The Hazelwood – Review

“My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.”

The Hazel Wood is a remarkable creative blend of urban fantasy and twisted fairy tales with a touch of mystery added for flavor. This combination is incredibly creative and takes you deep into not just a fairy tale, or it’s retelling, but something far better.

We begin this tale through the eyes of Alice, a teenager who has spent most of her life running with her mother. What they’re running from is less clear, and only really referred to as bad luck.

“When we traveled I kept an eagle eye on the cars behind us, like bad luck could take human form and trail you like a minivan. But bad luck was sneakier than that. You couldn’t outsmart it, you could only move along when it had you in its sights.”

Alice, in true child form, becomes obsessed with her grandmother, a woman she’s never allowed to meet, and the book she wrote. Tales From The Hinterland thrust Althea into the light, but the book itself is rare, obscure and impossible to find. (Side note: I would adore this collection of fairy tales released, because oh how dark and delicious these tales would be!)

And this is where the mystery comes to light. Because in the beginning we get glimpses of this bad luck. We see Alice’s obsession with these tales and with her grandmother. Her life has the vague sparkle of something mystical lingering on the edges, but nothing defined. Is it simply Alice and her perceptions? Or is something else at play?

Whether it’s the bad luck finally catching up, or simply fate stepping in, forces conspire to drive Alice to the Hazel Wood, the mysterious estate her grandmother has hidden in. Alice finds herself learning all about these mysterious fairy tales and the woman who wrote them. More than she ever wanted to know. But once you fall down the rabbit hole, Alice learns the only way out is through. If the fairy tales will let her, that is.

“Most books’ power is in the abstract, but occasionally you’ll find one with very physical abilities.”

The first half of this novel is very much building the mystery. The mystery of the bad luck. The mystery of Althea herself and this elusive book of fairy tales. The mystery of Alice, her deep tendency to rage. The mystery of her mother and what she is so terrified of.

The mystery is what baits us. It sets the trap so that we are entangled into the core of the obsession with Alice. We feel her desire for knowledge. For something more. And once we are entwined, guaranteed to not be able to leave, the mysterious edges of what could be paranoia or fantasy begins to sharpen and reveal itself.

“Her final words had an extra resonance to them, a blur. Like they wore a mask to hide their true intentions.”

Beyond the world of murderous and violent fairy tales, this book is about so much more. I love how through this journey of fairy tales, this book really is a look at how to control your own story, to take back your voice and create your own narrative.

Alice runs because her mother tells her to. Because she is a child growing up, and children have no choice but to embark on the life their parents set out on. But when she is older, when forces plot to remove her mother from the equation, Alice has to figure out which path to set herself on. She has to decide where to go, and what to do.

A lifetime of warning from her mother, never talk to fans, never read the book, all culminate with a final warning: stay away from the Hazel Wood. Within hours she betrays the first rule, turning to fan Ellery Fitch for help. And while the book remains as elusive as ever, Fitch once owned a copy and could retell the stories with chilling accuracy.

Alice decides that even though her mother warned her, action is the only way forward. That she is the only one who can reclaim her story, who can face the bad luck and vanquish it.

“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairy tale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets rewarded.”

Sometimes as children we can feel voiceless. We can feel lost in a world we don’t understand. Where our parents make rules that feel arbitrary and unclear. And while most of us don’t wake up to find our mothers missing and our world a blur between fantasy and reality, often we do find that we understand our parents only by defying them. We see their rationale and reason only after we make the mistakes they attempt to protect us from.

Fairy tales are told to teach us lessons. To help us understand the world at large in a way that will stay with us. This book does the same. It helps us understand the helplessness we feel as both children and as parents. How being an adult can sometimes lead to a reality less than we once imagined. It teaches us that we each have a voice of our own, and can choose to use it, even if someone more powerful tells us we can’t.

I loved this book for the dark and twisted path it led me down. But I loved it even more for the empowerment it quietly taught me.

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

2018 – We have plans!

Last year I sat down around this time, give or take a few days, and started this blog. When I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure what this space was going to be. I knew I wanted to explore my writing more, and I wanted to start reviewing books. But I didn’t really know what that meant.

Fast forward a year, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’ve talked a bit about my reading goals in my 2017 summary. I am once again doing Goodreads, and trying the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again. I am going to leave my Goodreads number as is, just as I did last year. It’s a good exercise for me to stop trying and changing my goals. Set them and work towards them. Even if I meet that challenge, changing it raises too much uncertainty in me. I just need to keep going forward. Does anyone else relate to that?

One of the biggest successes I had was in building relationships in the bookstagram and blogging community. I am floored by how generous and kind the people in these communities are! I talk to them every day, and my life and confidence is blooming because of them. No matter what career or hobby you find yourself in, reaching out and developing relationships with people within that area is such an enriching experience. Being able to talk to other writers and know that they go through the same roller coaster of emotions and challenges helps quiet the noise for me. It helps me feel like I’m not on this journey by myself.

I enjoyed posting my bookstagram photos before, but let me say, the experience is 1000 times better when you get involved in the community. This group of wonderful book worms has single handedly changed my experience of social media. Life is what you put into it, and the same can be said of social media. It can be intimidating and scary to reach out into the abyss of the unknown and open yourself up to strangers. But man is it rewarding! This experience was the most unexpected thing to happen in 2017, and by far one of the best.

