Gridley Girls – Review

“Once upon a time there was a diary.”

Gridley Girls is a debut novel that reads part memoir, part fiction. The story is based on true events. Even though we get a look at a few aspects of the truth, we don’t know all of the truth versus the fiction. And because it’s based on true events, this novel read as a hybrid novel, with some pieces reading more as fiction and others more as a memoir. It’s easy to imagine that this was indeed very close to how the author grew up. Even if it isn’t, the writing is so distinct and full of personality, it feels as if you’re hearing her talk rather than reading a story.

Meg Monahan grew up in Gridley California. Like her parents before her, and their parents before them. She knows nearly everyone in the town. Secrets are hard to keep secret, yet somehow Meg is always the one people confide in, expecting that she keep their confessions safe.

“Mainly I just stay private. That’s hard for you to imagine since you live your life out loud, but it’s easier for us to be private.”

After she is chosen to be a peer counselor her freshman year, this confidence gets pushed to the limits as she receives information that is simply too much for her to handle on her own. It’s easier to keep a secret when it’s your choice. Meg finds that the expectation of confidence, combined with the heavier secrets, makes the burden that much harder to bear.

The novel is told through the eyes of an adult Meg, deciding if she can stomach uprooting her family to the unthinkable reaches of Minnesota, and a teenage Meg going through her freshman year of High School. The events that unfold during her teenage years all carry through and show their relevance to her adult life as the book progresses.

We are all shaped by the things that happen to us growing up. Tragedy and triumph alike can leave indelible marks and shape the adults we become. For Meg, these secrets that her peers trusted her with became nearly too much. When she confides in a trusted friend, and is overheard, that guilt follows her into adulthood.

“In my mind, I was out of control. Who was I going to tell next? My parents? The mailman? Nothing was stopping my giant mouth. My fears were ruling my life.”

This book is a hybrid in another sense. The pieces of Meg’s high school years are very fitting for a YA novel. Not just because she is an adolescent. But because there are some very good lessons and messages written within those pages. Topics like teenage sex, struggling to reconcile your religious beliefs with the reality of life around you, abortion, homosexuality, death and mental illness are all brought up and examined in a thoughtful way.

The messages aren’t preached to you, and they aren’t drilled down or overly dramatized. Some are more dominant than others, and not all of them have lessons learned or even closure written to them. But they are excellent conversation starters and serve to open the door for closer examination.

They hit home because they are told in first person, from the eyes of a teenage girl. Her reaction is what you would expect them to be: scared and confused. This allows for her to ask for advice, and to analyze her own thoughts to try and process how to feel. It was an excellent representation of how confusing adolescence can be.

It’s balanced with the adult years, and the lesson that life doesn’t always make sense once you reach adulthood. There are still struggles and tragedies mixed in with the good times and triumphs.

“I guess that’s the whole point: the attempt to understand, the attempt to love. It’s when we stop trying to understand and stop trying to love that everything falls apart.”

This book is a very fun read, and at the end, First throws in a guide to seventies pop culture. This will be especially helpful to younger readers who may have no idea what actors, shows, music, or even general culture references are made during her teenage years. For those who do remember, this book will be a fun blast into the past.

Sometimes pop culture can be tricky to write into a plot without sounding out of place or forced, but First writes it in fluidly, making them part of the scenery and not overly obnoxious. It feels very natural, because it stems from Meg. Of course that’s how she would make sense of her world, because it is her world.

It did take me a few chapters to adjust to the writing style. It can feel a bit choppy, and you feel that while reading. Once I got to know Meg a bit, and realized that an adolescent girl who talks a mile a minute when she’s nervous probably would talk like that, it became more natural to read. Again, because it reads part fiction and part memoir, the fluidity of the writing does change a bit between chapters. It requires the reader to adjust to the tone of the chapter, and in part to the change between Meg as a girl and Meg as a woman.

Overall I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of humor in First’s writing, both as a teenager and as an adult. She tackles very real topics, not just about growing up, but the world at large. These make the book full of depth. I didn’t grow up in the 70’s, but even still, I felt a lot of nostalgia reading through her experiences. Any teenage girl, regardless of the time and specifics, all feel awkward, and scared, and overwhelmed, and confused during those years. She’s relatable and easy to identify with. Which I think makes this a good book to start conversations with teenage readers. Not to mention, just being able to ask your mom about some of these trends and references to pop culture will definitely start some good conversation, along with some memorable laughs, I’m sure!

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

Angel of Death – Spotlight + GIVEAWAY

Happy Tuesday!!!

Today I am happy to spotlight the book Angel of Death and help promote a giveaway on this blog tour! These amazing tours and giveaways are hosted by Rockstar Book Tours and I am so thankful to be included in this one! Be sure to click the banner below to visit their site. And be sure to pop over to all the other fabulous blogs for reviews, spotlights, interviews and more chances to win!!!

ANGEL OF DEATHTormented by dreams and visions from an early age, Emily Dunhurst battled her way through childhood, missed the excitement of teenage years, yet still managed to arrive in her twenties with some shard of sanity.

