#PBHOWLERFEST

Today, my goodmen, today was GLORIOUS!!!!! In full nerd fashion, I embarked on a journey. A journey many months in the making, and surprisingly, not entirely about the event itself.

 

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Let me back up. Of course, the event was the entire gorydamn point. I’ve been waiting for Iron Gold for what feels like an eternity. And honestly, I probably would have simply waited for the release like any other Introvert book nerd and watched all this amazingness from afar. Except, a good friend called me, and said, “Come with me?”

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And I said YES!

So, a journey was planned. It involved matching shirts. I dyed my hair. I tried to get her to agree to matching tattoos. Spoiler: she said NO! However, she did agree to temporary tattoos as a compromise.

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But let’s get to the juicy gossip.

The event was amazing. I know that adjective gets thrown around a lot. By me. But, it was. When you walked in, they had large prints of all the fan art from around the world, and in our packet was a voting ticket.

Here’s a few for your perusal……

Once you voted, you entered the theater itself.

We also received a packet at the door, with the voting ticket and shirt ticket (if you ordered ahead of time). Our badges were Color coded and assigned us to our Color. I got Obsidian. Apparently even in this fandom, the Fandom Gods want to make me the trained killer. Weird. At least I’m not the bloodydamn villain again.

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Next to the shirt display, they had a small bookshop set up with BookSoup, featuring books Pierce himself loves. Of course I bought one or two, but you’ll have to go watch my Instagram stories in the next few days to see those goodies!

There was a bar, serving PitVipers for those daring Helldivers, and Haemanthus (mocktail) for the dreamers of the group.

Finally, there was an airbrush artist there to make sure we all had the appropriate sigils for our Color.

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And then the real fun began! Pierce came on stage, accompanied by his close friend and actor, Eric Christian Olsen. The interview was incredible to listen to on SO MANY LEVELS!

As a fan, it is always so fun to listen to an author talk about the world from their perspective. Who they see themselves in, who they had fun writing, who they hate. It’s fascinating to hear them describe the world that you, as a reader, are so immersed in. To hear the creator of that world dive into some of the rationale behind characters, plot twists, and world building is always good nerd fun!

Beyond the discussion of the world, Pierce himself is so kind and generous with his fans. He made sure to really reflect on his answers, and took his time thinking them through. His answers to questions ranged from funny, to snarky, or vague to very detailed, depending on the question. You can tell he enjoys interacting with his fans as much as we enjoy intreating with him. So much so, that he is involved in the Facebook group, Hic Sunt Leones: A Red Rising Fan Group, knows who the admins of the group are, and called up the MOST AMAZING COSPLAY EVER!!!!!

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As a writer, I LOVED EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF THIS! Not just the cosplay, although, talk about #writergoals! When he talked about his life as a writer, I was so grateful I went to this event. To hear that an author you look up to, for his incredible writing style and fantastic plotting, doesn’t outline, or take notes. That he also can face writer envy of writers he considers the greats. That he can be a harsh critic of himself or his writing.

I need to remember that novels don’t happen in a moment, they happen in a series of moments. They take time, and then they take a team of people to make them the wonderful pieces of magic we lose ourselves in. I simply have to be as true to myself and to my story as I can be. I tend to forget that.

He also talked about telling his editor that Golden Son had a moderately happy ending and getting a literal WTF text when he faced the horror of the ending that traumatized us all. Or how he had the most fun writing the Jackal, and holds an appreciation for villains. I am a big believer that villains could use a little more love!

If you doubt the sincerity of his appreciation of his fans and readers, just look at that dedication! FOR THE HOWLERS!!!!

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Of course, the afternoon ended when we got called up (by Color) to take a photo with him. Again, he asked everyone’s name, shook their hand or hugged them, and truly made each person feel seen and heard. That is an incredible skill.

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The part of the journey that wasn’t the event, was simply going. Meeting Trissina in person after talking for nearly a year was awesome, but also daunting! Hi, my name is Jena, and I’m an Internet Introvert. And, there’s something intimidating about meeting someone you’ve tried to aspire your own writing to. Not that I was worried about how he would be, more, it’s just scary to open myself up for judgement. I never said introverting logic made much sense.

Anyway, driving to LA and being away from all my puppies and my books was hard. Oh, and my husband, I miss him too. Meeting new people in an intense environment is also daunting for me. But, I am so glad I did it!

The journey is about meeting authors and listening to them talk. Taking in their advice, knowing that even the greats have bad first drafts, and realizing that the glory is in the attempt. Nothing is made from nothing, but something can be made from something.

Meeting Internet friends in real life is the business! It’s fantastic that there is an entire community of book people in this virtual world. But, to take those friendships and conversations and hug them, and talk to them? Words just don’t quite capture how incredible that feels.

In all, I’m glad that I didn’t have to go to Mordor or face the Eye of Sauron. Perhaps my journey wasn’t quite as epic as Frodo’s. But it was mine, and I feel like I’ve grown for it.

The book comes out in three days, January 16, but we got the book 3 days early for attending! Was it worth it? You’re gorydamn right it was, my goodmen!

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Good night Howlers! Per Aspera Ad Astra!!!

Green – Review

“It seemed like the smoke of those riots spread all across the continent, all the way to Boston.”

Green is a unique coming of age story, told from 12 year old David Greenfield, growing up in Boston in the early 90’s. The year Green focuses on for the entirety of the novel, is the year 92-93. We start when Dave is entering 6th grade, and the novel ends right before his 7th grade year begins.

The year is significant, because this school year is a milestone year for Dave. He has the only chance to take an entrance exam to get into Latin, a school that grooms students for college. The school is also notoriously a feeder school for Harvard. And Dave feels that Harvard is the answer to all of his problems. Or at least out of the ghetto he believes he and his family lives in.

Even more significantly, Dave feels very self-conscious attending King Middle School. He is one of a very small population of white kids, and he feels after the riots and Rodney King trial, that suddenly, his being white is more noticeable to his peers than before.