Life as a reviewer bloomed in 2017. When I first started, I had no idea how to request books, let alone reach out to publishers or publicists to build relationships. Again, with help from some amazing friends, I learned about Netgalley, First to Read, Blogging for Books and began to email for books. This process can seem daunting when you’re first starting but it isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have initially thought.

I also learned some things about reviewing. The first is, careful what you wish for. When I first began, I emailed and requested everything from everyone. And ended up getting more than I could handle. I wish I had requested less and built better relationships with fewer publishers. Rather than feeling stressed out and spread thin. But you live, you learn, and then you do better.

Personally, 2017 was a bit of a turbulent year. We ended up selling our store in April, and at the time I thought that meant I would have more time. Time to write, time to recover, time to reconnect with myself. What I didn’t anticipate was just how exhausted and run down I had let myself get.

The thing about exhaustion that I learned, is recovery takes time. It’s a slow process. It isn’t just the physicality of it. It’s mental and emotional as well. It meant that I didn’t make as much progress on my manuscript as I thought, and that other projects I dreamed of tackling took more time as well. And when you’re exhausted like that, you can be a bit fragile. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had mostly been under control for quite a long time, hit me hard.

Recognizing that I was in a depressed state took some time. Accepting it took time. And finding my way back, took time. Bit by bit, I found my energy returning, and with it, the ability to focus. I began to feel like myself, a self that I forgot about. Because that’s the other thing with exhaustion. When you run yourself low, but just keep pushing yourself, you forget what normal feels like.

So what does all this mean for 2018 goals?

First, I am going to discipline myself with reviews more. I’m going to request less and work in personal books with my reviews. I don’t want to get back in a rut when I feel like reading is a chore.

I want to post more consistently on my blog. Since I didn’t really have goals in place with my blog when I started, I never got into a routine with my posts. Some weeks I posted daily. Some only once that week. But like anything, consistency matters. So, whether it’s a review, a check in with writing, or writing about questions of the day, I want to post at least every other day.

My manuscript is almost complete, and I want to start submitting within the second quarter of the year. This gives me time to work through a second draft, get to some trusted readers for feedback, and to review that feedback. And of course, start the second book!

I am going to become more active on my social media accounts. Developing friendships has been the best thing I could have done. I want to be sure I continue and give back to that community as best I can.

One of the big accomplishments was opening my Etsy shop! I want to keep developing that account and working on projects so that the shop is always evolving and growing. Writing is my destiny, of that I am sure, but working in this mode creatively is a very fulfilling exercise, and I want to see how far I can take that.

Finally, I want to make sure I am taking time for me. I need to be kind to myself. To forgive myself for setbacks, to cut myself some slack, to stop being my biggest critic. Life is a journey. One meant to be lived. Here’s to taking each day, the good with the bad, and living.

 

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!

Not the Only Sky – Review

“People warn you not to stare at the sun, she thinks, but it’s so much sky that hurts.”

Tiny Mite is an imaginative 8 year old girl, living with her mother and grandmother in rural South Dakota. She is rambunctious and clever and lives in her own world. Her teacher thinks her imagination is a problem. Truth be told, so does her mother. But her grandmother and great Aunt see things differently.

Velvet, or Mimi, as Tiny Mite calls her, is living a life not entirely her own. Tiny Mite’s father left, after she had broken up with her high school sweetheart. And being a single mother in a small town was never the life she imagined living. She had dreams. Big, beautiful dreams. Dreams that always seem just out of reach.

So Velvet makes a choice. A choice that we see unfold from the beginning, but aren’t quite sure what it means. A choice that reveals itself from the end, showing us the moment of collision in the present tense narration.

I loved how moving the story forward from one perspective but backwards from another, only to have them intersect was brilliant. We were able to simultaneously watch the consequences while also understanding the thought process leading up to that momentous decision. Which, I think gave Velvet more sympathy than she would have otherwise gained. It is a choice that from the beginning is impossible to understand, but Warren gives us as much understanding as possible.

There is a lot of empathy in this narration. It is a book about family, and how complicated that can be. But it is also a book about forgiveness. Not simply if Clea, who refuses to use the name Tiny Mite since the morning of Velvet’s monumental decision, will forgive Velvet, but if they all can forgive themselves.

The entire first half of the novel is this alternating narration. But the second half is where we get into the aftermath. We fast forward in time, to a now 14 year old Clea. A girl who hates her mother. Who refuses to accept anything tied to her mother, and chooses instead to wear her dead grandfathers clothing. She is an outcast at school and surrounded by memories she hates at home.

Her one refuge becomes Jared, a boy at school even more dejected and rejected than she is.

Clea works her way through school. Forging a friendship with Jared that gives her a new perspective on her family, on her life. He helps her see that maybe there is a road to freedom, through forgiving Velvet.

I love complicated stories where decisions are more complex than right and wrong. Where apologies only go so far, and emotions run deep throughout the narration. Warren does a fantastic job giving us just enough perspective from the eyes and minds of those surrounding Clea and Velvet, that we can see a more holistic picture. We can see the pain and heartache that comes with love. Any sort of love.

