Gunslinger Girl – Review

“She should have seen it coming. Six months and she’d be lawfully released from his control. But he couldn’t let that happen easy, not him.”

From the very first moment I saw photos of this gorgeous book being released at BookCon, I knew I had to have this book. A dystopian with a Western twist? For fans of Westworld?! Katniss Everdeen meets Annie Oakley??? Um, YES PLEASE!!!

I was thrilled when I opened a package and saw that my request had been approved and have been hugging this book EVER SINCE!

Serendipity Jones is a sharp shooter. She’s the best in her commune, but that doesn’t matter. She was born the wrong gender. A woman with the potential to be fertile is more valuable than a woman who can shoot. But she has plans. Plans to leave, plans to escape to the Capital. Unfortunately, her father also has plans. And they don’t involve her freedom.

When her best friend offers her the chance to escape before her father can sell her, Pity jumps at the chance. But the world outside of the gates of the communes is deadly, and Pity quickly finds herself a prisoner headed to the lawless city of Cessation, the last bastion of freedom standing against the oppressive forces of CONA, the Confederacy of North America.

“Is this a city, she thought, or an asylum?”

Now she has something resembling freedom being offered to her by the city’s leader, the beautiful and lethal Selene, but there is a price. With little options in front of her, Pity accepts and tries to navigate the treacherous path that she finds herself on.

This book is incredible! Pity is such a delightful protagonist. This is YA that sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. I love when characters are so real you feel like you could know them. Pity is strong and determined, but she is also a little unsure of the path before her. She makes mistakes, some with horrific consequences that haunt her and make her doubt herself. I enjoyed reading her journey on that path to self-discovery.

“The low burn of anger that had been coursing through her exploded suddenly, fury hot and vicious cold at the same time, and tinged with guilt.”

This guilt and sureness over who she wants to be, combined with the battle of hesitation and unsurety over whether she actually could be that person made Pity so heart-achingly good. I like a character who has to face the idea versus the reality of their inner selves, especially when outside forces raise the bar on the consequences of that struggle.

Beyond Pity, we get introduced to an array of diverse characters. Duchess, Luster, and Max are a few of my favorites, but even Selene and Halycon add to the complicated deliciousness of the world Pity finds herself in.

Clean was the first for that popped into Pity’s mind as his raptor’s gaze tracked them. Dangerous was the second.”

The vast cast of characters all give the world in Cessation a rich texture, with each character highlighting a distinct piece of that world. We get to see through the eyes of security and performers. People escaping lives in communes that are unthinkable. Each accepting their role with varying degrees of success and hiding from a past that haunts each one of them in it’s own way.

Each characters gives you the sense of what a real oasis this city can be, while simultaneously being a gilded prison. This dichotomy really drives home the idea that everything has a price. Especially freedom.

“What others did to secure themselves wasn’t for her to judge – not when their situations were dire enough to make her wonder what she might do in the same place.”

It isn’t just the world of Cessation or the colonies that we get to see, although the bigger world of CONA is something I suspect we’ll begin to see more of in future books. We know that this world is what we are left with after a Second Civil War. We know the rumors of the Capital, and then we learn the reality. At least, some of the reality. But the history of the War, and the reality of other communes are things only hinted at in this book.

I tend to like my dystopian worlds to be revealed to me slowly. The horror of the future our characters find themselves in showing itself in unexpected and surprising ways. Gunslinger Girl did not disappoint in this way. Just as we accept the world as it is, new details emerge that really stab you in the gut with the terrible reality of what the world really can be. And I love when authors give us a slow road into hell, bringing us deeper into the world with more revealed in each new book. It gives the world a rich texture that just can’t be accomplished all at once.

Gunslinger Girl is a unique new dystopian and I adored every moment of it. The characters are complex and fun. The world is intoxicating and horrifying. The writing is beautiful and brutal.

“When someone brought her a cup of ice water, she took it without a word. It slid down her throat and into her stomach like a blade.”

Lyndsay Ely has created something incredible with this book and has quickly made me a fan rabid for more. Her voice and imagination are both stunning and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next!

Thank you Little, Brown & Jimmy Patterson Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Today Will Be Different – Review

“Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed. The grinding it out was a disgrace, an affront to the honor and long shot of being alive at all.”

Today Will Be Different is exactly the book I needed to read! The story about a woman, Eleanor Flood, struggling with her identity in so many ways. She is a writer, but she keeps avoiding her editor and pushing back the book. (minus the editor, SO RELATABLE) Excuses build, pressure mounts, anxiety looms!

