The City of Brass – Review

“There’s no magic, no djinn, no spirits waiting to eat us up.”

Nahri doesn’t believe in magic. Even if proof exists in her ability to heal, both herself and others. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a part of her. Not a magical being there to grant wishes of her every whim. She’s just a con artist, hustling her way to something resembling a decent life in Cairo.

When one of her cons accidentally conjures Dara, a powerful djinn warrior, Nahri finds herself running from enemies she never knew existed, to a city she’s never heard of, to seek sanctuary from people she never believed in.

But once she reaches Daevabad, her life doesn’t become any safer. Court politics and centuries old tensions surround her at every turn. Nahri once dreamed of being a powerful healer. Of having wealth and luxury and fame. They do say, be careful what you wish for.

“The abilities that had once kept a roof over her head had become a curse, this connection with long-dead relatives she’d never known a plague on her life.”

The City Of Brass is one beautiful fantasy novel! Chakraborty brings the landscape of the Middle East to life with lush descriptions. You can smell the cedar chips burning in the rooms, and luxuriate in the sandalwood perfuming the air. Breathe in the jasmine and frankincense of the gardens, drink in the rose petals in the Grand Bazaar, while sipping sweet Hibiscus tea. Every texture, sound, scent and flavor is described simply yet effectively and it makes you yearn to surround yourself in the magic of scenery that Chakraborty weaves.

Along with the perspective of Nahri, we get Alizayd, a young idealistic Prince struggling to find his own way in the city. He wants to revolutionize what he sees as his father’s corrupt regime, but doing so isn’t as easy as he initially thinks. Choices he makes have devastating consequences.

Mystery surrounds Dara, but not just around him. The more Nahri learns, the more it seems like everyone has hidden agendas and secrets in the city of brass. Nahri wants to be left alone, but quickly learns that this isn’t an option. Whether she likes it or not, she is at the center of a war she doesn’t understand and can’t hope to control. Her friendship with both Dara and the young Prince only makes it more confusing and difficult for her.

“To keep walking a path between loyalty to your family and loyalty to what you know is right. One of these days, you’re going to have to make a choice.”

Both Ali and Nahri discover that not everything is what they thought, and that there are things happening around them that they can’t possibly begin to understand. They will have to re-examine everything they think they know and face choices more difficult than anything they’ve ever faced before.

The way Chakraborty presents the characters, it isn’t easy to pin a definitive good or bad on anyone. It is a complex society with a muddied history, and all sides make questionable choices both in the past and the present. Which makes the prospect of the next two books in the trilogy even  more exciting because I honestly have no idea which direction this story can go.

“She felt for him–truly. It was frustrating when someone upended your well-laid plans.”

I love when characters and plots reside firmly in the mucky grey area of moral ambiguity. Writing from the perspective of good versus evil is just too easy. I prefer a more complicated point of view, and starting with a con artist as one of the main characters places us dead center in murky.

Prince Ali is also fantastic writing and character development. He is righteous, but Chakraborty makes sure that he sees that even his beliefs aren’t black and white. That he must face hard truths in order to really stand behind his beliefs, and that his beliefs might end with just as much blood shed as he wants to stop. The similarities to current racial and religious conflicts are woven into his story line. Which gives the entire book a richer and more in depth texture.

Everything in this book is vivid and filled with beautiful writing. But the plot is well paced, with just enough world building and adventure to make you feel that you are well ensconced in the landscape with Nahri and Ali. And the mystery. Just when you think things are going to be resolved, new mysteries and intrigues are presented. The last few chapters of the book end in a maddening combination of satisfaction and immediately needing more. Have I mentioned that 2019 is WAY TOO LONG TO WAIT FOR THE NEXT BOOK?????

I absolutely loved the setting, and feel like I haven’t read enough fantasy in this area or with this particular mythology. I devoured this world, and fell in love with every single thing in this book. The City of Brass immediately became my new book obsession!

Anyone who loves good fantasy, with solid world building, breathtaking pacing, questionable characters and a whopping heap of adventure will fall in love with this book. Absolutely stunning book!

Exquisite – Review

“I was suspicious of love and what it did to people – those dark depths of anguish and horror; the thought of it all made me shudder.”