But, when the Angel of Death appears at her grandmother’s bedside, Emily’s world is remolded in pain and worry. Her ability to see otherworldly creatures is the only way to stop the Creator’s Servant—and save her family. 

However, Emily soon finds out that angels are hard to stop.

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Angel of Death came out yesterday, so be sure to check it out!!!

Angel of Death - Cover

Title: ANGEL OF DEATH

Author: Eamonn Hickson

Pub. Date: December 4, 2017

Publisher: Eamonn Hickson

Pages: 338

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Find it: Goodreads, Amazon

Eamonn

Eamonn Hickson is an Irish author. He released his first novel, The History Maker, in December 2012.

He has undertaken a number of creative writing, and writing for print courses recently.

His second novel, Angel of Death, was released in December 2013.

Twitter | Goodreads

DID SOMEONE SAY…….. GIVEAWAY??????

jeremy-renner

1 winner will receive a finished copy of ANGEL OF DEATH, International.

giveaway_1_CLICK THE GIVEAWAY ABOVE TO ENTER

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And don’t forget to visit the other blogs along the way!!!

Tour Schedule:

12/4/2017- Am Kinda Busy Reading– Review

12/4/2017- A Gingerly Review– Interview

12/5/2017- Jena Brown WritesSpotlight

12/5/2017- BookHounds– Guest Post

12/6/2017- Bookalicious– Review

12/6/2017- Owl Always Be Reading– Excerpt

12/7/2017- Stuffed Shelves– Review

12/7/2017- Confessions of a YA Reader– Guest Post

12/8/2017- Abooktropolis– Review

12/8/2017- Tales of the Ravenous Reader– Excerpt

Rethinking Possible – Review

“For a family who knew so much – whose faith was so deep, love so abiding, and minds filled with mottos designed to keep us focused on the possibilities that were surely ahead – we knew nothing that could have prepared us for that kind of loss.”

Rethinking possible is listed as a memoir. A reflection of one woman’s journey into readjusting her expectations after life decided it wasn’t going to go along with her plans. But more than a story of her journey, there is a message of resilience and optimism that is stunning to read.

Becky Galli was raised as a preacher’s kid in the South. With two strong parents determined to raise their children with a sharp focus only on the possibility of life and a knack for finding the silver lining in any situation, her childhood was full of predictability and hope. Their family motto was ‘what’s planned is possible’ and they firmly believed it.

Even after an accident put her brother in the hospital, she believed he would make it, that he would achieve everything he planned. The shock of his death forever changed their family, tearing it from the solid unit they were to something different.

“I was in a life that wasn’t my own. Didn’t even have the wardrobe for it.”

It’s easy to get up after getting knocked down once, though, and life progressed for Becky according to her now revised plan. After graduating, she married and began to work on her career. With two type A personalities focusing on their life goals, they were determined that nothing would stand in their way. She even gave birth, on schedule, after Joe received his MBA and before she was 30. Everything was right on track. Until it wasn’t.

Galli faces several devastating hits when she learns two of her four children are disabled, and one developmentally delayed. The struggle of facing the extraordinary challenges in raising a family like that is remarkable, but had it’s costs. In her case, it was her marriage. As if divorce isn’t devastating enough, she was hit with a rare inflammation that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Nine days after her divorce finalized.

“After all we’d been through, adventure had become our family’s euphemism for plans with uncertain outcomes. Forget plans; we mostly clung to possibility. Our lives had become one steady stream of rethinking possible.”

The most remarkable thing about this memoir isn’t the amount of tragedy in Rebecca Galli’s life, although she gets more than her fair share. The thing that moved me the most is that she isn’t a saint and she isn’t a victim. She does the best she can every day. Some days are good, and some days aren’t. But every day she does the best with what she has.

“You allow yourself the luxury of wallowing in your own self-pity. You are entitled. Go ahead, experience your pain. But don’t stay down there too long because you can drown, I’ve learned.”

Often when I read memoirs, I can feel a bit chastised. Not because of anything that the author did, or wrote, but because of the way they present their attitudes on life. Some days I throw myself giant pity parties of one. I try not to, but I do. And then you read about someone’s life and how optimistic, or cheerful, or stoic they can be about tragedy and trauma. Sometimes it’s inspiring, and sometimes it’s a bit of a punch to the gut.

But Galli lets you see the good and the bad. She vents. She questions. She wallows. And then she gets up. She finds a new perspective. She moves forward. I get that. I relate to it. I identify with it. She doesn’t always show herself in the best possible light, and so she feels real to me. She’s the woman I would want to call when life gets a little shaky. She may not have the answers, but you know she’s going to at least listen and try. She isn’t going to judge your pain or minimize how you feel.

“Life in all it’s unfairness can never take your attitude. That alone is yours to keep and change. No one does that for you. That is power.”

Life can often feel overwhelming. It can feel hard and big and just too much. There is laughter and happiness and the thousands of tiny moments worth living. But there is also pain, and with pain can come suffering. Galli was hit with a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. But she weathered each storm, and managed to accomplish some impressive feats regardless of the difficulty. She learned acceptance, and she learned that sometimes we have to accept things more than once.