His first few weeks of school are exactly as he expects: being ignored, or hassled, feeling left out and left behind. His parents won’t buy him new shoes or stylish clothes. Even his quasi best friend ditches him for cooler friends. But life begins to look up when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him to a bully and their friendship begins to grow.

“It’s starting to hit me: Mar isn’t just my best friend, he’s my first. Up until now I had no idea just how lonely I’d been.”

I am on the fence with this book, and my review may contain some mild spoilers, though I will try and avoid them as much as possible.

This novel is based on the author’s own childhood and experiences. And, in that sense, I can’t argue. I can say, however, that I didn’t really connect with Dave and the style that it’s written is very distracting. Mostly, I’m referring to the language. So. Much. Slang.

Here’s the thing with slang. I get that kids use slang words. It’s that this is a book written from Dave’s perspective, solely in the first person. And I just don’t buy that a kid would talk this much slang, all the time, as the voice in his head. It didn’t feel natural or real to me. I’ve never met anyone who talks like this kid. Maybe they exist, maybe this really is how a kid would hear himself speak. I don’t know. But for me, it didn’t feel real.

It’s hard to say if the author chose to write that way to highlight the way Dave felt out of place and was trying so hard to fit in. Because the kid does try to fit in. He is ashamed of his own personality, or so it seems, and only wants to fit in with the cool kids. So perhaps the slang is simply really driving home how hard he tries and how awkward he really is. It certainly felt awkward reading, so I can see that angle.

I also have an issue with how his brother Benno is handled. We know that Benno has chosen not to speak for over a year. That he had an accident, where he cut himself, and since then has been under therapeutic care and attends a special school. Dave often resents the treatment Benno gets. One example is how Benno gets tater tots with meals, while Dave is forced to eat homegrown vegetables and rarely gets processed food. Benno often gets to stay home from school and has little rules dictating his behavior at home.

I find it odd that parents who are so invested in one child, would be so oblivious to the anxiety of their other child. I suppose it happens, parents often can make a healthy child feel overlooked in the face of a sick one, but they rarely even try to explain what’s going on with Benno when Dave tries to talk to them about his own struggles. Even worse, we never even get to understand or learn why or what Benno is going through.

But what really bothers me about the book the most, is that Dave doesn’t seem to learn any lessons at all. He complains, often and loudly, about no one having his back. Yet, he repeatedly lets his friends get beat up and picked on. Even when Mar spells this out to him, he can’t muster the courage to even speak up, let alone jump in to help. He acknowledges his fear, but never seems to comprehend that no one will defend him unless he starts defending either himself or others.

Dave is obviously a kid so desperate for attention and approval, that he is willing to sacrifice his friends feelings and needs if someone ‘better’ is around and offering either of those things. And he doesn’t seem to understand why his relationship with Mar changes after betrayal after betrayal occurs. He is oblivious. Which I would expect of a kid, but Mar is patient and explains his reactions multiple times. Dave just doesn’t want to settle for anything he perceives as less. Unfortunately, Mar falls into that less category too frequently to maintain a semblance of a friendship. And while Mar seems to realize this, Dave never sees his role in the distance.

“His head is tilted to the universe, but he looks more lonely than awed. Everyone else is smiling and pointing, and he’s just standing there, squinting, biting his upper lip.”

A good come of age novel should have an “aha” moment. A moment where the main characters realizes where he went wrong and attempts to fix it. Dave sort of has this moment at the end, a moment where he confronts his old best friend and tries to talk to Mar one last time. But it felt like very little, and far too late. And even then, I never got the sense that Dave really understood why Mar distanced himself from Dave.

This book is supposed to be about class and privilege. And while it’s clear to the reader that Dave is sort of spoiled and immature and very privileged, Dave himself never really seems to have his “aha” moment. He realizes he has made wrong choices in regards to his friendship with Mar, but it’s completely unclear by the end of the book whether he really understands how much easier his life is simply because of the color of his skin.

He feels a lot of resentment towards the other kids in his neighborhood because of the color of his skin, but he never seems to piece together that this resentment is because of his privilege not him. Maybe that realization is difficult for a sixth grader to comprehend, but since so much of this novel hinges on that dynamic, it’s hard to sympathize with a kid who feels picked on, and can identify racist behavior without understanding at least on some level that he lives a far different life than his peers. Especially when he visually sees the drastic differences in their living conditions and lives.

I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed without liking the main character. But, this is a tough one, because he is the story. And I just didn’t like him. Maybe I was meant to sympathize with him feeling ostracized and confused about who he is. But he just didn’t come across as likable. He needed more redeeming moments and to become aware of his privilege far earlier in the novel.

Thank you to the First To Read program for sending an early copy to read and review.

 

 

 

Seance Infernale – Review

“All those things you fear will reach from into the shadows and pull you down there with them.”

Seance Infernale is an intense thriller following Alex Whitman on his journey to find a piece of film, only rumored to exist. In America, Thomas Edison is credited with building the first camera known to capture motion pictures. In France, the Lumber brothers. But one year before Edison filed his patent, a man named Augustin Sekular is rumored to have built and filmed the world’s first motion picture camera. Conveniently, or rather inconveniently, one year before Edison files for his patent, Sekular vanished from a train, never to be seen or heard from again, taking all signs of the camera with him.

However, the man hiring Whitman to find this lost piece of film isn’t interested in any of the film strips by Sekular known and catalogued. He wants one so rare, it is only whispered about: Seance Infernale. A film only referred to in a letter by a man known in history to be a conman of sorts.

This book is more than a hunt for rare art. More than a historical mystery yearning to be solved. We learn that Whitman lost his daughter ten years prior. Abducted in a park in Edinburgh and never heard from again, she haunts Whitman. His acceptance of this job, and this hunt for Sekular’s film takes him back to the city filled with ghosts. Whitman will have to face his own ghosts, while searching for Sekular’s.