Bo Luxton has the life everyone wants. A successful writing career, loyal husband and two adorable daughters. She is the very picture of happiness and contentment. All she wants is to share her happiness with others. To help guide fresh new talent into the literary world, giving back to the world that has given her so much.

Alice Dark is young and lost. Full of hidden but unused talent, she writes an entry to a writing retreat, expecting it to end in nothing but disappointment like every endeavor before. To her surprise, she is selected and given the chance at everything she’s ever wanted.

From the moment Bo read Alice’s words, she knew this was the young talent she had been looking for. And from the moment Alice spoke with Bo, she knew this was a woman whose wisdom could guide her. Mentor and mentee. Two paths destined to cross and become entwined. So how does it all go wrong?

This book is breathtaking in it’s intensity! Every page has you swept into the story, the suspense building with a subtlety that is, well, exquisite. You know something is off, but it’s difficult to put your finger on it. For the life of me, I could not tell which direction Stovell was taking me. I only knew it was going to be a dark and twisted path.

“There’s only one direction this can go, and that is straight to hell.”

We are given the story of Alice and Bo in parts. The first is a story, a woman in prison, but where and when is yet to be determined. Is she a narrator, a story from one of the writers, or a third party yet to be presented? And then we get chapters from both Bo and Alice’s perspectives. These are alternating until after the retreat, where we get only Alice and then only Bo. And then back to alternating as we get closer to the truth.

Each side is presented, with their own slant told. And Stovell is masterful in her writing, never giving us enough clues to get a grasp on what’s actually taking place. Page after page has us feeling as if we are trapped in a cage of quicksand and fog. Nothing is steady, nothing is sure, except that someone is lying.

“The thing about being hurt badly is that the only person who can make you feel better is the person who hurt you, and so you keep going back and they keep making you better, but then they hurt you again, and so it goes on.”

Exquisite kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I never knew who to trust, who was the victim and who was the assailant. Even when Stovell unveiled the details, the truth was so sinister, it hits you in the gut, hard and unexpected. Again, the word exquisite fits so perfectly, because that level of story telling is exquisite. You know something is coming, and yet it still manages to hit you by surprise. The title perfect in so many ways.

I am a huge fan of psychological plots, especially where the characters are so deeply complex it’s difficult to fault them for their flaws, and Stovell does not disappoint. But there’s also a deeper villain uncovered, and the cold, sinister motivations are chilling and pathological. We are introduced to someone unrelenting and unapologetic in their behavior, and that persona is truly terrifying. To be lulled into complacency, into sympathizing with someone this evil in nature gets under your skin. Stovell has given us a villain that really does make you stay awake at night because this is the type of villain that is real.

If you are a fan of psychological suspense or thrillers, you need to get your hands on this book. It is masterful in it’s suspense, brilliant in it’s psychology, and breathtaking in it’s twists. In all, this book is exquisite.

Thank you Orenda Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Bad Dream Notebook – Review

“That’s what Americans are supposed to do. There’s no excuse for hanging on to negative emotions in this country.”

The Bad Dream Notebook is a novel about grief, loss, addiction and recovery. Erica Mason just lost her husband. Her daughter Mona just lost her dad. Chronic back pain turned out to be terminal cancer.

The book starts after John’s death, with Erica doing community service. Except, it isn’t her crimes she’s doing penance for. It’s Mona’s.

From the beginning, we get the sense of grief Erica is under. Her grief is not just for her husband. But for the daughter she lost as well. Mona is alive and kicking, but addiction has taken her away from Erica nonetheless.

“Living with an addicted child is a form of warfare leading almost inevitably to some form of PTSD.”

Its difficult for Erica to simply grieve for John. She feels guilty for the days leading to his death, as most people struggling with long-term illness do. Did she do enough? Did she make the right decisions?

Those emotions alone would be difficult enough to deal with. But you add in her daughter’s spiraling addiction, which triggers it’s own whirlwind of guilt and grief, and Erica is struggling to keep herself together.

“If one more person asked how she was feeling these blank, black days, she fantasized about turning on them like a wild animal, screaming.”

All of these emotions weigh heavily on Erica, and since she struggles to deal with them consciously, her subconscious takes over. In order to make sense of her dreams, she begins to keep a notebook. Sometimes written descriptions, sometimes fast sketches, but she keeps them in order to make sense of them.