The book opens with a mantra of all the things she will do differently. She will be present. She will make eye contact. She’ll spend time with her son and make effort with her husband. She will be kind to strangers and smile. There is more, but you get the idea. Her goal is to be the person she wants to be, not the person she generally is. Which is, quite frankly, a mess.

There is something to the theory that the Universe gives us what we need, and we see that theory shine as the day unfolds for Eleanor. First her son, Timby, says he is sick and the school makes her take him home. Determined to teach him a lesson, they end up going to her husband’s office, where his staff thinks they’ve been on vacation. They haven’t. She is forced to take Timby to a lunch she tried to cancel, only to find out that it was with a former colleague. And he doesn’t know that parts of her past were definitely, assuredly, and soundly put to rest in the past. Now Timby is asking questions he shouldn’t be asking, Eleanor still doesn’t know where her husband is, and nothing in her day unfolds anything like what she envisioned when she woke up.

“The world isn’t your friend,” Joe told Eleanor. “It’s not designed to go your way. All you can do is make the decisions to muscle through and fight the trend.”

I completely related to Eleanor. Not just with her sarcasm, or the way she really does try to make better decisions. It is a struggle sometimes to remember to be grateful, or to smile at strangers, or to remember the little things when the big things feel so big. It isn’t that you mean to fall in a rut with your marriage, or to get frustrated when your kid is being a kid. It just can happen sometimes. We all need reminders to help us stay on track. And when reminders don’t work, well, getting knocked with a hard dose of reality usually does the trick.

And that’s what this book is about. Eleanor has been in a rut. A big rut for a long time. But her husband was always the steady hand guiding her on the tightrope she felt balanced on. She knew him. She could rely on him. So, when he isn’t in the office, the giant flare of ‘what ifs’ force Eleanor into a full panic. Which, again, I think is completely understandable. Everything is fine. Until it isn’t.

While Eleanor scrambles through her day trying to solve the mystery of Joe, she is dragging along her third grade son, and the conversations these two had were amazing.

“Gee, I said. “I always thought you didn’t get my jokes.”

“I get them,” he said. “Most of the time they’re just not funny.”

Anyone who has had a child too smart for their own good can probably relate to that! The other thing I adored about this book, is this is all one day. It may seem that filling a book with the mundanity of a single day would be tedious and boring. Except, it isn’t. The brilliance in this, is of course, we’ve all had days like that. Maybe not in these exact circumstances, but I know I have had more than one day that seems to stretch into an eternity of disaster. We empathize with Eleanor more and more as the endless procession of he day just keeps unfolding, and she just tries to stay afloat.

The book sounds like it should be an eye-rolling romp through first-world problems. But the thing that makes it leap from tolerable to entertaining is that Eleanor completely admits to the ridiculousness of her life, and her problems. She is up front about why her life shouldn’t be as hard as she makes it. She is self-deprecating and full on admits that her problems are tame in nature to people with more serious obstacles in their way.

“If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week “worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same. Not an inventory to make one swell with pride.”

This book may not resonate with everyone. I get that. We don’t all have mid-life crises looming or wonder how our lives landed in such different places than we aimed. It isn’t that life is bad. It’s just not how we pictured. It runs away with itself, and we can be helpless passengers. The trick is in admitting that we allow the train to derail. That we slip into the gentle comfort of mediocrity so that we can then blame the world for our misfortune or bad luck. Today Will Be Different gently nudges us into this realization that life is indeed what we make of it. That we cannot rely on the steady husband or the tenacious child to hold us afloat. That we must face the secrets of our past, and that we must choose the life we want to live. Of course, all of this is easier said than done.

It is easier to accept difficult truths through laughter, and this book, if nothing else will let you laugh. Eleanor is a character in every aspect of the word. And perhaps, through the people she meets, or the situations she finds herself in, you may also find that you can laugh at yourself as well.

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review! I LOVED it!!!

The Party – Review

“The interview room is small and square.”

We begin The Party with the definitions of the word. A social gathering. A political group.  A guilty person. The wording of the title and placing these definitions in the beginning deliciously brilliant, as we know going in that this novel will be an experience on a multidimensional level.

We begin with Martin being interviewed by the police. Voluntarily. An event happened at a party weeks earlier. But we don’t get the whole story right away. We get thrown into the beginning of the night in question. When Martin and Lucy first arrived at the hotel.

