-dump feel to it, even though the author attempts to break up the monologues with thoughts and ideas as they read. But, still, there is a lot of the Clockmaster talking and only snippets of actionable plot happening. I’m hoping that now that we have that out of the way, the third book is action packed. I would have loved to have gotten to know several characters introduced in this book much better, and hope we get the chance in the next installment.

There is quite a lot to enjoy from a political standpoint in the book. Philosophy and how good ideas can turn bad are presented towards the end. We have already seen the results of these ideas, so it was interesting to read how they came about.

“Power will always pollute things. The world’s entropy will always increase and man carries the source of the pollution within himself. He carries the seed of redemption as well, but it’s not as simple as you’f think to find it. It’s certainly not as simple to redeem as it seems to be be to destroy.”

The Greek philosophers are mentioned quite a bit by the Clockmaster. It would have been a bit well-rounded to have included other philosophies, especially given how he had three hundred years and isolation to build his education, it feels a bit narrow to only focus on one set of philosophy.

Again, this is a short book, leaning towards a novella, so it’s a fast read. The third book comes out at the end of the year.

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy to read and review.

Trapped in Silver – Review

“There was a time I was afraid of the dark.”

From the very first moments of this book, I fell in love with Ava. A girl who dresses as a boy so that she can keep the family farm afloat while her father goes away on extended trips. It was love at first sass.

Ava is a normal seventeen year old girl. Well, normal-ish. Normal if you don’t count the silver necklace around her neck that cannot be removed, (and believe it, she’s tried!). Normal to pretend to be a brother who doesn’t exist. Normal to not want to be “matched to a narcissist who saw me as little more than a live-in cook and vessel for his seedlings”, (she means married). Normal to fall into blackout dreams. Normal.

Small things like dressing as a boy and not wanting to get married may not seem fiery, or fiesty, or even rebellious. Until you consider that she lives in a town where it is illegal for women to even use certain hairpins, lest they be used as weapons. A town where a woman helping on any level that would make them equal to a man is looked down on, if not outright forbidden.

Yet despite her deep yearning to be allowed to run the farm and be left alone, strange things are happening around Ava. Shadows that look like monsters lurk behind window panes. Animals are slaughtered in the barn while the doors are locked. And when a handsome stranger with eyes of fire and smoke saunters onto her land late one night, things will never be the same.

Against the rules set out by her father and older brother (real, not imaginary), Ava attends a town ball with her friend, Kaela. Immediately she gains the attention of a dark stranger with darker eyes. But rather than being whisked off her feet, she is lured to a trap and nearly dies. Injured and confused, she wakes in a strange bed surrounded by strange people.

Not quite a prisoner, but not quite free, Ava finds herself in the middle of a war she doesn’t understand. Creatures and stories that should only exist in stories are suddenly alive in the forest and trying to kill her. Ava will have to learn who to trust, and more importantly, find out who she wants to be, in order to survive.

“A person with as many scars as you can be one of two things: a man that fights for justice or a man that fights for power. My question is: which one are you?”

Trapped in Silver reads like a fairy tale. There is magic and mystery, but the layers within the novel unfold slowly, refusing to plunge too fast. I suspect that the pacing is done so that we get a solid foundation for the story to take off in later books. World and character building are important, and sometimes can be lacking for the sake of a “fast plot”. Snowden doesn’t succumb to that pressure, and instead lets us unravel the mystery with Ava. It made Ava much more relatable, and also lets the reader learn important details without giving us tediously boring info dumps.

Of course, we do get some information before Ava does, so one of the plot twists was an easy guess. However, the twist at the end was shocking and only made me want to turn more pages, only to find I had reached the end. I need to know what happens! It also made me wonder if Snowden deliberately made the twist obvious knowing she was going to sucker punch us later.

This book is filled with action, and adventure, and mystery. It is enchanting and fun! Ava is not just a sassy heroine, but headstrong and flawed. She tends to find herself going against what people tell her, but this is also a girl who created an identity to circumvent society. We shouldn’t be surprised. And often, her impulsive nature is the right one. Even if it a bit more troublesome.

“Well, I figured it’s been at least a week since someone’s tried to kill me, so I wanted to shake things up a bit, you know,” I said, sheathing my dagger. “I’ve never been one to back away from a fight.”

This sass, her brash refusal to cower and back down is part of what makes Ava such a good character. She is flawed, and reckless, and sometimes a bit naive. But, she is unflinchingly herself throughout it all. There is nothing that drives me battier than a waffling heroine, so I adored Ava and her feistiness.

Snowden has built an intriguing world full of mystery and nefarious plots. She has written characters that are full of hidden depths and surprises. Ava doesn’t become a master swordsman, or miraculously save the day on her own, or any other standard heroine tropes we usually see. Instead, she finds herself, and realizes that she isn’t alone. She opens herself to the people around her, choosing to fight with them, to push herself more and to protect them the only way she knows how. That is my idea of a strong female lead.

I am very much looking forward to the next book in this series! If you like sass, adventure and a dark mystery, this is the book for you!

Thank you to OfTomes Publishing for sending me a copy to read and review!