“Sources failed to indicate Sekular’s exact Edinburgh address, they stated that the family lived in a perilous region, full of seedy businesses, dark alleys, and run-down tenements, a place “where wickedness loses its seductive appeal by manifesting in all its depravity.”

Whitman isn’t the only perspective we get; however. In addition to his hunt for this mythical film, a Detective Sergeant, Georgina McBride is hunting an elusive creature of a different sort. A serial killer prowling the streets of Edinburgh, kidnapping children and leaving their bodies in alleys. Georgina needs to find his latest victim while there’s still a chance they are alive.

Two different people searching for two different things, and yet their paths cross in unpredictable ways. But the more each of them discovers, the more they realize their searches are more dangerous than either one ever anticipated.

“Because a murder investigation is first and foremost a hired investigation; your client may be silent and dead, but he is still screaming out for justice.”

This book shocked me! I was expecting a hunt through time to solve a lost mystery. But, the present day twists with McBride’s serial killer hunt kept me on my toes! It was easy to lulled into the mystery of this lost film, and what happened to Sekular. As soon as you got comfortable in that story, you were slammed into the present day with the hunt for this killer. In addition, we get some narration from Elliot, the killer himself, told in such a way that you aren’t sure who he is going to end up being, or why he is important to Whitman and this film.

There is graphic violence in this book, both in what Elliot does to his victims and some flashbacks of other scenes in characters lives. One particular scene of animal cruelty was two pages I skipped, it was that grotesque. So, if that sort of violence unnerves you or makes you queasy, this may not be the book for you.

As far as dark thrillers, this book is crazy dark and crazy intense. I was climbing the walls, reading between my fingers, and definitely leaving the lights on to make it through this book! The author does a fantastic job weaving characters in and out of the plot, and just when you’ve forgotten about someone, they pop back in to play. He has a talent for making you look to the left and then hitting you from the right. Every twist and turn was like plummeting down a roller coaster blind folded. It is exhilarating but also terrifying.

My favorite parts are when we are taken below ground into ancient and forgotten parts of Edinburgh. Areas simply entombed over in the name of progress. Skariton does an insane job bringing places to life. I could taste the dust and smell the stale air as crypts and catacombs were discovered and explored. And nothing says creepy more than underground houses, forgotten tunnels and old graveyards.

“You could have walked past it every day on the way to work and you wouldn’t have noticed it, padlocked behind doors or hidden underground. It was right there, for everyone to see, yet it was unknown. But that was Edinburgh, revealing itself only in the constant vigilance of dark, steady eyes.”

I did read this as an ARC, so there were some pieces that seemed incomplete. I don’t mean the writing, it’s more the presentation of the book. This is a book that has art within the book, and with those pieces missing, it felt a little confusing. Some were there, but notes at the bottom and the notes in the back seemed to not quite be finished, so I didn’t feel that I got the entire experience.

The hardest thing, and again, this may be fixed in a final copy, is there weren’t any years in the chapter headers. The book is divided into sections with the date (month and day) listed at the beginning of each section. But, the narration jumps between the years quite a bit and it can get confusing, especially as we are reading between multiple points of view. It isn’t overwhelming, but I did have to backtrack a few times to figure out where I was supposed to be.

In all, this book was perfect for October reading and for the #spookathon. It will leave your heart racing and your stomach churning as you hold your breath waiting to read the outcome. If you like dark, if you love thrillers, and you don’t mind some intense violence, this book is definitely for you!

I won this in a giveaway from AA Knopf, and was not required or obligated to review.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – Review

“Anything is possible,” I said. “But most things are unlikely.”

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an epic, all-encompassing story spanning the life of Cyril Avery. Cyril is adopted, “not a real Avery”, as his adopted parent’s Charles and Maude often remind him, growing up in the 1950’s in Ireland. Even though his adoptive parent’s remind him, (quite frequently), of his adoptive status, Cyril doesn’t find himself neglected, or even uncared for. He is simply a participant in an odd family.

Cyril knows he is different. It isn’t just his relationship to his adoptive parents. He is quiet and shy and has a stutter. But nothing life shattering sets him apart. Until Charles ends up arrested and goes to trial for tax evasion. This normally wouldn’t have anything to do with Cyril, no more than natural consequences would provide. However, as fate would have it, this brings Julian Woodbead into Cyril’s life, which sparks his trajectory down a new, frightening path altogether.

“And a moment later I realized I didn’t feel shy around him at all. And that my stutter had gone.”

Even though the interaction between the two boys is brief, it is emblazoned into Cyril’s young mind. And while most boys begin to dream of girls, Cyril finds himself dreaming of Julian. Years later, when another twist of fate brings Julian to the same school, and Cyril’s new roommate, his love for his friend cements firmly and stubbornly into his soul; and launches a complicated, lifelong friendship.

“But for all that we had, for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our future lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”

Growing up during that time period as a gay man was difficult most places in the world. In Catholic, conservative Ireland, it is near impossible. We feel the fear as Cyril walks through parks and pubs, terrified of being beaten and subsequently arrested by the Garda for simply trying to find companionship. We feel the guilt and confusion of wanting to be “normal”. We feel the exhaustion of constantly living a double life and maintaining a constant lie.

Boyne writes so beautifully, it is easy to hear the Irish lilt in their dialogue and feel the depth of Cyril’s emotions. There is a sharp humor in these characters. With all their dysfunction, Charles and Maude are entertaining people who you have to laugh at since they seem to be incapable of seeing the ridiculousness of their ways. And Cyril himself is very funny without trying, or in some instances, even meaning to be.

This is a beast of a book, and yet I read it easily in a few days. This is a book where you fall completely in love with the characters, and get lost in the drama of their lives. Cyril, for all his flaws and mistakes, is very likable. He makes some very wrong choices, but it would be difficult to say anyone would make different ones given the same set of circumstances.