Each chapter gives us insight into the characters. Told from Martin’s perspective, Lucy’s journal and the police interview, we get an alternating recount of events. Martin goes further back, explaining his friendship with Ben, the host of the party. We see into Martin’s childhood, his dysfunctional relationship with his mother and his obsessive friendship with Ben.

“I think my mother’s obsessive love for me co-existed with contempt for her own vulnerability. She was dependent on me for affection and yet she denied that she needed it. I never met her standards because I never knew what they were.”

Martin quickly shows himself to be someone not very likable. His view of the world is warped and self-centered. He is the picture of narcissistic. This is a man who uses ‘The Art of War’ to tackle personal relationships and not corporate takeovers. He is precise and controlled and unwilling to see anything but what he wants.

I found some of the most interesting parts of the book when Martin would recount an event, and then Lucy would take us through her version of events. Rarely did the two match, although Lucy seems far more reliable. This comparing of memories gives us a glimpse into how blind Martin can choose to be. How stubbornly he clings to an internal narration, despite any evidence to the contrary.

We do see moments where Martin lets the control slip. Or, rather, moments when he doesn’t understand why his version of events is abhorrent or unreasonable. These moments are just as important to understanding Martin as Lucy’s perspective. Since we are watching the night of the party unfold mainly through his eyes, we need to know if we can trust his version of events. Mostly we can, but we also know that there will be a slant to his version. Or a blunt honesty that makes us flinch.

“It strikes me as far too much effort to nurture a social conscience. Hearts were never intended to bleed.”

Lucy is hands down the most likable character in the book. She is kind and patient, and has much more depth than anyone gives her credit for. She is seen as frumpy and having no fashion sense. Yet we learn that Lucy does things just as deliberately as Martin, or Ben, or even Serena (Ben’s trophy wife).

“I knew Serena thought I had no taste – so did Martin for that matter – but it was done on purpose. I didn’t want my clothes to be the most remarkable thing about me.”

This book is written with the mystery of what happened at the party building with each page. We don’t even know who is hurt, let alone what happened, until the very end. The effect to that building mystery makes the novel read as a character examination. Rather that a who-dun-it, it becomes a who could have done it? Each memory revealing more pieces to the puzzle that are necessary to trying to solve the mystery.

The possibilities seem endless as we read, learning about the financial power of Ben’s family, the Fitzmaurice’s. Martin more than a best friend, but nearly an adopted brother. Yet there is distance between Ben and Martin. Or is it a rising tension?

Whatever happened, we know that it must have been one hell of a party. Someone in the hospital. Police investigating. Lucy separated from Martin and in treatment. Our imaginations run wild with horrific possibility over what could have transpired.

“Sometimes the entire course of your life can change because of a single second, because that single second doesn’t exist in isolation: it is connected to an infinite chain of minutes, days, weeks, months and years that have gone before.”

The examination of past and present becomes necessary to understand the moment at the party that culminated into these mysterious consequences. We need to understand the character of all parties involved in order to assess the outcome.

The Party is a lesson in social conformity and expectation. We all want to be seen and heard by our peers, by our spouses, by our families. We want to be accepted and lauded for our accomplishments. We are attracted to the rich and the famous for their ease in all of social settings, and for the ease in which they gather achievements. Martin is no different, though he is a bit more sociopathic about it. Ben is wealthy and charming, and Martin is drawn to his flame. It is Lucy who gives us the grounding we need.

“That’s the problem with charm. It means you get away with stuff. It means you never have to develop a real character because no one remembers to look for one. They’re too busy basking in the glow of your attention. They’re too busy being impressed.”

The ending to this novel is satisfying and yet still disturbing. I don’t want to ruin the mystery, as part of the fun is trying to picture what horrific event could have transpired at a party for the rich and famous. It is shocking, and not shocking. It makes you feel vindication and satisfaction, but then you pull back, because maybe you shouldn’t.

A very interesting examination into social status and relationships. You’ll consider how we view the wealthy. How their choices are so different from people outside of that social stratosphere. And how that desire to be a part of that social circle can become twisted and all-encompassing. Can that obsession change who we are? Can it change what we do?

You won’t be able to stop reading until you find out: what happened at The Party?

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review.

Heather the Totality – Review

“She was radiant with life even when she was alone, or thought she was.”

Heather, The Totality is a power punch of a novel. Short but brutally precise, each word is chosen carefully and delivers deliberate intensity.