 

 

Mask of Shadows – Review

“There was no room for gods in a world of monsters and monstrous men, but tradition endured.”

Mask of Shadows is  an amazing book. Hands down, amazing! Full of adventure, court intrigue and most of all, revenge, this is the first in a duology.

Sal Leon is just a thief trying to survive in a world that has forgotten their people. Killed by monsters knows as shadows, an entire nation of people destroyed and forgotten. Except for Sal, who survived.

When a robbery reveals that the Left Hand of the Queen is holding auditions for the next Opal, Sal knows an opportunity has been presented.

The audition is more than it appears and turns out to be a fight to the death. Sal has to face soldiers and nobels, circus acrobats with built in alliances and deadly apothecaries, all who have trained for moments like this their entire lives. Sal is just a thief, a forgotten child who only knows survival. But they know to survive the auditions is to become an assassin, so they become the assassin first.

I had such a good time reading this book! From the very first pages, I was drawn to Sal, who is such a riveting character. They are sassy and bold, but are also frightened and fiercely cling to life. Rather than cower in fear, Sal faces those fears head on. Sal is a character who embodies bravery. Because even though they are afraid of dying, never once do they back away from doing what is right.

“Regret does nothing but soothe your own guilt.”

I will confess, that this is the first novel I’ve read where the main character is gender fluid. As I write this review, I am realizing how often we present with he/she pronouns. If I get it wrong, please let me know so that I can better review future novels, especially as I plan on completing this duology.

The author does a fantastic job not only explaining the gender fluidity, but also in highlighting how often Sal is frustrated by living in a society that doesn’t always respect this.

“Rath had asked once, a while after we’d met and been living together, and I’d not known how to explain it yet. I didn’t have the words. He always felt like Rath, and I always felt like Sal, except it was like watching a river flow past. The river was always the same, but you never glimpsed the same water. I ebbed and flowed, and that was my always. Rath not understanding that had hurt the most, but at least he accepted it.”

Miller writes amazing characters. Honestly, I loved them all. They were full of mirth, and sass, and sarcasm, but also vivid and full of depth. Even though everyone was trying to kill each other off, and the judges were also masked assassins, this is a crew I would enjoy hanging out with, Ruby most of all.

“We were discussing fashion and murder. Join in.”

That actually sounds like a text I would have equal odds of sending or being sent.

Elise, the nobel girl tutoring Sal, and Maud, the maid assigned for the audition, are both extremely smart and strong women. Even though Maud can’t help, she always finds a way to circumvent the rigid rules in order to help Sal. I loved how at first every relationship Sal had was simply a transactional one. They tolerated or tried to use people as it suited their needs. But Elise and Maud quickly show Sal that people aren’t always who or what they appear, and that transformation was delightful to read.

“I don’t flirt with people who could kill me as easily as they could kiss me.”

Miller builds this world gradually through her narration, so we learn about the past through Sal. Their need for revenge helps guide us into this world, and the past that built it.

“This is what Erland had done to us — stolen us, torn us away from what we were, ripped children from their homes and souls from their bodies.”

We get a very real sense of how personal this war is to Sal. How it shaped them, changed them, focused them. This is why becoming Opal is so important. So that they have a chance to ensure justice is done. Justice, though, is always more complicated than initially we imagine, and this hard truth isn’t any easier for Sal.

Even though we unravel the full glimpse of the world Sal lives in, along with the past slowly, the detail or realism involved isn’t lessened. It also doesn’t feel slow paced. Each page reads with urgency. Sal is constantly in life and death situations, never knowing when death may come, and you feel that as you read. Even in the slower moments, the moments stolen with Elise or simply training, you feel the constant pressure they face.

And yet, for all it’s intensity, it’s a fun read. Funny and heartwarming. Because while the world building is solid and the history richly written, it is the characters that breathe this entire novel to life.

This book has all the intrigue of Game of Thrones, the brutality of The Hunger Games and the sass of Six Of Crows. You will laugh as often as you climb the walls in suspense. I am very much looking forward to reading the conclusion to this story. I need to know what happens next, and definitely need more of these characters!

Thank you Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Chatting with Val – The Reminders

Some of you may remember that in early summer I won the chance to chat with Val Emmich, author of The Reminders, from Little, Brown. I was lucky enough to be able to include a few of the women from my book club (@pnwbookworm, @trissinalovesbooks, @thepagesinbetween), and through a series of scheduling snafus and hilariously trying to figure out how to group Skype (at the last minute of course!) we successfully connected!

I took notes, but by no means is this a detailed transcription of what we discussed. Any errors are mine, and mine alone. And rather than type out an interview style article, I wanted to rather relay our chat in snapshots and impressions, because let’s be honest, my note taking skills aren’t that accurate.

As I recap, please be aware that there could be spoilers in this conversation. Please stop reading if you are planning on reading the book, as I would hate to ruin the experience for you. That said, be sure to check out my Instagram page for a Reminders related giveaway!

Outside of signing events and meeting authors at conference, this was my first actual one on one interaction with an author, and I am so glad it was with Val.