“We all fall in the shit many times during our lives. The trick is pulling ourselves out again.”

And while this is such a beautiful book, make no mistake, it will rip your heart out. Because you will feel the cruel underside of human nature deeply and profoundly in these pages. You will feel what it is to be hated simply for who you are. To be afraid for your life. To be on the receiving end of bigotry. It isn’t easy to bear. For all the warmth and humor and wit, there is an sharp wrenching pain as well.

Which is why these characters and this book will stay with you. It is reminiscent of life. Sometimes funny, sometimes warm, sometimes lonely, sometimes painful. And yet, overall, very full and rich and full of meaning.

Throughout Cyril’s life, we also get to witness monumental shifts in society. We see the impact of the IRA, the horrific terror of the early days of AIDS, the historic vote to grant marriage to all. We see how attitudes towards homosexuals varied from openly accepting in Amsterdam to barely veiled contempt in America.

But for each shift in time, each life lesson that Cyril experiences, for better or for worse, he grows as a person. He begins to learn to accept his mistakes and his failures. Learns to forgive, himself and those who have wronged him. He learns to accept himself. And it is in this acceptance that he finds not just peace, but acceptance in return.

“Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.”

Sometimes life doesn’t give us villains wrapped in a nice, black bow. Sometimes we are presented with good people who make terrible decisions in the name of the greater good. Sometimes we get people just trying to live the only way they know how.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies will remind you that life is sometimes hard. That we don’t always know what we’re doing. That we will make some great decisions and some terrible ones with inconsequential ones strung in between. We will have fond memories and regrets. But the most important thing is to live. To continue to move forward, and try every day to live better than the last.

There are some amazing life lessons wrapped in this plot. Lessons on forgiveness and acceptance, yes. But also lessons on how to let go of this illusion of control we imagine we have over our lives. Charles and Maude showcase the best examples of this. Julian shows us the lesson of friendship and love, while Alice allows us to see how to let go of hurt and forgive. And throughout it all, Mrs. Goggin let’s us see how to let go of regret. Cyril, of course, comes wrapped with all of these and more.

Easily one of the top five books I’ve read in 2017, I would recommend this book to anyone. Be ready to fall in love. To laugh. To cry. I wish I could do the eloquence of this book justice, but I don’t know that I can. All I can do is urge you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

Thank you Hogarth Books and Blogging for Books for sending me this book to read and review.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer – Review

“We can’t help the way we’re born. We can’t help what we are, only what life we choose to make for ourselves.”

Excuse me while I fangirl over here!

Okay, in all seriousness. I was very nervous to read Warbringer. Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond excited that Leigh Bardugo was writing this adaptation. I love her writing. And I have a lifelong love for Wonder Woman. But, I will admit to mild trepidation on how exactly Bardugo was going to rework the Wonder Woman universe into a YA novel.

It isn’t just the reimagining of the comic I was concerned with. Being a fan of any comic world demands that you have some flexibility in your tolerance for adaptations. I mean, we are on our third rendition of Spider-man, and the love for Spidey is still real. And let’s not even talk about how many Batman’s we’ve been through. No, really, I was worried some essence of the darkness I love in her books would somehow be lost. I shouldn’t have worried because she does not hold back on the heartache, struggle, and treachery.

“I imagine all wars look the same to those who die in them.”

All Diana wants is to be recognized by her Amazonian sisters as worthy and their equal. As Daughter of Earth, molded from clay and brought to life by the Goddesses, Diana did not become an Amazon through death. She has never known war. Never known strife. And to some of her sisters, she will never be one of them truly, because of this. So when she makes the reckless decision to save a human girl, she quickly learns that there is more at stake than facing possible exile.

Alia only wants to be a normal girl. She doesn’t understand that the tension and hostility that follow her aren’t a normal part of human behavior. She finds out she is a Warbringer, descendent of Helen of Troy, and destined to bring a time of bloodshed and war to the world.

Fate brought Alia and Diana together. Fate crossed their paths. Together they have one chance to right the world. One chance save not just the world, but Alia. And they only have a week to do it.

The forces working both to keep Alia alive and to make sure she dies, are relentless. And here is where we find the skill in Bardugo’s storytelling shine bright. Magic gone astray brings the duo back to New York. Not where they needed to be. But what would a quest be without some missteps? And what would a quest be without a merry band of misfits to join the fray?

Nim, Theo and Jason are not a merry band. But they are a band of misfits that find themselves on this journey to save Alia, and in turn the world. Jason is Alia’s super controlling and over-protective brother. Nim, her best friend, and Theo, Jason’s nerdy best friend. It will take all of their skills, and the ability to work together to actually make their plan work.

And while I did enjoy the banter and the quirks, it is Diana that really makes this novel shine. Her blunt take on New Yorkers and modern life are quite hilarious, not to mention, alarmingly accurate. I laughed so many times at her questions, and responses, and observations. They are perfect.

“She felt like she was wandering in the dark through this world, catching only flashes of understanding, grasping one thing then stumbling onto the next.”

For someone who has only read about the modern world, never seen men or boys, and only heard about the perils of humanity, I imagine our world would be shocking to Diana. Bardugo captures this amazement and awe and blends it with the mistrust and horror of what the world is actually like. For all the changes this retelling made, the heart of Diana stays very much in tact in this novel.

Diana begins the journey thinking it is only to prove herself worthy to her sisters. But the truth is, she needs to find herself worthy in her own eyes as well.

“Battles are often lost because people don’t know which war they’re fighting.”

This is a theme that runs true no matter which version of Wonder Woman you find. In fact, the themes of truth, self-worth, identity and the strength of women are highlighted extremely well in this novel. These are things any fan would expect to find, and Bardugo did such a good job holding up to those standards and showing them in interesting ways.