We are introduced to Mark and Karen Breakstone, a couple living in New York. Having married later in life, when the couple has a daughter, Heather, she becomes the focus of their life. Or, at least, for Karen she does. Make finds himself sort of an intimate outsider, though his love or adoration isn’t any less.

We are also introduced to Robert Klasky, Bobby, who lives a much different life from the Breakstone family. Neglected and ignored by his addict mother, Bobby learns to forge his own life at a young age. This life quickly evolves to include violence and while Heather toddles around adoring parents living an insulated and luxurious life, Bobby lands himself in prison.

“He would go down to the river which was littered with abandoned appliances and tires and feel lonely and sick because “he, too, felt thrown away,” as a prison psychologist would one day tell him.”

We watch as Heather grows and the closeness she once shared with her mother shifts as she enters adolescence. Teenage girls need their space, but Karen has made Heather the very epicenter of her life. Mark also finds his relationship with Heather changed, although in his opinion for the better, as he is suddenly allowed into a closer relationship with his daughter.

The stories seem unrelated, one a fairy tale and the other a nightmare, but the paths of these cast of characters crosses with shocking results.

“It had annoyed her and then enraged her, making her think of all the entitlements of men and how they didn’t have the right to just look at women and disrupt them that way.”

The core question at the center of this short novel is this: what would you do to protect your family? How much do we notice in the way of danger surrounding us? Would you even notice danger if it was lurking near those you love? And if you did notice a predator in your midst, what do you do?

We are pulled into this little family, lulled into safety and complacency with their normal, expected dramas. Weiner allows the force of our own imaginations to fill in the blanks as he leads us down different paths of possibility, each one shocking and horrifying in their own right. And even with all of that possibility laid out before us, somehow the actual ending ends up being surprising.

Children are always the center of a parent’s life. Thousands of tiny decisions coupled with thousands of larger decisions are sprinkled throughout a parent’s odyssey of raising their kids. Worries and stress and laughter and tears are all woven in this journey. And underneath all of that, fear is a parents most intimate companion. We fear for our children, consciously and unconsciously, throughout their entire lives.

Weiner taps into that fear and waters it. He plants the seeds of doubt and terrible possibility and then allows them to bloom in our imagination. Even after the pages end and the cover closed, this fear, this trickle of terror lurks in your mind. Heather, The Totality will stick with you, turning the two words, what if, over and over in your mind.

Powerful novels aren’t in their length, but in their ideas. And how well those ideas stay after the pages have ended. This isn’t a ghost story or a paranormal haunting, but the novel will haunt you nonetheless. It is chilling in the blunt delivery of it’s terror.

Heather, The Totality is easily read in one sitting. It is simple, yet intricate and will make your heart race to the end.

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and 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.

 

 

Gather The Daughters – Review

This review is going to contain some spoilers, so if you haven’t read this book and are interested in it, please be warned. This book is also heavy with trigger issues, specifically, sexual abuse and violence, along with domestic abuse.

“Laughter for a boy, tears for a girl.”

That one sentence summarizes the horror of living as a girl in this disturbed society. Even calling this society disturbed doesn’t feel like enough. It is horrific and beyond understanding.

I went into this novel expecting creepy. I expected something bad and disturbing to happen. What I didn’t expect was the entire thing to be creepy and disturbing.

Gather The Daughters takes place on an island. This group of people live by the word of their ancestors, “The Ancestors”, who have rigid rules in place to keep everyone in line. They’ve been on the island, isolated from the rest of the world for generations.

The rest of the world is called, The Wastelands, and they are raised believing that fire and disease have eradicated the land. The Wanderers, a small group of men, are the only ones allowed to travel beyond the island and collect items from the wasteland. The Wanderers are also the enforcer of these rules from the Ancestors, although they can add to the rules as they wish. But they are in complete control of everyone’s life on the island.

We hear only from the viewpoint of a handful of daughters. Vanessa, Caitlin, Amanda and Janey. Vanessa is a wanderer’s daughter and so seemingly has it better than the rest. Caitlin is physically abused by her alcoholic father. Amanda is recently a married woman, having just finished her “summer of fruition” and is pregnant with her first child. And Janey, the small incredibly strong willed girl who starves herself in order to make sure she never turns into a woman.

All of this sounds like typical dystopian fiction, right? Yeah, until you realize that the reason it’s horrible to be a girl in this society is that fathers lie with their daughters. Yes, you read that right.