First, let me start by saying, we ended up talking on Skype for over an hour and a half! And, honestly, I think we probably could have gone on longer. It didn’t hurt that we all, author included, adored his book. But beyond that, Val is such a genuine person that it felt natural and easy to talk to him.

Obviously we talked about the book. We talked about the characters, and his process and everything in between! To give you an idea of how kind he is, he asked us questions about ourselves, wanting to include us in a conversation, and not just focus on his book or himself.

If you need a reminder, HERE is my review of the book.

To begin, we jumped right into how this book came to life.

The Reminders is actually the third book he wrote. He had gone through the writing, and querying and attempted selling of the first novels with no luck. After going through some artistic soul-searching, similar to what Joan’s dad goes through, (and an incident with his daughter, but we’ll get to that) he sat down and began writing a short story. This short story was about a girl named Joan and her rare memory disorder. From there the story grew.

He talked a bit about how in his first two books he was trying to write what he thought would sell. When the idea for Joan came, and he started writing, he changed his tactics and started to write something that he would want to read. He wanted it to be joyful and pleasant. To do that, he simply worked against our trained assumptions to assume the worst.

I found the way he wove these assumptions into the story in such a subtle way to be brilliant. There were multiple moments when my heart sank, only to be buoyed up by an unexpected turn in the story. These aren’t dramatic plot twists, or predictable outcomes, and yet the impact of being wrong works so beautifully. Hearing this insight after reading the book is amazing. Not just as a reader, but also as an aspiring writer.

We spent a lot of time talking about music. Music, as you know, plays a huge part of this book. Joan is trying to win a song writing contest, her dad has a music studio and Gavin and her dad were in a band in their college days. So, it is probably not surprising to learn that Val is a musician.

The music in the novel developed organically, the story coming to life as he wrote. This is an example of the adage, “Write what you know”. There are a lot of his own struggles brought to life in the novel. The struggle of being an artist, of living in New Jersey and not New York, of deciding to stay in art or change careers, and then there’s the struggle of being a parent. This honesty makes the novel so relatable. The characters and their struggles feel more real.

Even though the details of the music came organically, there was a moment when he realized he would have to write a song that would be good enough to actually enter and possibly win a contest. The experience he’s had as a musician and song writer really helped with this, and he said it was a lot of fun to write and create a song that has both Gavin and Joan in it.

Everyone always asks, where do ideas come from. Sometimes this is a tricky question for an author. But in this case, Val knew.

He talks about this moment on his YouTube channel, and elaborated with us. He was shopping in a Home Depot (sound familiar?) and his daughter fell out of the cart. After the terror of the accident calmed down, and everything turned out to be okay with his daughter, a special came on TV discussing memory and these rare disorders. An “AHA” moment transpired.

Some of the questions we asked were about details of the book. How did he track all the details of Joan’s memory? This is one of my favorite things in the book, how Joan remembers things so vividly and specifically. Val confessed to not having a great memory, so he printed calendars and filled them out with things that Joan experienced. It became a way for him to write, but it also ended up being a way for him to connect with the character.

How did he pick the age? His wife is a teacher. She teaches 4-6th grade gifted kids, and he spent some time observing them. From there it became a matter of figuring out what was too old (pre-teen) or what was too young for Joan. Her age had to be realistic to achieve certain details in the plot, but also to be able to think and rationalize like a child. He knew it was right when he landed on ten.

Where did the details for the characters come from? The characteristics for all the characters are an amalgamation of different people. Mostly these are unknown, so we won’t be revealing secrets here. But, like with anything, he watched people he knew, people he didn’t and the characters began to come to life. No matter how they started, or who provided the inspiration, it was fun to add personality and give them dimension.

The idea of music being intertwined with memory fit together fluidly. As a society we remember music. It makes sense, that for someone like Joan, where memory is such a vivid part of her life, that music would be a relatable way to showcase that importance.

Writing about such a specific memory problem was also a challenge. In some ways, he said it was easy, and in others it was difficult. The calendars he created helped him visualize her reality. He read books on people who actually have this condition so that he could understand it. The details about her clothing came from this research. While he didn’t come across that specific detail in an account, other details sparked the idea. Memories are so vivid for these people, that a shirt can pull them into the past. They often keep journals, which Joan does as well.

And finally, we talked about book tours.

Many publishers aren’t sending authors out on book tours, especially new authors. But since he already had a network and a fan base, he set up a tour anyway, or an exchange of sorts. He played music in exchange for a book discussion. I think given the nature of the book, this sounds perfect! These tour events also ended up being more personal and intimate than a traditional book store event. They were in people’s homes and so it prompted more intimate discussion and interaction. Again, if you’ve read the book, I think you agree, it sounds like a perfect setting!

One awesome detail: the drawings are his but the handwriting in those pictures are from his ten year old niece! How cool is that?!

Val has already started writing his next project, and should have an announcement coming soon! I for one, cannot wait to hear what is next.

If you’re interested in winning a copy of the soundtrack for the book, hop on over to my Instagram page for details!!!

Please visit his YouTube channel HERE

You can buy your copy of The Reminders HERE

Thank you so much Little, Brown and Val Emmich for giving us the chance to spend time getting to know you and your book!!! It was an experience we won’t forget.