It is both in Alia and Diana that identity shine through. They both begin thinking they are one person, and end discovering that they are something more. They have to face harsh truths about themselves and their motivations. This journey of identity goes hand in hand with their feelings of self-worth. How much is a life worth? What is the weight of one life versus the weight of all life? And wrapped within all of that is the idea that truth is necessary and vital to all of this.

“Truth means something different when it’s freely given.”

These heavy themes are written intricately within each character along within the overall plot, and that is really the heart of Wonder Woman. Yet, there is a playfulness to the book. The characters are still teenagers and are guaranteed to break up the brevity of any situation with some smart mouthed sarcasm exactly when it’s needed.

Finally, highlighting the strength of women is captured so well in Warbringer. It isn’t just that Diana is nearly indestructible, because the physical strength isn’t what makes her exceptional. The way her and Alia bond in their quest was a subtle nod to that sisterhood that the Amazonians show. Without being on the island for long, this storyline needed to be shown in another way, and it was highlighted perfectly here.

Even more subtlety though, is the strength we find in ourselves. Often in society, even still today, women are still praised for being subdued. Jason constantly tries to subdue Alia, and while they call him out on it, the control he exerts and the dominance he expects are all too common. While no one is attempting to control Diana, I found it empowering when even Diana realizes she doesn’t have to hold herself back.

“I am done being careful. I am done being quiet. Let them see me angry. Let them hear me wail at the top of my lungs.”

Every women alive has felt a moment somewhat similar in her life. A moment when we are tired of being told how to behave, how to sound, how to dress, how to be. I loved that we get to see Diana shed these self-imposed shackles to embrace the warrior her heart knows she can be.

It is in maintaining the heart of this story, and these characters, that these themes work towards the shocking ending. I’ll fully admit, I didn’t even see the twist coming. Yet even the ending holds true to the themes of the comic, and the themes of the book. It is this unrelenting, unapologetic willingness to face the darkness of humanity that makes Bardugo books so good. And she does it again with this one.

Superheros and icons are meant to be examined. They are meant to be placed in new and challenging situations so that we can explore the depths of heroics against villainy. They are meant to adapt to stay relevant and be reborn to reflect changes in society. I loved Warbringer for all that Wonder Woman has been, and all that she can be. And I am so excited to read more of these hero reboots in future DC Icon books!

 

 

The Salt Line – Review

“The burn was the first rite of passage.”

Man! Strap in when you open this novel, because you are in for an intense ride! The Salt Line is everything a solid dystopian novel should be.

We learn that the burn referred to in the first sentence, is the burn of a Stamp. A small device that kills the lethal female miner tick and any disease or eggs she has implanted in your body. Kills it, as long as it is administered in time.

This is presented to us through a class, given by an outdoor extreme trainer, getting ready to take a small group of wealthy adventurers beyond the Wall and out of their safe zone. Exciting right?

As the training unfolds, we get to know the characters and through them a picture of the society we are in begins to emerge. We know that what was once America is now divided into zones. Currently, we are in the Atlantic zone, one of the more stable and thriving zones. We learn that other zones are not faring as well. These zones were put into place after this miner tick and the outbreak of a deadly disease began to run rampant.

“The thing was, you hoped like hell to be in a zone as clean and safe as Atlantic, and if by birth or luck or talent you got in one, you stayed put — because the rules kept changing, the quarantines and security measures kept getting revised.”

There is an art when writing dystopian, to drawing your reader into the new world while also giving them some idea of why it emerged. Sometimes books can get too bogged down in the history, making them feel clunky and bloated. And other times, we don’t get enough of a sense of the past to make sense of the future. This novel; however, gets that balance absolutely right.

Jones gives us the history of the society while also introducing us to each character. And some pieces of information are done within dialogue, so the effect is so subtle, I found myself flipping back to make sure I didn’t miss these details. While I can appreciate that perhaps this isn’t a style some readers enjoy, for me, it added a rich texture that made the novel completely suck me in. Each character was able to add context through their own experiences, and so Jones was able to really provide a lot of depth to not just their individual past, but the overall zones as well.

The other thing I loved about this novel is that there are so many strong women! Evie and Marta are the first main characters we meet, and though they are presented as a rockstar’s girlfriend and a mobster’s housewife, their strength and vibrancy go far beyond their societal descriptions. We also meet Wes, a young CEO, arguably the wealthiest and most influential man in the Atlantic zone. He seems to be at odds with himself to participate in this excursion, and yet is driven to succeed. It is through their eyes that we see the training and the initial moments of the excursion unfold.

This isn’t simply a dystopian where a group of adventurers has to survive the harsh wild. It isn’t a typical things go wrong and they have to make it through. Even though they deliberately set out beyond the Wall to attempt to survive a three week adventure, the things that go wrong are all provoked and planned by humans. The group is taken hostage by a group of people who have been waiting for a group like this to fall into their hands for a long time.

The political undertones written in the plot are very smart, and add a touch of realism. It is easy to imagine a group of people operating like this, both in zone and out. And as each hostage faces shifting alliances and new information, they have to decide which truth they believe, if any.

“There’s this assumption that most people, if you strip society and its laws away, are capable of evil.”

If I had a complaint, it would be in June, leader of Ruby City. I wish I had gotten to see a little more of her and what she was capable of. We saw glimpses, but never the in depth reveal that would have made her character more satisfying. She was a complicated character, impossible to tell if she was a victim of circumstance caught up in a game she lost control of, or a very tightly controlled manipulator who knew exactly what she was doing. I have my opinions, but they are built on shaky ground, and I would have really loved to have been given more in either direction.

In all, there is so much to like about The Salt Line. In all directions, there is danger lurking. You get the sense that there is more to the story in any direction you look. And, for a dystopian, thats exactly how you should feel. Uneasy. A society that has changed for logical reasons into something illogical. And we get that here.