Okay. So, I’ve read some pretty dark and disturbing books in my life as a reader. And sometimes they deal with really icky issues like incest and rape and abuse. But in every book that I can recall, there was a point. A plot driven point that makes it understandable why the author chose to dive into these awful subjects. I wish I could say the same for this book. Sadly, I can’t.

Here are the main inconstancies that bother me. First, we are never given any information regarding the wasteland to really understand how this society emerged. We get hints and clues, but even more disturbingly, it seems that most of the facts regarding the devastation of the wastelands appears to be made up to keep everyone compliant. All I can gather is that the ancestors were a bunch of pedophiles that wanted to sleep with their daughters.

But even that doesn’t make sense because they came to the island with families! So how does a mother, growing up in a society that even somewhat resembles the one we live in, get on board with this?! How do TEN??? It’s beyond comprehension, and even more frustrating is that the author doesn’t even attempt to explain! For me, I could have stomached this society a little more if I had been given any explanation of how they were created. Or understand why the men continue to go along with it, when clearly The Wanderers know full well what is happening in the rest of the world. It feels incomplete and inadequate.

My other problem is there is zero redemption in the end. We are given the seeds of discontent through the discovery that women who are unhappy or perhaps a little too opinionated frequently “bleed out” and die. Except no one ever sees the body. However, this community is so controlled that it has never been raised or questioned. Until Janey wants justice for her friend.

Janey begins to rally the girls and forms a rebellion of sorts. But right when you think something will happen, something will spark a change or force this society to reveal details it doesn’t want revealed, a mysterious illness conveniently sweeps through and kills almost everyone. The Wanderers force everyone to remarry and decide to bring in more families from The Wastelands. To add to the genetic line. Which the ancestors wrote a warning about, needing to add to the gene pool.

But even the rebellion is problematic. If this is a society that has been bred in such tight control for so many years, and trained to believe that this is normal and natural, why would the girls feel it was wrong. The mother’s are sometimes described as being jealous of the father-daughter relationship, which feels more real in this sense than being horrified by it. So, where does the sense of “wrong” come from? I suppose the author is saying that there is an innate knowledge of wrong behavior, but coming from someone who works intimately with abused children, I’m a little surprised at that belief. Usually abused children aren’t aware that the abuse is wrong, unless they’re told to keep a secret, or some other indicator is given. But there have been plenty of cases where that behavior wasn’t given any morality and it was simply accepted. So where would these girls or fathers have learned any wrong-doing?

I didn’t understand what the point was. This novel was completely horror for horror’s sake. Trauma for trauma’s sake. We are fully immersed in this cult-like society where sleeping with your daughter is “cherished”. It is sick and twisted. Yet, we aren’t given any background to this society and in the end, nothing changes.

Vanessa’s father finds out that The Wanderers were behaving in ways that concern him, and he ends up taking his family away from the island in the dead of night. But even this isn’t redemption or closure. First, we never see what happens, or where they go. But mostly because he didn’t leave because he was remorseful of regretted sleeping with his prepubescent daughter. He left because he was afraid something might happen to her if she stayed. So he loves her. Abusers love their victims in their own way. It doesn’t excuse or forgive the abuse.

I don’t understand what the point of this novel was. I felt traumatized reading it. There was no helping these girls, or saving them from future horrors. Perhaps she meant to make art mimic life in that sense, but the result is simply tragic and horrific.

The novel felt incomplete to me. Whenever an author takes on issues of this magnitude, I do feel that they have an even greater obligation to be sure to handle the subject matter appropriately. First, there was no warning regarding the content of the book. I felt that was misleading and dangerous. Second, the subject is so extreme, that it needed more. It needed a history of the Wastelands, a more solid idea of what that world was like to at least attempt to explain this society. Or, it needed to be more honest about the nature of the men. That they simply were predators relishing this power they held. By trying to make Vanessa’s father sympathetic, even though he is an abuser, is dishonest and misleading. It needed a point to the rebellion or at least some catalyst for change.

I did not enjoy the book. It was a weird glimpse into a sick society.

Thank you to Little, Brown for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 

 

Grace – Review

Some books you read in great gasping gulps. You devour them. Each word a gluttonous indulgence that you cannot get enough of. Other books demand patience. They require you to slow down. Rather than devouring the words, you sip them, you taste them. They force you to savor each letter. To let them seep into your bones while the sentences dance themselves into your subconscious.

Grace is such a book.