It is easy to be empathetic to Clea. She goes from a confident child, who lives in a richly inventive world. She is funny and reading her explanation of things, or how she rationalizes the world to makes sense around her is a delight. It’s probably one of my favorite things about this novel.

So, it is even more heartbreaking when she breaks entirely away from that rich world. When her heart literally breaks and she tries to piece it back together by discarding everything from before. Warren does an impressive job with this in her dividing of the novel. There is clearly a before and an after.

But even more worth noting, is how Warren actually persuades you to feel empathy for Velvet as well. It isn’t as much, and it isn’t as easy, but it is there all the same. She is a victim of her choices as well as Clea, and because of that, probably feels the consequences more deeply than Clea. Which, I know, sounds unreasonable and unbelievable, but still true.

For a debut novel, hell, for any novel, managing all the moving pieces and pulling off this complicated narration is impressive. It would be very easy to lose track of a plot point, or leave a character underdeveloped. It would be very easy to confuse the reader if each sentence, each chapter, and each section wasn’t tightly woven and executed with precision. Yet, Warren does execute her narration and you aren’t lost in the alternating perspectives, or confused by a change in time or narration. If anything you are left wanting to know more, wanting to understand more with each page turned.

There is a profound understanding of how complicated our lives can become, and how we can become defined by our decisions in that life. It’s an interesting question, do our decisions define who we are, or do we define those decisions?

Family is complicated. And complex. People within these families are flawed and don’t always make the best decisions. This is life. Warren has given us an honest look at that inner dynamic, and makes us think about what we have, and what we think we want. At the core of this book is the question, do you have to sacrifice yourself for love? The answer is surprisingly complex, and I’m sure will change for everyone.

This book is fantastic for a book club. Each character, each choice, each pivotal moment of plot sets the stage for interesting discussion and dialogue. I think complex characters are always good for discussion, and Warren gives us complex characters in spades.

I immensely enjoyed reading Not the Only Sky. My heart broke, and was woven back together again. I laughed, and cried, smiled and frowned. I fell in love with Clea, and Jared, and Luvie and Bee. I even came to understand and forgive Velvet. A remarkable book. I cannot wait to read what Warren writes next!

Thank you to NetGalley and Black & White Publishing for the opportunity to read this amazing book! I received this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Lost Boy – Review

“Peter will say I’m a villain, that I wronged him, that I never was his friend. But I told you already, Peter lies.”

Oh what a dark delight this book was! I really love diving deep into the psyche of a villain and reading how they were made. But this book is so deliciously different.

The thing with a villain retelling is that you still know who the villain is. Or at least, who they will become. Lost Boy is a richly complex story where villains and heroes are much harder to discern.

In the stories, Peter Pan is always the hero. The cheerful young boy who refuses to grow up, and only wants to bring joy and happiness to children by bringing them to Neverland. Captain Hook we know as the pirate determined to destroy Peter Pan. But what if the story was a bit more complicated than that?

Jamie is a young boy, Peter’s right hand, his best friend.  “I was the first and best and last and always.” He was the first boy chosen and will always be the one by Peter’s side. They have a friendship that outshines everything, because deep down Jamie knows he is special. That’s what he thinks, anyway.

Things with Peter aren’t always what they seem. First, Peter tries to hurt the littlest Lost Boy because he just isn’t any fun. Boys dying and getting hurt on the island has always been part of the deal. Peter only has time and patience for the games he plays. And Jamie has always accepted this. Because that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will always be. Then Jamie begins to discover that Peter hasn’t been telling him everything. Peter keeps secrets. Peter lies.

Suddenly the magic of the Island takes on more sinister tones. With each lie discovered, each secret revealed, Jamie finds his unconditional love for Peter diminishing a little more. Questions Jamie had never bothered asking begin to surface in his mind. What happens when a boy who is kept forever young by magic begins to grow up?

I will admit to having a thing for the Dark Side. I tend to fall for the bad guy, and usually think that villains are victims of circumstance. Misunderstood. But that’s usually because we don’t see real villains very often.

Henry dives deep into the mind of a villain. She plays in the playground of actual evil. In Peter she has created a young, cheerful, psychopath. He is happy and delighted in whatever game he’s come up with. But only when things are going his way. When they don’t, he simply fixes the problem. Except, fixing a problem could mean killing a boy.

Peter doesn’t think what he’s doing is wrong. He doesn’t feel bad, or feel regret, or care about consequences. He has no morals. He lives only by the rules he has created in his head, and even those are flexible. Really, Peter cares only about having fun. He also really enjoys being the center of attention. Everyone else is simply along for his amusement. Everyone expect Jamie.

Anytime he is confronted with his actions, or his behavior, or even his attitude, he doesn’t see the problem, or even acknowledge the concern. For Peter, a dead boy is no never mind. As long as the games can go on. There is no reason to concern himself with one boy, when he can simply go to the Other Place and get a new one.

Peter does genuinely love Jamie. In the way that only a psychopath can. With utter devotion and obsession. It isn’t so much that the other boys aren’t of consequence, but that they take Jamie away from Peter. This is the one thing that drives Peter throughout the book. He only wants to be the focus of Jamie’s attention and affection. Every decision and action is made in this light.