Beyond Marta and Evie, we get June and Violet, all strong female characters that are so varied in not only age, gender and race, but in personality and motives as well. We are given things to like and things to dislike in each of them, but they are true to themselves throughout it all. And yet, it isn’t a book that forgets the men. We get to know Wes, and Andy, their guide and betrayer. They are just as flawed and varied and diverse as the women. In all, each character, no matter how large or small their role, is balanced and real.

I don’t know if there is a sequel to this book. The ending was satisfying as a stand alone, but could lead to future books. I would really enjoy more from these characters and this society. In fact, I will be reading previous books from this author, I enjoyed her writing so much.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves dystopian fiction. There is intensity and mystery and suspense, and refreshingly, no romance or other silly distractions to take away from the heart of the plot. Very enjoyable.

The Salt Line goes on sale TOMORROW!!! Don’t miss it!

Thank you to Penguin Random House and Putnam Books for approving me through the First To Read program in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 

How To Behave In a Crowd – Review

“I guess that’s what happens when you’re the only one to notice a thing: you feel responsible for it.”

How To Behave In A Crowd follows a French family living in a small town in rural France. We get our introduction and view of the family from the youngest son, Isadore. Dory, or Izzy, as he would prefer to be called, feels separate from his family. The rest of his siblings have all skipped grades, shown to be prodigies in one way or another, sometimes multiple ways. Yet Dory is in the grade he belongs and has no idea what he wants to do or who he wants to be.

Rather than presenting a straight forward coming-of-age tale, the Mazal family is struck by a tragedy early in the book. This tragedy becomes the defining moment of the family, and so the book, in how each member moves forward with their grief.

Even though Dory isn’t a prodigy academically, he is prone to observing and understanding people better than the rest of his family. This sensitivity and ability to empathize, is his family’s best shot at healing from their grief.

“I knew my mother thought that of me. That I was kind, and good at reading people’s emotions. What I didn’t understand was why she thought it was a good thing.”

This book was presented as a dark comedy. While I did see the darker aspects of humor in the characters, the comedy of it didn’t quite work for me. I could see the quirks written into each character to make them seem eccentric, aloof, and in their own way, humorous, but it just didn’t work entirely for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book. But rather than finding the humor in the writing, it felt very tragic and sad. Dory was meant to be the one to bring the family together and help them heal, but I didn’t see that happen. In fact, in a rather abrupt ending, we are told about Dory’s role, rather than shown that role.

The fact that Dory feels unseen and out of place is made very clear. I realize that eccentric people can seem cold and unfeeling, when really they have much more depth. In fact, this depth is usually where the humor lies. I think for me; however, we are never really shown that depth from anyone but the mother. We are shown the struggles that Dory’s siblings go through, but how he helps them to resolve those struggles is a little less clear.

By the time I reached the end, and Dory gets hit with another severe emotional trauma, I was fairly fed up with the family. Instead of coming across as eccentric, quirky but well-meaning members, they all came across as self-absorbed and dysfunctional.

I imagine that being the youngest of six children would make any child feel somewhat invisible. I can also understand how living a normal life in a family of prodigies would really highlight that feeling. But the siblings all felt too absorbed in their own intellect to really try and connect with each other. I didn’t get the sense of a big family, full of unique personalities, challenging each other. Instead, the siblings were all involved in their own projects, their own lives, and had a difficult time connecting. One scene described all the siblings home, the visitor asking if Dory was by himself due to the quietness of the home. It gave the impression of a home that is sterile, cold, devoid of any warmth that a family should provide. Again, it felt more dysfunctional to me, rather than eccentric. Having the mother emphasize Dory’s kindness and empathy only drives home that the other siblings aren’t.

“Sometimes, I feel like I brought up a batch of little misanthropes,” she said. “You’re all so intolerant. You only look up from your books to criticize the rest of the world.”

The trauma Dory experiences, both instances of it, leave him with an anger that demands an outlet. I really would have enjoyed that anger land him in some sort of trouble that forces the family to rally around him. When you hear the book compared to The Royal Tennenbaums, you can easily picture this crisis. It would have provided the siblings and even the mother the chance to redeem their quirks, their selfishness, their lack of interaction. Instead, we are given half attempts from half of the family. His anger is somewhat released, left largely unaddressed and there isn’t a clear path forward when the novel closes.

Ambiguity in a character isn’t a problem for me. Life ends nightly on unknowns for all of us. In general, I love when a novel shows the openness and possibility at the end, and if fits the character. In this case, I had no sense of hope for Dory. There was no sense that the siblings would ever be involved in his life, or change their efforts in regards to him. the mother did seem to be more aware of his struggles and there was hope that she would perhaps change, but given how small her role in the family was in relation to Dory, I’m not sure that was as satisfying as it could have been.

In all, the book was melancholy and sad. I felt terrible for Dory throughout the entire book. This kid needed friends, family support and most of the time a really big hug. Perhaps that’s the American in me. Maybe it was a cultural translation that didn’t work for me. I’m not sure, but whatever the reason I just didn’t connect with this family.

Thank you to the Penguin Random House First to Read program and Crown Publishing for the early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Dying Game – Review

“This is where we’ll place you when you’re dead.”

These are the words that Anna hopes will lead to her freedom.

Anna Francis is a single mother living in a future totalitarian Swedish society. The year is 2037 and the future is bleak. Anna is back at her old job, barely surviving her day to day life, when she is called to meet with The Chairman. In the meeting she is given the opportunity that may save her life. Participate in one task, 48 hours of service, and in exchange receive a sum of money that will enable her to live the rest of her life in peace.

A group of individuals will be placed on an isolated island, Isola. They are all being evaluated for a position high in the government. Anna will be murdered the first night, and then remain hidden behind the walls to observe how each candidate handles the stress of this extreme situation.

Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem, and the moment she sees Henry, a man from her past, things get complicated for Anna very quickly. First, the Doctor with whom Anna is partners in the truth with, also gets murdered. Or does she? Anna sees her dead body, but is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, neither the body or the Doctor is anywhere to be found. And then the others begin to disappear, one by one.