Paul Lynch writes prose reminiscent of poetry. You will feel the words sing to you, forming a beautiful melody that is hypnotic. “Each star blinking out of an illimitable dark and falling in silence for a blazing brief moment.” The book is filled with sentences and passages that take your breath away in the beauty of their composition.

Grace is about a young woman, living in Ireland during the Great Famine. For reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she is woken on night by her mother to have her hair shorn from her head. She finds herself cast out, being told only, “You are the strong one now.”

She doesn’t know what that means, or why she must leave. Only that she must. So she does.

Her younger brother Colly follows her, and together they find themselves thrust into an unwanted adventure in an Ireland that knows only hunger and desperation.

Grace must lose herself in order to become the boy she needs to be in order to survive. “It’s better to be a butterfly than a worm but what’s the difference really when you can’t be yourself.” Her journey towards self-discovery even more treacherous and dangerous because of the state of men around her.

Every step forward is faced with tragedy. Each piece of good fortune tainted with two more of bad. Grace is continually pummeled with the brunt force of life. She learns that the only thing worse than hunger, is the cold. “”Cold is the truest state of all things and heat is a temporary nature. The cold does not burn itself out in rush like fire but waits with unlimited patience.”

This story is a coming of age told in a harsh and unforgiving light. Some journeys to self discovery are  more painful than others, and for Grace, heartache and loss paint her journey.

Lynch doesn’t back away from what must have been a brutal time to live. Hunger can drive a man mad. It can take away one’s humanity. “Though you can learn to ignore hunger, not to give it a single thought, hunger is always thinking of you.”

Grace observes how doors remain closed, heads remain turned. It is better to not see someone struggle. It is better to keep what you have than risk being lost like the rest.

Empty houses and overcrowded graveyards become the landscape of her journey. Beggars and thieves her countrymen.

The beauty of the composition is even more heartbreaking in the tragedy of the story. These are beautiful words describing a horrific time. The harshness of what Lynch describes only soothed by the balm of the words used to describe it.

We can all sympathize with Grace. Finding who we are is never an easy journey. She is forced into the world unprepared and still finds the will to survive. Each sorrow tucked away into a corner of her mind, until she can face them.

There is interesting commentary sprinkled throughout the book on humanity. Should we stop and help our fellow man in hard times, or turn our backs? Or, do we hold onto what we have, waiting for our own opportunities and take what we can, when we can? Death and profit, progress and misfortune are intertwined in this book as in life. Time and again, history has presented us with the chance to show a new face. Time and again we fail.

This book is a saga into the human spirit. How much can a person endure before they are broken? How much can they face before they are beaten down into submission? Survival, we learn, isn’t solely about hunger, or cold, or satiating our basic bodily needs. Survival is about salvation, in whatever form we can find.

Grace finds herself surrounded by freedom, and with that freedom she learns the truth of the word. “Freedom is when you are free to disappear off the earth without anybody knowing.” To be free is to face nothing and fall into that oblivion. There is freedom in the falling. But there is also an empty loneliness. She is obligated to no one and yet craves nothing more than to belong. There is statement of the human condition in this paradox.

Lynch takes us on a journey of despair and redemption. We struggle. We mourn. We laugh and we cry. We lost our hope and find the beauty in life isn’t in the lack of conflict, but despite it. We must see the horror to understand the beauty. We find peace even in the hardest of times.

“This life is light.” In this, Lynch succinctly captures beauty in prose. This life is light, if only we know how to look.

Huge thank you to Little, Brown and Company for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. It comes out July 11, 2017. Link to pre-order below:

Amazon Pre-Order

 

A Review: The Last Neanderthal

“Only living things are able to capture energy from the land and use it, but somehow, more than forty thousand years after her death, that Neanderthal was able to capture me.”

A scientist may explain life in simplistic terms of energy. Living things capture energy. Non-living things don’t. But, that description doesn’t account for the magic of life. How can a book come alive in our hands? A story blossom to life and take on momentum outside of its pages? Or, an idea sparked to life? A non-living thing made alive. It sounds fictional. Magical even. But it happens every day.

The Last Neanderthal is the story of Rose discovering Neanderthal remains and is intertwined with the story of the Neanderthal herself, Girl.

For Girl, survival is her primary focus, as it was for all living creatures then. Hunting and shelter and providing for the family takes most of her energy. Her purpose is simple, make sure the family survives.

Rose, on the other hand, is a product of modern times. The threat of survival is not as imminent, life has a different urgency, a different rhythm.