We rarely get to see such a spot on depiction of a psychopath. Rarer still is to see this portrayal in such an accessible story. For all the darkness in this story, you are still lulled into believing you are reading a fairy tale. When the shock of violence hits you, and it is a shock, and it is grotesquely violent, the reality of the Island floods in. Reading is a constant ebb and flow of delight and horror, again and again and again.

The chilling part about Peter isn’t that he is cold, or calculating, although you could make an argument for either. It is more he isn’t. He really doesn’t have time to care. We are used to our villains being passionate, or vengeful. Full of anger and denial. Peter is just Peter. Concerned only with his fun, his games and himself.

And that’s what makes this book so, so good. Because we have a true villain in Peter. We have someone who is clearly wrong, and violent, and bad. But we also have the making of a different sort of villain. Jamie. Because Jamie does become Captain Hook, who is solely focused on revenge. He is full of anger and vengeance. He is passionate in his hatred for Peter. He is the definition of the villain we have come to know.

Peter wronged him. Peter lied to him. Peter made him. And yet, Jamie isn’t the villain. But, also, he is. “If I am a villain, it’s because Peter made me one, because Peter needs to be the shining sun that all the world turns around. Peter needed to be a hero, so somebody needed to be a villain.”

Henry has created a world full of magic, and somehow made it real. Because in life, villains aren’t all bad, and heroes aren’t all good. Sometimes good and evil is simply a matter of perspective. Life in the real world is much more complex, and things like villains and heroes are harder to discern.

I loved this book! Loved it! It is dark and twisty and full of things that make you gasp. It is full of treachery and violence. Sometimes villains are born. Sometimes villains are made. This book explores both of those ideas and creates a very dark adventure. If you also dabble in the Dark Side, and enjoy reading more complicated story, and aren’t afraid of things that go bump in the night, this book is definitely for you!

Lost Boy comes out July 4. Pre-Order link below:

Lost Boy Pre-Order

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for approving me to read this ARC!

IMG_5554

 

Nyxia – Review

“Unlearn your idea of impossible.”

Five words that summarize the incredible ride this book is about to take you on. To call this debut stunning doesn’t feel impactful enough. This book is nuclear in it’s impact!

Emmett finds himself about to board a spaceship. A winning ticket to a life he and his family have only dreamed of. A lottery he never entered, that he never knew existed. He and nine other kids are offered money they can’t fathom, benefits they’ve only dreamed of, a life that they never thought could be theirs.

Their mission is to go to a new planet. A habitable planet.  Eden. Where a new substance has been discovered, and it’s unlike anything found before. Nyxia.

“It has secretly become the most valuable resource in the world.”

Babel knows about it. Has been studying it. And wants more of it.

Except. There’s always an except. Except, there is a species already living on that planet. A species stronger than we are. The Adamites. They tore through a platoon of heavily armed and trained military personnel. Humans are not welcome. But even the Adamites have an except. They revere children.

Babel, a corporation powerful enough to swallow Google whole. A corporation to end all corporations is determined to mine Nyxia and profit from it. Even if they have to turn children into miners. No matter the risk, and regardless of the consequences. So they offer these ten poverty stricken young adults the opportunity of a lifetime.

Of course, there’s a catch.

Too late, they all learn that not all of them will be chosen. That two of them will be given consolation prizes and sent home. Wealthy, but not the riches they’ve already begun dreaming about.

The scoreboard becomes Emmett’s constant companion. Following him day and night, reminding him of what he has to lose. The scoreboard turns his companions into competitors. People he cannot trust, people he cannot rely on.

“Competition. Supply and demand. Cage-style.”

I love the discussion of corporate power in this book. The blatant manipulation of these kids by a powerful corporation is very compelling. The idea that profit supersedes everything. These kids are employees on one hand, and commodities on the other. The end goal for every person on that spacecraft is to prepare them for mining Nyxia, and nothing will get in the way of that goal.

Emmett knows that Babel is lying to them. Giving them half-truths and just enough information to motivate them, but never enough to dissuade them. Each step in the competition unfolds, drawing them deeper and deeper in the web, until they can’t see the way back. Emmett sees this, but his families needs outweigh what his instincts scream at him. He can’t afford to see the truth.

Emmett and all the other kids are pawns in Babel’s chessboard. They know it, yet their desperate need to escape the hell of poverty is so great, they are willing to do anything to make the top spots. No matter the obstacles. No matter the consequences.

There is a danger when people’s basic needs reach such desperate levels that they become willing to do anything in order to meet them. Desperation is always present on the edges of this competition. Two kids will go home with a small sum of money. They will go home knowing they held the keys to the kingdom of their dreams and let them slip through their fingers. Desperation is used against them by Babel, keeping them on edge and focused.

All the kids are chosen from poor families. It isn’t just the money that is is the carrot dangling in their faces. The promise of healthcare and access to doctors and treatments is just as alluring as hard cash. Emmett’s own mother fights cancer. Access to treatment, to doctors, to medicine is immediate. Cash is a fleeting dream. Something desired but now known. Whereas treatments, medicine, doctors. Those are life. Those are now. Those are what they fight for.