We get the book not just through Erica’s memories and perspective, but we also get a few chapters via Mona. The transition from memory to present is a little jarring at times, and I did find myself having to backtrack and reread to figure out the timeline quite a few times. It could have been written that way deliberately, as a way to show the erratic nature of Erica’s mind and how seamlessly she slipped into memory versus staying in the present. If so, it does give us the jarring effect of how living with the stress of illness, both John’s cancer and Mona’s addiction can wreak havoc on everyone in the house.

We get a very really sense of the difficulty in having an addicted child. Erica displays very codependent behaviors. Some of these are surprising given her own experiences with addiction, but perhaps not so surprising. Mona is her only child. After losing her husband, the fear of losing her child and really becoming alone must feel so big and terrifying to Erica.

“That’s my girl. Mona Grey, their, liar, unemployed – unemployable – dropout, skin-and-bones nightmare of a daughter. Who I produced. My fault. My misery. My little girl.”

It’s true that both an addict and the people that surround them need to hit rock bottom before change happens. Dahl takes us through how bad life can get before that bottom is hit. For both Erica and for Mona. Because it isn’t just the addict that addiction impacts. It effects everyone around them. Dahl captures the horror and helplessness that fuels both of their negative spiraling emotions.

The Bad Dream Notebook is a very raw, emotional journey into the pain that many people struggle with every day. At times infuriating, at times heartbreaking, Dahl doesn’t try to sugar coat the emotions or decisions that both Erica and Mona make.

I did like how each chapter gave us a glimpse into some of the dreams that both Erica and Mona had. They are brief and give us more a feel of the nightmares rather than the details, which I really liked, since that’s how most people remember their dreams. In snippets and snapshots.

This book may be difficult for people who have either struggled with addition, or known someone close who has struggled. It may also be hard if you’re going through any kind of grief. But, this is a book that may also help examine your own internal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes reading a similar experience can help us not feel so alone.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC 2017!

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.

Chatting with Val – The Reminders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, we talked about book tours.

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

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

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

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

Please visit his YouTube channel HERE

You can buy your copy of The Reminders HERE

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

 

 

The Guineveres – Review

“Stories are like that; they seek to unravel.”

The Guineveres is a haunting coming of age story told by Vere, one of four Guineveres living in a convent, being raised by nuns. These four girls aren’t the only girls there, but they are all Guineveres, and so they form an unspoken bond through their shared name.

The Guineveres hate the convent. They want nothing more than to go home. The monotony of their daily lives is interrupted when four soldiers are brought to the sick ward. The soldiers are lost to the world, frozen in comas, no one knows who they are. The Guineveres see the soldiers as they see themselves: unfortunate souls sent to the convent to be forgotten. As their name bound the girls together, their shared fate ties the soldiers to the girls.

“Maybe thats the ordinary angst of teenage girls. the desire to believe their existences are worth something.”

While Vere narrates the story, this really is a story about all four girls. Slowly, we learn of their Revival Stories, the story of what brought them to the convent. Each story is heartbreaking and painful, the choices of adults delivering the consequences to the child. Some are understandable, some are horrific, but each story defines the girl who bears it.

It doesn’t take long for the idea of these comatose soldiers to become theirs, claimed in their hearts through the will of their imaginations. While they sleep, they can be anyone, do anything. The possibility of each boy is endless.

“Happiness, girls, is a matter of where you place your attention.”

The Guineveres is beautifully written, with gorgeous sentences that perfectly capture the brevity and beauty of growing up. While The War, and The War Effort are referred to frequently in the book, there is a historical ambiguity to which actual time period this book is set in. It could be World War I, it could be World War II, it could be Vietnam, there really is no way to be sure. And that also lends to the abandonment the girls feel. Time has no meaning in the convent, since the Sisters insist “they live on God’s time”.

This idea of timelessness also resonates in the idea of waiting. The Guineveres are always waiting. Waiting until they’re 18, waiting for their boys to wake up, waiting for something to happen. The irony in this notion, is that all teenagers mark their existence through this idea. We wait to start High School, to learn how to drive, to get our license, to graduate. The sense of time moving slow and of waiting is true of all teenagers to some extent, which only makes you feel for the Guineveres even more.