When I first started reading, I wondered how Cameron was going to weave these two stories together. How she could possibly intertwine the two lives, separated by more thousands of years, in a narrative that felt true. And somehow, she does exactly that.

In this book we get a stunning examination of what makes us human. It is interesting that this humanity is also what links us to the rest of the planet. Our ability to take from nature and learn allowed us to adapt and move forward. While we have always attributed these strengths and abilities to our species specifically, through scientific discoveries, namely DNA sequencing, we now know that we share a piece of our past with Neanderthals.

By making Girl one of the main characters, we are able to examine how we possibly could have developed to share this past. How we could have interacted with Neanderthals as a species and what could have led to our two species coming together.

The beauty of The Last Neanderthal, is that Claire Cameron doesn’t force us down any one path. We are given the outline of a question and are allowed the freedom to imagine the rest of the puzzle for ourselves. She doesn’t fictionalize an exact scenario or claim knowledge of specific stories. Rather, she leads us into a window of the past and lets us experience just enough to let our imaginations run free.

“It was not love that drove a body to live, but hunger.”

Cameron is able to take sentences like that, sprinkled throughout the book, and give them a double meaning. Specifically, hunger drives our needs, and in the case of the Neanderthal, alleviating hunger takes up a large portion of time. But, the truth is, our humanity still thrives on hunger. Rose is consumed by her hunger to complete her dig, to ensure that her discovery is kept whole and is valued. This hunger may not be the one driving Girl, but it is just as powerful and all consuming.

In modern times, most of us, just like Rose, hunger to find meaning within our lives. We all go after this in different ways. Some choose to focus on their families, others their careers. Some want fame or fortune, while others crave a quiet life. No matter what we do, how we go after this question, in some way or another, we all hunt for the answer.

I thought one of the most poignant moments in the novel, was a conversation between Rose and her husband Simon. Rose had often asked her husband, “Do you ever wonder… why you were put on this planet?” This is a conversation they have had many times, and yet this specific conversation ends with Rose stating she knows why.

“I found her.” This is the answer she gives him, the reason she doesn’t wonder anymore. Simon delightedly assumes she means the baby. Yet, she means discovering her Neanderthal. This conversation highlights the difference in their driving hunger, in their hunt for meaning and survival.

I went into this book expecting a good story. What I found instead, or I suppose, in addition to that, was a conversation about humanity. What does it mean to be human? Where do we get our humanity, and what does that even mean?

I’ve always thought the measure of a good book, isn’t solely in it’s ability to entertain. That a good book, a good story, is one that stays with you long after you finish the book. It should plant seeds in your brain. Seeds that grow and bloom long after you put the book down and forget the details of the story. It should give birth to new ideas, planting new seeds as time goes on.

I really believe that The Last Neanderthal does that. It isn’t the details of Rose or her dig. It isn’t the specific story of Girl and her hunt. It is the possibility of a reimagined past. That we can look at a set of bones and see a thousand possibilities. That even though we are evolved, that our societies resemble nothing like those primitive ones, that we can still recognize ourselves in them. That we resemble them, and they resemble us. That no matter how different we think we are, we are always the same.

“She had the same skin as mine. The same blood ran through her veins. Our hearts both beat. All our differences drop away. I know that if I had ever been fortunate enough to meet her, I would look into her eyes and know her. And maybe she could know me. We were so much the same.”

The Last Neanderthal will leave each reader with a different conclusion. Each person is left to imagine the rest of the story however they wish. It is a story of love, loss, and discovery. It will change you and stay with you long after you finish reading. As any good book should.

 

I received this book from Little, Brown and Company for an honest review as part of their Book Ambassador program.

April wrap up

Half way through May, and I realized I hadn’t done an April wrap up. The horror!

The good news, I’ve managed to write a review for all the books I read, so YAY ME!!! If I didn’t post all the reviews on my blog, they are all on Goodreads. FIND ME HERE

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Crimes Against a Book Club – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Ruby – 🌟🌟
  • Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • The Falconer – 🌟🌟🌟
  • Strange The Dreamer – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • My Life to Live – 🌟🌟🌟
  • The Rebellion’s Last Traitor – 🌟🌟🌟
  • New Boy – 🌟🌟🌟
  • Me Before You – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Hunted – 🌟🌟

Strange the Dreamer is setting the bar pretty high for best read this year. Though, it’s still tied with Female of the Species. I hope to read a lot more books that make the competition fierce for the top spot!