The theme that stood out the most for me in this book is power. Money is power. Babel is the money. They are the boss. They hold all the cards. The scoreboard holds power over all of the kids. Who stands the most to gain, who stands the most to lose. Babel uses the prize money as their way to retain control and power over each individual on the ship. There is too much to lose and nothing to gain by not following their rules.

Babel wants to tear them down. “Babel’s plan is to make us numb. Execute the task without emotion. Complete the mission.” They want to build them up into the perfect workers. Compliant and ruthless, with the sole focus on completing the job no matter what.

And then there’s the struggle for power within the self. Emmett battles with becoming who he wants to be, versus who Babel wants him to be. One side wanting to embrace the dark side that will lead him to victory. The other side demanding that he not lose himself to that darkness.

This struggle is one I think so many of us can relate to. Sometimes we are put in situations in life where we see how easy it would be to comply. To just do what our boss wants, or our spouse, or our friend. But, sometimes, that isn’t always the right thing. Being aware of that, and facing that dilemma is never easy. I was glad to see the struggle happen in Emmett. It was honest and real, and I think readers will relate to that.

Finally we have the timeless divide between the rich and the poor. Money always equals power, and in this society that fact also remains true.

“It’s hard to tell the difference between rich and wrong.” This quote is so stunningly simple and staggeringly true. Rich is always seen as right, while poor is always seen as wrong.

All of these struggles and fights for power all play out in simulated training. Each player fighting for a position within Babel. This book is a survival of the fittest in a high-stake corporate game. In space.

Absolutely amazing.

File this book under M for Must Read. Under D for Do Not Miss. Under E for Epic. Under H for Heart pounding.

I cannot wait to see what happens next. This series is already moving it’s way into my top five favorite series. It’s going to kill me waiting for the next installment.

Nyxia comes out September 12, 2017. If you love science fiction and suspense, order this book! It is stunning.

Pre-Order Link

Thank you Random House Kids, Crown Book for Young Readers and NetGalley for the ARC!!!

Review – Girl on the Verge

Girl on the VergeGirl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“My cheeks burn. A foreigner. I may be the daughter of Thai parents, but I was born and raised in America. Which means I’ll never be Thai enough. I’ll never be good enough.”

Kan lives in between two cultures. She isn’t Thai enough to be a good Thai daughter. And she isn’t American enough to not be considered exotic. No matter where she goes, she feels different.

Until the day when her mother brings home a young woman to live with them, giving neither her nor her grandmother any explanation.

Shelly is awkward and quiet. Kan thinks she recognizes the feeling of being an outsider, of being not good enough in Shelly, and tries to make her feel welcome, both in their home and at school. But things with Shelly start to seem odd and details don’t quite add up.

I really like how the cultural expectations shape Kan and drive her decision making. She feels trapped in either world, not belonging to either. “I could explain how I’m from two worlds but fit in neither.”

To question her elders is considered disrespectful, so even when she begins to have doubts about the person Shelly claims to be, she gets reprimanded for digging or questioning her mother’s decision. Or worse, if she pushes and doesn’t behave they way they expect her to, they threaten to take away the family necklace.

“The piece of jewelry connects me to all the women in my family’s history.”

Her one desire is to pursue fashion, which is also frowned on. It is looked at as frivolous and too American.

In many ways, having Shelly brought into her life helps push Kan to make decisions about who she is, and who she wants to be. Shelly encourages her to be more direct in achieving her dreams, but really, it is when Shelly threatens her family that Kan is emboldened to be brave and do what she needs to do.

In the end, Kan finds that there is a balance between being disrespectful and not respectful enough. She learns to balance the honor for her family and the honor for herself.

This was an enjoyable read. For me, the plot was predictable, and the scenes meant to be suspenseful weren’t quite enough to make my heart pound or shock me. Again, they felt predictable. As far as thrillers go, it wasn’t super thrilling. But the story itself was enough to keep me turning the pages and the outcome enjoyable even if predictable.

As far as YA goes, there are good messages in this book, especially in regards to culture, not fitting in, and finding who you are.

This book goes on sale June 27.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

View all my reviews

A review: You Will Know Me

You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was younger, I took dance classes. I started ballet when I was three, adding tap and jazz along the way. I participated in recitals and private lessons and even competed. The world of competitive dance was too much for me, and while I did love dancing, I did not love everything that came with it.

As I read, You Will Know Me, I was reminded of that world all over again.

Of course, I was not as focused or determined as Devon was. Nor were my parents as single mindedly dedicated to dancing as hers were. But to say that this book is solely about competitive gymnastics is doing it a disservice.

Yes, the plot is centered around the Knox family. Specifically Devon and her pursuit of making the Olympic Gymnastic team. However, at the heart of this book is an examination of parenthood and marriage. So much so, that we really see this entire world through the eyes of the mother, Katie.

Both being a parent, and being married are complicated endeavors.

Katie and Eric seem to have a solid marriage. One built on compromise and partnership. One where they both juggle to make sure their children’s needs are met. After all, training to become an Olympic athlete takes dedication, hard work and single minded focus. From the entire family.