As teenagers are prone to do, The Guineveres find themselves in situations both confusing and exciting. These situations shape each girl, influence who they become. Each girl, Vere included, must find her own identity and her own path, not as a Guinevere, but as herself. Which is true of all of us, and again, the idea of timelessness aligns perfectly in this concept as well.

“We all hold ideas of who we are, images of ourselves that may or may not be accurate.”

The Guineveres is a novel about a girl growing into a woman. It is an orchestra of words, rising and falling to it’s own melody. It creates a rhythm and you can’t help but be enchanted with the result. Through Vere, we relive our own tumultuous teenage angst, we rediscover why growing up can be so difficult, so hard, and so deeply painful.

“There was no commandment governing the confusion of teenage girls nor the tempest of emotions that raged inside us at that moment.”

While religion is a major aspect of the plot, this book isn’t a religious book. Religion isn’t the point. The setting could have been an orphanage or a group home, and the journey of self-discovery would have been the same. However, the setting does serve for more dramatic moments that are made more shocking and more heartbreaking because of it.

To add another layer to the rich storytelling, Domet weaves throughout the narration tales of actual Saints. Each woman described lived through their own horrors and heartbreaks, and died in pursuit of their own truth. These stories give you a sense of Vere, who she is, as she is the most devout of the group. These stories also give you a sense of the heaviness being raised in strict religious surroundings can have on a girl. How they may rebel, or fall into the fold of faith, or somewhere in between.

I was left with the desire to hug these girls, to whisper that everything will be okay someday, because I felt the tragedy of adolescence within these pages. I remember wanting to believe in things bigger than myself, and letting my imagination and heart run wilder than was wise. I recognized that teenage longing to have someone assure you that life does get better, that this suffering too ends, and that to someone you matter.

The Guineveres is a stunning debut novel that will leave it’s imprint within you. Sarah Domat brings to life these girls, letting us see deep within their souls. Without needing a time or a place to hold the plot straight, or give her story relevance or meaning, she created a book that will last. She based her story around a universal truth, that growing up is difficult no matter where you are, or who you are, or when you happen to be living. It all feels the same, though the details vary.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing is beautiful as well as the story and I look forward to seeing what novels Domet writes next.

Thank you BookSparks and Flatiron Books for sending me a copy to read for review!

A Review: The Hot Guy

The Hot GuyThe Hot Guy by Mel Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the premise of this book, and really wanted it to be more. It sounded fun, had some really funny, witty writing and even had a decent plot line.

Which makes this a difficult review to write, because I did enjoy the read. But, in order to enjoy it, I had to suspend my belief in how things work in the real world. And not in a fantasy, action adventure, use your imagination to dream big type of suspension. More like, I had to believe that simply waving a ridiculously attractive man on a Jumbotron would be enough to cause a stampede of women trying to simply touch him.

Unfortunately, for me, it was a bit too ridiculous. It was also a bit sexist, so be warned. (See example above)

In this town, there is one guy, a ridiculously attractive guy, that every woman knows as ‘The Hot Guy’. This guy is the balm to every woman’s need. Simply show up at the bar he regularly attends, flirt, and BAM! Your problems are solved.

Obviously, there are issues with this one plot point alone. Women do not need a hot guy to validate their beauty, importance, intelligence, etc. Nor do they not need to have sex in order to feel better about themselves. And they certainly don’t need a meaningless one night stand.

I’ll suspend my irritation on this, and go with the more empowering view that women can do whatever they like, including sleeping with a man, for one night, for whatever reason they want. Fine. Good. But, the whole idea is to sleep with him to get over another man. In order to find ‘the one’. It’s a bit of a stretch for me. Moving on.

When Cate gets dumped by her mediocre boyfriend, she finds herself in said slump. So, her friends jump to action taking her to meet, ‘The Hot Guy’. Somehow Cate is the only woman in this area who has no idea this is a thing.

Anyway, she sleeps with him and finds she really likes him. So the one night stand, turns into a weekend, which turns into more.

Her friends, knowing how to handle all her relationship woes, are adamantly opposed to this. They tell her she can’t handle dating someone that hot. It’s too much pressure. Someone else can take him away. When she refuses to listen, they try to create chaos to help the break up along. Who needs enemies, right?