While we try and figure out what is actually happening on the island, we learn that Anna was suffering already from some fairly serious PTSD from her previous assignment. And the more we learn about her past, the more we begin to wonder what the true intention of this test is. And if anyone was intended to make it off the island at all.

Anyone who is a fan of Black Mirror will love this novel. As in the show, the plot and twists aren’t shocking for the sake of shock, but more subtle and nuanced. They are events that unfold slowly and then all at once. Each glimpse into Anna’s past makes the current events more foreboding and suspicious. And the reality of what could be happening is frightening.

Avdic does a brilliant job with the details of writing this society. The drabness of clothing, details within elaborate government buildings to contrast the rest of the surroundings, even cobblestone bombed streets, all serve to paint a dreary picture. You feel that you are in Cold War-esque Germany or Russia. A society where everyone is the same, trying to blend in while the leaders show their differences in opulence alone. It all lends to a sense of reality that sometimes dystopians are lacking. There aren’t high tech tricks to move the plot along. It simply drives forward in the uncomfortable reality we can so easily envision.

Woven into alternating narration are chapters from Henry’s perspective. These are fewer than Anna’s, but serve to give us a better look at Anna herself. How Henry sees her. Which doesn’t seem important on the surface of the story, but it is vital to the ending.

The final twist isn’t so much shocking, as it is twisted. You feel complicit in the manipulation, even though you’re just the reader. This is a book of political intrigue, yes, but also one of psychological warfare. How far will a government go to control their people. What extremes will they consider? As you read the end, it isn’t so much the extreme of events but how realistic they could be that are the most haunting.

It is the chilling reality of this novel that makes is so terrifying. The day to day lives of citizens in this society is in all ways controlled. The extremes that Anna’s mother took, and that even Anna herself considers, all illustrate this control. While it may seem that Anna had a choice in the initial assignment we know she doesn’t. ‘No’ is not something this government humors.

The Dying Game is a classic dystopian reminiscent of Huxley and Orwell. It isn’t lengthy but packs a concise punch within it’s pages. And like Huxley and Orwell, this isn’t a novel about the government or the world they live in. It is a dissection of human experience. Of how psychology plays a role in submitting to such a totalitarian regime. It is an examination of the human psyche.

I read this book in a day. Anyone who has a love for the classics, and especially an appreciation for the twisted manipulations of Black Mirror should enjoy this novel.

Thank you Penguin Random House and their First To Read Program for the opportunity to read this early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Address – Review

“We all have our own magnificent prisons, even the queen, I’d venture.”

I love how fitting this quote is for both narrators in The Address. Each woman, separated by a hundred years, is trapped in a prison unique to them.

Sara, a woman in the 1880’s, running a hotel in England before being hired to run a new Apartment building in America is prisoner to the edicts of her time. A woman can only do so much, say so much, and really, are quite powerless in a male dominated society. Not quite nobility, yet not quite working class, she isn’t sure where she fits and only wants to find her way.

“Her mother had done her a disservice, constantly reminding her of her blood connection to nobody, while at the same time cursing her bastardy. She didn’t know where she belonged.”

Bailey, living in the 1980’s, isn’t as constrained by society as Sara once was, but finds herself in a prison nonetheless. Hers are more self imposed though, the bars made up of the drugs and alcohol she is addicted to. Bailey is also trying to find her way, wanting to know who she is and where she comes from, since her familial past has always been shrouded in mystery.

There is quite a bit to enjoy in this novel. First, historical novels are always a favorite of mine to get lost in, especially one as rich as detailed as the one Davis creates. It isn’t just the time and place that we get a sense of, but also, how difficult it was to simply be a woman. Sara, no matter how successful she is, continues to find herself at the mercy of men. The pieces focused on the asylum are chilling but again, convey a realistic sense of injustice women faced constantly.

Sara and Bailey are connected to each other, though neither knows it. Bailey unravels the mystery of the Dakota and her great-grandfathers murder, while Sara gives us the added details leading up to the murder. This is something else I love in novels. When we get to see a mystery from multiple perspectives, each chapter giving us another sliver, another glimpse, each section strategic in it’s reveal.

I quite enjoy when novels intertwine stories like this. At the beginning we think we know the story. We have the answer, and are simply filling in the details. Except, as the story proceeds, more questions emerge. It’s fascinating to me, because I think this is how history happens. We think we know answers. We think we know the facts. But just because a narrative fits, it doesn’t mean it’s the truth.

Using the Gilded Age was also brilliant. There is underlying discussion on things we desire. Sometimes we want what we can’t have. But we also tend to glamorize those things. Think that they are better and more perfect, than perhaps they really are. Sara wants Theo to be her partner, her husband, her everything. She sees his wife as cold and distant, unappreciative of what she has. Bailey wants to belong by blood, not just name, to the Camden family. She sees her cousin Melinda as spoiled and shallow. Each wants what they don’t have, focused so intently on what they’re missing, perhaps they don’t see what they have in front of them.

“You know, I never really thought about the fact that it was called the Gilded Age, as opposed to say, the Golden Age. That the era was all about money and the illusion of success, as opposed to offering anything truly valuable. Reminds me of New York City these days, to be honest with you.”

So much of the Gilded Age was seen as shiny on the surface, yet harsh underneath. A pretty exterior to cover the plainness below. And so much of the plot fits that description. The surface shows one thing, while hidden beneath is where the truth lies.

Theo, it turns out isn’t quite all that he seems. And neither is his wife. These lies and manipulations unfold leaving Sara to make a quick decision that impacts everyone far into the future. This one decision, her choice, impacts Bailey profoundly.

Anyone trying to uncover the hidden truths of the past will struggle with never actually knowing the entire truth. We can only see what is left to us, and decipher these clues as best we can. Sometimes we may get close, other times the truth is nothing near what we could ever have guessed. And I love it when authors are able to give us a story that shows this struggle.