We see how this pursuit unites them against the world. And then we see how it also threatens to unravel them. “It doesn’t matter whose dream it is,” she said, “Just that it’s a dream.”

An accident brought gymnastics into their lives. One where maybe guilt and a feeling of responsibility hold the family hostage to the pursuit of this dream. Another accident threatens to unravel everything they’ve worked towards.

The use of accident in this book is very interesting to me. The accident that sparked gymnastics to be brought into their lives. The accident that shakes their gymnastic community are the most obvious. But while Katie struggles to keep her family together, the memory of the pregnancy and how that was an accident comes up more than once. That accident not only brought Devon into creation, but also cemented her bond to Eric. Moved him to propose and marry her.

Which I think is important to the character of Katie. She never had a dream. Never had goals. Her life sort of happened to her, was thrust upon her in a series of accidents. Things she didn’t necessarily choose, yet she now struggles to desperately hold on to.

“Remember that kind of wanting? That kind that’s just for yourself? And you don’t even have to feel guilty about it?” “Katie nodded and nodded and nodded, because it felt true even if she couldn’t name the thing she’d wanted.”

She latches onto the dream of marriage, and then the dream of parenthood, and then the dream of Olympic champion. She pursues them and drives towards them, without ever thinking if she really wanted them to begin with. Without understanding what that type of wanting felt like.

That is what threatens Katie at the core. When events begin to unravel the core of her marriage, and threaten to come between her relationship with her daughter, it is not understanding that level of drive and commitment that is hardest for Katie. She cannot understand it, so she cannot understand the decisions made in blind pursuit of it.

“This is what fearlessness looks like, Katie thought. What desire can do.”

We get glimpses of Eric and Devon, of what they see and what they feel and what they want. But only through Katie’s eyes. We see that she sees them as the same, multiple times, a team united, where she has to fight to be let in. The irony is she often excludes her own son, Drew, in her fight to be seen by Devon and Eric. She has to remind herself that the Knox family is made up of four members, not three. She is jealous of their closeness but it also scares her. Fear of being left out, of being left behind, or being not included.

This book is listed as a murder mystery, and at the heart, we do unravel a mystery. But it is also unraveling the mystery or life. They mystery of parenthood. The mystery of marriage.

“Married a long time, you think there will never be any surprises again, at least not those kinds. But you are wrong.”

Megan Abbott shows us that we can hide the truth about those we are closest with. We can be blind to everything but what we want to see. As Katie plunges deeper to solving the murder, the hard truths about her daughter and her husband become almost too much to bear.

But parenting is ferocious, the love you feel for your child primal and urgent. It becomes a matter of protecting them, even if you don’t understand them. “After all, who wouldn’t do anything for one’s child? Especially when that child worked harder and wanted something more than either of them ever had? Who wanted in ways they’d long forgotten how to want or had never known at all?”

The ending to this book felt anticlimactic. We solve the mystery or the murder, but the rest remains unsolved, open and unsatisfying. Maybe that’s because we can solve problems. We can figure out who did a crime. But how do we answer the bigger questions of life? What makes a good marriage? What makes a good parent? When is a dream enough?

“She hadn’t learned, no one had taught her – Katie and Eric hadn’t taught her – that the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they’re not what you thought they’d be. But you’d still do anything to keep them. Because you’d wanted them for so long.”

This book won’t give you answers to those questions, but it will make you think about them. What lengths would you go for to protect your child? To help them achieve everything they dream of? What would you endure with your spouse? How far would you go for love? What would you forgive?

The answers may surprise you.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

View all my reviews

Follow Me Back – Review

We live in a social media world. For better or for worse.

There was a time, not so long ago, when sharing every aspect of your personal life would have been considered obnoxious and narcissistic. Who needs to know where I am or what I am eating every hour of the day? Those private details were shared in tabloid magazines about celebrities. Something we only wanted to know about celebrities.

I’m also sure, if you had asked most of the population back then, about whether people would one day all open themselves up to that level of public awareness, most would say no. Who could imagine a world like that?

Turns out, at least a few people did, and social media was born.

Take a society already obsessed with celebrity, and make everyone easily accessible. Or, at least give the impression of being easily accessible. How does that change us? What dangers does that bring? These are the questions raised in Follow Me Back.

“You wanted this, Eric. You worked your ass off to get discovered. Remember?” ∞ “I just didn’t totally understand what I was signing up for.”

When we dream of being famous, of living a life of luxury unimaginable to most, we tend to see the nice shiny pieces of that life. I’ve always been fascinated with how we idolize celebrities in our society. We mock them when they shut down a store to shop, yet if they try to walk down the street, we mob them. We ridicule their concerns for privacy yet pay for overpriced magazines to glimpse a picture of them on the beach, or in their backyards.  We expect them to be available to us all the time. To be the people we believe they are. Nevermind who they actually are.

Before social media, celebrities had their stalkers. They’ve always had obsessed fans, willing to do anything to get a napkin dropped, a fork used, a shirt forgotten. But in a world where information about location was slower, where you relied on physical sightings or inside sources, those fans were easier to predict. Easier to contain.

Now, all it takes is a tweet. 140 characters. An Instagram photo. A Facebook update. And within seconds, everyone in the world can access that information. Anyone can access that information.