Adam, however, is apparently completely oblivious to how hot he is. He has no idea that women have been using him for sex his entire life, or that he is a commodity in this small town. All he wants to do is direct, and doesn’t understand why everyone just wants him to act.

There is an attempt in this plot to use the man as a sex object and sex symbol, and the women as the ones in positions of power. He just wants to find a nice girl and settle down, while fulfilling his dreams. Even being pushed into acting is a focus on using him for his body, and not his mind. I appreciate the attempt to highlight sexism in this way.

However, it just didn’t hit the target for me.

Let’s take the women. First, we are to believe that women are willing to work together in the name of sisterhood so that everyone can take their turn with ‘The Hot Guy’. Yet, the second he dates one seriously, all bets are off. They kidnap Cate, they threaten her, they try to bribe her, all to break up with Adam. So much for sisterhood.

I was hoping for a Bridget Jones-esque romp through the hilarious and often painful world of dating. Love is messy, but it can also be painfully funny. Instead, we are given an outlandish mockery of these ideas.

When you have his parents hoisting ladders to his bedroom window (so she can escape in the middle of the night, like the rest), strange side plots with ex-girlfriends, and a group of obsessed women who have a Facebook page and a waiting list (yes, I am not making that up), well, it’s a bit too much.

The difference with Bridget Jones, is that while I’ve never slid down a fireman pole in a skirt on National Television personally, I can see it happening. I can even see myself doing it, if the circumstances were aligned. With The Hot Guy, I just didn’t buy it.

Before Brad Pitt was Brad Pitt, he was attractive. But he wasn’t women losing their minds attractive because he wasn’t Brad Pitt yet. He was just good looking guy X. And while he like looking at good looking guys, and may even find ourselves doing ridiculous things to gain their attention, I’ve never heard of women losing their minds over some random guy.

I also didn’t buy that Adam was clueless. How many one night stands does a guy think is normal? I mean, every Friday for years. Enough to have a Facebook page and women lined up? His parents helping girls escape in the night so that they didn’t have to explain to him that women wanted him only for his looks? Nope. Not buying it.

Even with those issues, there are some genuinely funny parts. The writing is witty. The characters are true to themselves, ridiculousness and all. If you could suspend the disbelief, and just enjoy it at face value, it is a funny read.

I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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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.

April wrap up

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

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

Here’s a quick recap:

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

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

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

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

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

A review: Running Beyond Empty

Running Beyond EmptyRunning Beyond Empty by Ben Kruser

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Amazon: Fun and entertaining, Running Beyond Empty explores the many challenges faced by mother and daughter when their world crumbles.

Dinah is suddenly jobless and forced to move in order to provide for herself and Selah, who is hurt, angry and confused. Face-to-face with life’s realities, their emotions are stretched by the new people and events in their lives. Both learn to stand up to obnoxious folks and find that their hard work helps them stay focused on their goals.

The empowerment of caring relationships carries Selah and Dinah through heartbreak and loss as they discover that running starts with believing in yourself. Ultimately their resiliency opens up new hopes and dreams — shared with Bill and Norm, the two special men in their lives.

Enriched by many colorful characters — Johnny Pancakes, Blackie, Patsy, Wawaneehi — the story of these two feisty women will capture your imagination.

This book started out promising. I liked the characters, it had an interesting premise, and was funny. I liked how the chapters were presented as miles in a marathon. That detail supported how the author used running and training to run as the driving force to the plot line.

But, the book just didn’t hit the target for me. The writing style was difficult to adjust to. It felt like the characters all rambled and gave speeches where they announced their thoughts and decisions and motivations. I could not hear realistic dialogue in most of the conversations.

The pacing was also off. I felt like characters made decisions that simply fit with the plot, rather than because that was what any reasonable person would do. Or, even, what any unreasonable person would do. They just didn’t feel genuine or realistic to me. Because the characters tend to talk a lot, and reveal everything while talking, I just didn’t feel that there was any mystery to the plot. When things unraveled, there was no aha! moment, or surprise to the events. If anything, I felt more frustrated at the lack of mystery. There was no compelling pull to keep reading.

Overall, this was a fast read, and did have it’s funny parts. It is a very sweet story, with a lot of emphasis on believing in yourself and the power of kindness.

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

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