Davis is able to give us a sense of both the 1880’s and the 1980’s. Times both known for excess in New York, yet she gives us the perspective of women trying to fit into those worlds. We see the dark side of the city, the pieces that these times would want us to overlook and forget. There is an allure to success, but there is also always a cost.

I also really liked how Davis used the idea of legacy. The important families in the 1880’s were defined by their legacies. It was often the most important thing to them. What people would think, who would carry their names forward and what history would say about them. By the 1980’s, many of the families in Sara’s time have died out, or faded into obscurity. Buildings have changed, the city has changed, the legacy isn’t what their ancestors dreamed.

Bailey wants to find her history, even though her personal legacy is embroiled in bitterness and anger. Her father wants nothing to do with the Camden’s, believing his grandfather was shunned and rejected. The legacy of even the building, The Dakota, changes over time. In Bailey’s time it is in the midst of evermore change as the shooting of Lennon has once again marked it’s exterior.

This book is an excellent examination of women’s role in society. Their power and powerlessness, both in equal measure. It’s a look at what we want, and what happens when we get it. Can women be passionate without being insane? Can we be successful without losing ourselves? What are we willing to lose to keep the ones we love safe? How far will we go for that love?

The Address shows how strong women have been throughout history. It gives brilliant insight into the roles of women versus men, rich versus poor, and the lengths we go to for love.

This book goes on sale August 1.

Thank you to Penguin Random House, Dutton Books and the First To Read program for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Readymade Thief – Review

“What do you do when the one true thing in your life turns out to be a lie?”

Lee Cuddy is used to being invisible. She isn’t seen by her father, who leaves without a goodbye or even a forwarding address. She isn’t seen by her mother, who quickly succumbs to her new boyfriends whims and wishes. She isn’t even really seen by her peers, until she becomes useful to them.

“It wasn’t that they teased her or ostracized her or thought her weird, but none of them seemed to see her, either.”

All of this invisibility makes stealing easy and she quickly graduates to shoplifting. This readymade ability quickly gives her a reputation and she finds a place in popularity as Edie takes her under her wing.

But, easy come, easy go, and betrayal follows when Edie finds her the easiest way out of her own troubles.

Lee quickly sees that it isn’t just Edie that is quick to dispose of her. Her own mother, guided by Steve, allows her to take the fall, refusing to even give her the money she stashed for her defense. Life in the Juvenile Detention Center is worse than anything thrown at her so far, and a nervous breakdown lands her in the psych ward. But lower security also provides the opportunity for a quiet and invisible girl to find a way out.

The Readymade Thief is a novel that is both fast paced and maddeningly slow. This combination doesn’t seem possible, and yet it is. Every page is written so that you know something is happening, but you aren’t quite sure what. The result is you feel as on edge and unsure as Lee.

Once Lee escapes from JDC we are introduced to even more subterfuge and intrigue. We are thrown into the world of secret societies and underground movements. The S.A. parties continue to pop up, inviting her to join their world, except her gut instinct screams to stay away. Fear for her friend Edie, even after her betrayal, compels her to go searching and almost leads to disaster.

Tomi, a mysterious young man, saves her and takes her in. He introduces her to life underground, the world of abandoned building hunts and secrets of the Subnet. She wants to trust him but every turn in her life has led to betrayal and lies. Still, it’s easy to fall into his earnestness, especially given her connection to him.

Lee discovers that S.A., a secret society devoted to uncovering the hidden puzzles and meanings behind the artwork of Marcel Duchamp. She unwillingly and unknowingly finds herself at the heart of their obsession. Somehow they think she is a key to their mystery, even though she has no idea how. No matter where she turns, or what she does, she finds herself a pawn in their games, time and time again. They are always one step ahead, always surrounding her, always controlling the circumstances of her life.

This secret society is obsessed with more than just art. They are also responsible for a chilling new drug that leaves its users docile and empty. Creatures willing to do anything suggested with little or no reaction. Unable to take care of themselves, many of them end up in JDC or worse; the Crystal Castle.

This book has a lot of layers going on in it. It is easy to get overwhelmed, or lost in the information. You want to keep pushing ahead to find out what is happening, but I found myself going back to reread portions at a slower pace to really understand what was being said. This is a book that needs more than one read through to really appreciate all the detail and nuance written into the plot.

One of the examples of the level of detail and intricacy is the title. Duchamp created artworks that he called ‘readymades’. Essentially, he viewed art of the time as ‘retinal art’. Easy to look at and pleasing to the eye, but there wasn’t anything more in depth than that. His response was to take everyday items and make minor changes to them, thus instantly turning them into art. Readymade art. The title, Readymade Thief, refers to Lee, already a shoplifter and petty thief, who has been repurposed for the societies use.

Usually, reading the line of phrase that uses the title of a book is a quick AHA moment. One that makes sense in terms of a character or event. In this case, the moment isn’t written out or explained by the author so much as hinted at. You are led to it, able to uncover it’s meaning as you read. I think it’s very clever.

There is a lot of art history, specifically to the work of Duchamp. I have no idea how much is based in truth and how much created for fiction. Some parts of this history lesson got very confusing for me. It was a lot of information given. Again, I think this is an example of why the book needs more than one reading. There is just so much to dissect at once.

Rose manages to pull off quite an elaborate story. There are clues placed at the very beginning that aren’t noticed until they are pointed out later. Things suddenly make sense, and the level of betrayal in Lee’s life is astounding. Everything in this novel is connected somehow, even if you can’t see how or why, you will in the end. The pure genius is that the end answers questions you didn’t even know you had.

This book will be enjoyable for anyone who loves mysteries and suspense novels. The art history is impressive and I can’t imagine the amount of research that went into composing this plot. It’s astounding! Weaving the art into a secret society will delight any conspiracy theory lover.

Thank you First to Read, Penguin Random House and Viking books for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.