Eric Thorn is a singer. Locked in a contract he didn’t understand, and is now beginning to hate. He has mobs of fans. Fans with Twitter handles like @MrsThorn or @TessaHeartsEric. Millions of girls dying to meet him, to profess their undying love for him. It’s exhilarating. It’s smothering. It’s terrifying.

There’s another side to social media. The side that allows us to experience life in a different way. To open ourselves up to new experiences and ideas. For some people, social media helps them feel not so alone. Helps them find people who they can connect with. Helps them enrich their lives in ways they would never dreamed.

That’s where Tessa Hart finds herself after a traumatic experience leaves her unable to leave her house. She finds her release in writing fanfic about her favorite pop star Eric Thorn. Following him and his fan accounts is a release for her. Her way of finding social interaction in her isolated world. When one of her stories goes viral, her follower count rockets up. The hashtag #ericthornobsessed trending to #1.

Tessa believes she sees something in Eric Thorn that others don’t. A fear that she relates to. Her therapist thinks she’s projecting. Is it possible to see something in a photo? In an online video? Is it possible to see something no one else sees? Or do we just see what we want?

A twist of fate intertwines Eric and Tessa. I could tell you more, but where would the fun in that be? Needless to say, you will not see the plot twists and turns until they happen.

This is a book where everything you think you know is wrong.

It isn’t just the plot twists that makes this novel compelling and insightful. It’s more an analysis about the role social media plays in our lives.

We follow people without thought. Sure, there are reasons. We like their books, their music, their art. Sometimes we even know them. But I’m also sure there are people we follow, people we are friends with, that we don’t really know.

Social media is a strange intimacy. People who are active on their accounts give us glimpses into their lives. It can feel like we know them. We see them in bed, walking down the street, at their tables. We see what they watch, what they read, what they listen to, what they eat, what they wear. It can feel like we know them as well as we know our closest friends.

To us, they are someone we know. Someone we feel genuine affection for. But to them, we are a fan. One follower in a sea of thousands. Perhaps even millions.

If they comment, or retweet, or like what we post, it’s a thrill! We feel a connection, a touch of intimacy that validates how we feel about them. And if they actually follow you back? Confirmation that somehow we made it on a radar of impossibility.

These strange intimacies are the world we live in. These private worlds that feel just as big and just as real as the one we breathe in.

Follow Me Back was a seamless glimpse at how social media and celebrity worship can create an alternate reality. We see how social media can be useful, even helpful but also harmful. There is a deep look at privacy and intimacy. This commentary is subtle and done skillfully. It takes a plot twist to bring this examination to light.

This book will make you take a step back and look at your own habits. Are you part of a fandom? Could there be a dark undertone lurking beneath the love and adoration? What about social media friendships? Can you ever really know who you are talking to?

As more apps are developed and more accounts are created, this is a conversation we all need to be having. What is the line between fandom and obsession? How much of our lives should be available and accessible?  How do you stay social while still protecting yourself?

It will make you think of social media and the role it can play with mental health. For some people, finding a group to talk to can be life-saving. Life-changing. But it can also be a Pandora’s box. An opening into a world of obsession and temptation that can easily spiral out of control.

Follow Me Back is a brilliant blend of Young Adult fiction wrapped in a psychological thriller. The plot is fast paced, each page demanding to be turned. I devoured this in a day. Yet you are still lulled into a state of complacency. Of believing you know what the end will be, in scope if not detail. Yet, the reality is so different, so unexpected.

If there’s one thing social media has taught us, sometimes what you see is not what you get. Sometimes a perfect and beautiful feed can hide something darker. Often, who we are is much different than who we want the world to see.

 

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

Review: The Rebellion’s Last Traitor

The Rebellion's Last TraitorThe Rebellion’s Last Traitor by Nik Korpon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whenever I get the chance to read a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction novel, I am all in. Add in a gritty noir vibe reminiscent of a 1940’s detective novel and there’s absolutely no way I can say no.

We find ourselves in a future version of our world. I’m not sure where the exact setting is supposed to be, but I suspect Scotland or thereabouts. Knowledge of the location isn’t a requirement to enjoy the story, or at least it wasn’t for me.

And its a good story. Dark but compelling, with a plot that pulls you into turning page after page needing to know what happens next.

We alternate between two main characters, Henraek and Walleus. They both used to fight for the rebels and now work for a group, the Tathadann, who overtook the area years back. Henraek is a broken man, forced to work for the people he hates, after losing his wife and son to the war.

Walleus is a bit more complicated. He has secrets, dark secrets, that leave you guessing his true loyalties and motivations all the way to the end. More on him later.

I really liked how creative the story was, and how complex the characters were. I imagine in any place taken over by a regime that rules in ruthless and totalitarian ways, the day to day lives of those citizens would be anything but black and white. People are never all good or all bad, or at least, rarely. The author does a good job capturing the complexity of this struggle.

If you love a gritty, dark novel you will enjoy this book. I think if you like anything 1940’s detective noir, you will also really enjoy the narration.

I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.

This book was provided to me via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD! If you haven’t read this book yet, DO NOT READ FURTHER**

I gave this book only three stars, because while I was gripped by the story, it could have been stunning.