Reading for review is a new process for me. I am finding that it is helping me with my own writing as it opens the critical part of my brain that I need to analyze and evaluate my own work. Reading a variety of books is also helpful.

I find that I tend to go for the same books and the same authors all the time. Expanding on what I read, introduces me to different voices and styles that I may have been missing before. It helps me look at my own work through new eyes.

Anyway, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet! Did you read any of the books I listed? Are any on your TBR? Leave a comment and let’s chat!

Strange the Dreamer

Lyrical and haunting. Beautiful and tragic. Strange the Dreamer is a book that will leave you breathless.

“He listened the way a cactus drinks rain.”

This book is filled with gorgeous sentences, just like this. Even more, this is exactly how you will read this book. Gulping the words in frantic desperation trying to hold yourself back knowing that when it ends, you will have to hold in as much as you can until you can drink again.

This is a book that will sweep you away in its haunting beauty. You will lose yourself following Lazlo and Sarai as they dream their separate dreams.

Lazlo is an orphan, left abandoned to be raised in a monastery. Luck, or fate, leads him to a library, where he is content to read stories trying to solve the mystery of the Unseen City. A city lost for two hundred years. A city whose name was stolen. Lazlo, or Strange, is quite content to simply dream. Until his books are taken and a man named the Godslayer arrives. Fate it seems, has a much different plan.

Sarai, a Godspawn, a survivor, lives in the citadel high above the lost city of Weep. The name, stolen; the people, abandoned. She and her siblings live a meager life, surrounded by ghosts of the slaughter. All she wants is to live. To be left alone and not afraid. But the people below her believe them dead. Slaughtered with the rest. If they knew they were alive, fear and hatred would make survival impossible.

At the core of the book, we face the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The brilliance in the story, is that this battle is both literal and figurative. There is an evil lurking in and above the city of Weep, the Unseen City. But what is evil? And can it actually be fought?

Lazlo is a dreamer. He dreams beautiful dreams where anything is possible. Where you can turn your nightmares “into fireflies and catch them in jars.” Where love is possible. Peace is possible. Forgiveness is possible. But can those possibilities happen in real life? Or are they meant only for dreams?

As Lazlo enters the Unseen City, as he unravels the mystery keeping the citizens from the world, he begins to realize that life is more complicated than dreams. “Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.” If a good person does a bad thing, does that make them bad?

Woven into this story, is heartbreak and hope, love and hate, wonder and despair. Each word battling its opposite, but also needing it. We need love to know hate. We need wonder to know despair. We need heartbreak to know hope.

Taylor takes us through each, giving us waves of good, followed by waves of bad. Back and forth, up and down. With each horrific truth uncovered, we see past the act, and into the humanity that sparked it. We are given the empathy to mourn the action and the result in tandem. Good and evil, intertwined in complex humanity.

We know in the beginning, that something shocking and terrible will happen. We know it, and forget, lost instead in the mystery and wonder of this world. We know it, and forget, not wanting to face the clues laid before us. We know it, and forget.

Yet, as we are swept to the end, we are forced to remember. As we realize that there are no easy answers, as we realize with mounting horror that tragedy is looming, we still cling to hope, to dreams.

The book ends, and we scream for the sequel. Like the cactus after rain, you are left sated yet wanting. Satisfied but still yearning for more.

Laini Taylor has a talent at making the reader see that nothing is black and white. Good and evil are words that don’t fit in nice tidy boxes. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. And sometimes, bad things that happen to good people can turn them bad.

She also makes us examine the complex nature of good versus bad. We can’t have one without the other. We can’t be entirely good or entirely bad. They are interwoven, combined. One can’t exist without the other. And sometimes they can exist together.

It isn’t a case of creating a back story for a villain. Instead, we are given an alternative. That perhaps we are all capable of being turned into the villain. Or, conversely, that we are all capable of being turned into the hero. We see that words like fear, hate, evil, don’t exist in a vacuum. They are words born, created, evolved. The edges of these words are often blurred, making it difficult to see where they began, if they might end.

This book is made of magic. That special magic that transports the reader to the depths of their imagination. Read it and be swept away. Read it and fall in love. Read it and experience heartbreak.

It’s been weeks since I finished, and still I can’t get the stunning imagery out of my head. I can’t walk away from the characters and events of this book.

I feel that words simply cannot encapsulate this book. It is a book to be experienced, not just read. It is more than a compilation of words, it is beauty incarnate.

This book is haunting. It will haunt you. Though, isn’t that all we can ask a good book do?