There were two pieces of the plot that I wish had been developed a bit more. The first is what really drew me in to the book. Memory theft.

Henraek’s job in the Tathadann is stealing memories from people. You can then insert these memories into various viewers and watch them. He’s given a list daily and he goes about his job trying not to think about what he’s actually doing. He must not feel too bad though, because he always take an extra vial to sell to the black market.

This is an interesting side plot. The people who buy memories on the black market and become addicted to them. These junkies are mentioned multiple times throughout the book, and one junkie in particular comes back again and again, but there isn’t any discovery over who he is or why he’s relevant. I think maybe he was just an example of how desperate and alone these people can become chasing lost memories, but this leads me to more questions not answered. Why do they become addicted to the memories? What memories are they chasing? How could anyone’s random memories lead to such addiction, especially people who want to relive memories of lost, loved ones? It wasn’t exactly clear to me and I would have LOVED to see this more developed.

Back to the memory theft. These memories are drained and the people are left as empty shells. Alive but gone. Which raised some questions. There isn’t really any mention of what happens to these shells after they’ve been robbed. We witness him engaging in this theft twice, and he simply places coal over their eyes, and leaves them. The coal is mentioned as important, a signal of something, but again, I have no idea what. Maybe it isn’t important, but it felt like a loose end to me.

The memories are stored by the Tathadann, but we don’t really see why, what they’re looking for, or even why specific people are targeted. I also would think if there was still a rebellious faction in this city, that the outrage of people hollowed out and stolen would cause more of an outrage than the book implied. There really is no mention of it, other than the disgust generated towards addicts. If the addicts themselves are so repulsive, shouldn’t the creators of the addiction also be reviled? ESPECIALLY if it left these shells of people all over the place?

This underdeveloped piece of plot is even more important because of Henraek’s girlfriend, Emeriann. Her husband was also killed in the last rebel battle. And we find Henraek stealing the memories of her dead husbands grandfather in the beginning. He then goes BACK and steals the fathers later on. He is conflicted about this, but takes them anyway. Fine, he’s doing his job, but what about Emeriann? She’s part of the new rebellion and expresses disgust over addicts, yet nothing is EVER mentioned about her in-laws or her new boyfriend’s role in creating these addicts? Or again, these shells of people left all over the city? I just didn’t buy it. She is willing to die for the rebel cause, yet loves a man who is responsible for so much that she hates?

The second piece of plot I wish was developed more was Walleus himself.

Walleus was the original traitor. He’s the one who we are led to believe gave the Tathadann the information they needed to take down the rebels. This information led to massive deaths, including the death of Henraek’s wife and son. I felt it was a stretch that Henraek continued to view Walleus as a friend. He knew of his betrayal, knew that he was forced into submission, and yet still continues to view the guy as his friend? Because they grew up together? I don’t buy it. I would have liked a more treacherous relationship with both of them scheming to undo the other. That would have felt more realistic to me.

The other issue with Walleus, is why he turned in the first place? We find out that he actually has Henraek’s son, and is raising him, telling the boy his parents are dead. His desire to keep the child as his own plays a major role in why he stays, but why turn in the first place? Other than belief that the rebellion was doomed and he needed to survive. Henraek himself, eludes to Walleus’ confusing nature, but the narration doesn’t really give us more depth in that regard.

We also learn that Walleus has a mutated son, born with deformities including scaled skin, flippers for hands and the inability to talk in more than clicks. I found it odd that mention of this defect or mutation wasn’t examined more. This seems like something major. Is this the only child like this? Where did it come from? Again, why don’t we see more mention of other characters with these issues?

There were other things about Walleus I didn’t like. He’s described as being fat, his large stomach is mentioned multiple times, in various ways. Yet this guy is also then described as being able to take out men younger, stronger and more in shape because he has field and fighting experience? Skills like that don’t just happen because you could once do them. And, yes, experience will work in your favor in any fight, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

Overall, I felt that as one of the two main protagonists, he needed development and consistency. I felt like the author was trying to make him more human, more relatable, more sympathetic. Instead, we was a confusing character.

My other issue, and it is mild, was the language. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a reader that frills at the presence of a curse word in a book. I think swearing, especially in a society like this, often needs to happen to make the characters and dialogue believable. My problem is that the swearing itself is what usually felt unbelievable.

Do you remember when you were young, and swearing was new? So you did it all the time? Or when you thought it would make you seem tough, or angry, or grownup? I do. And that’s how the swearing felt to me. New. Or, like it was added in because it should be there. Not because it naturally belonged. A few times it felt like it was there for pure shock value alone. A minor complaint, I know, but I consider myself a refined user of explicative words, and hate to see them mistreated in any way.

I will say, the strength of the plot made me overlook these complaints. I did roll my eyes a few times at repetitive phrases (I could never read the words ‘reptilian part of the brain’ again and be completely happy), but I continued to turn the pages. I genuinely wanted to know what happens next. There was tension and unsolved mystery. I love when authors add a bit of a Shakespearean twist of ‘information known too late’, and this was blended in towards the end.

In all, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away. Which is disappointing, because honestly, I feel like this book had major potential to be a show stopper. A few developments and details would have easily taken it from three to five stars.

View all my reviews