“I found a new motto: ‘Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional’.”

This book came to me at a time when I really needed it the most. Life can sometimes feel like you’ve been thrown into a cage match with no training or warning and are expected to somehow survive. You get up only to get knocked right back down. It is a constant barrage of learning, and adjusting, and accepting. It isn’t easy. But rather than make your struggles feel trivial in comparison to hers, Galli makes them relatable. She makes you feel understood.

And because she writes about her journey in such an honest way, you find that she makes you feel like you’ve just received the pep talk you needed. Her revelations about her own struggles are pointed and clear. Reading through this book, I felt like I was being cheered on, even though this wasn’t about my life. Galli gives you permission to accept life day by day, to be kind to yourself, and to realize that no matter what, you may never have all the answers.

This is a quick read. I was shocked at how fast I read through it. Though the subject matter is heavy, Galli writes with a skilled levity that brings light and warmth to even the toughest of passages. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh, even when you want to cry.

Regardless of what you’re going through in your life, or have gone through, this is a book that will reach everyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stop and ponder the wisdom she offers. I know I will be thinking about her words for a long time.

Thank you Booksparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

I Like You Like This – Review I also

“Hannah always tried her best to hold it together. Tears only made it worse. Eventually she’d gotten used to the tormenting and pretended to be in on the joke.”

Hannah Zandana lives a bleak life. She faces unrelenting bullying at home and at school, and only wants to find a place where she belongs. This desire to fit in has her come up with a plan to buy drugs in order to impress the popular girls at her school. The only positive thing that comes out of this bad plan is gaining the attention of the drug dealer, Deacon.

There may be some minor spoilers in my review, for those who have not read yet. There are also several trigger warnings including drug abuse, verbal abuse, and bullying.

I wanted to like this book. I did. A book with dark themes relevant to teenagers is a book we actually need more of. Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for me.

To start with, the abuse from her parents was odd. They are verbally abusive; perhaps more, but that was really unclear. There is only one drug induced scene, where physical, maybe even sexual violence, is introduced. It was presented to feel like a repressed memory, but it was never brought up or explored again, so I’m not really sure.

They constantly belittle Hannah, berate her, ignore her and are generally extremely vicious towards her. Even though we get an attempt at an explanation of their behavior towards her, it felt very shallow and unrealistic. The level of abuse in relation to the feeble explantation was simply lacking.

“Hannah was a human pincushion for her parents’ criticism, and there was always ample room for just one more jab.”

As far as her attempts to impress the popular girls at school, choosing to buy drugs for a party seems like an odd choice. It’s never really explored that these popular girls would even be in the drug scene, just that everyone knew where to get ‘the good stuff’. The entire initial deal is awkward and weird, and the ensuing relationship between Hannah and Deacon continues down that path.

The characters and plot felt more like an array of scenes rather than a cohesive plot. Hannah is unsure of herself, has no self-confidence or self-esteem but she somehow manages to threaten and fight off the bullies of her school with no problems when it suits her. Other times she’s a quivering mess that can’t stand up for herself. That didn’t feel real to me.

It was set in 1984, which is very specific and I was hoping it was for a specific reason. The only reason I could gather was to introduce how crack changed drug addiction in some areas, but that was such a brief mention, I may be grasping at straws for that connection. Product specific nods, or other pop culture references were added in, but for the most part they were clunky and unnecessary.

I also really didn’t like Deacon. He’s supposed to be rich and charming, but damaged. A very cliche ‘more than just a bad boy’ character. He never really showed the kinder side underneath, and after one near rape scene, I was pretty done with his misunderstood excuses.

“She searched his face. His constrained grin didn’t match his words or the shot of sadness in his eyes.”

There are some problems with the romance portion of the book. Hannah doesn’t necessarily find herself other own, but rather changes her identity as a result of her relationship. The fact that the relationship is unhealthy, and at times, even toxic doesn’t send the message I would want in a YA book. I always struggle with books where the theme is we need someone else to become whole. Love is important, but it isn’t the key ingredient in self-worth or the journey to finding out who we are.

This book felt like a really good draft, and I felt like it had a lot of potential. There are some very serious topics introduced, but the opportunity to explore them is largely untapped. While bullying, abuse and drug use are all brought up, the majority of the story focuses on the weird romance between Hannah and Deacon instead. The deeper examination is lacking and it leaves the book feeling superficial rather than hard hitting.

As I said, I think that YA books that tackle the issues presented in this book are really important. They can help kids going through similar struggles and traumas feel understood, seen and maybe even help them work through them. But when these issues aren’t explored as fully as they should be, it can do more of a disservice to those teens who need it most.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review.

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!

Turtles All The Way Down – Review

“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”

There are about a million different thoughts rushing through my brain about this book, but there’s really only one that’s important. If you’ve ever known someone to struggle with mental illness, this book helps open a window into understanding. And if you’ve ever struggled yourself, read this to know that you are not alone.

Aza has OCD. She can’t help but think of the billions upon billions of bacteria that reside in her body and how any one of them can hijack the system, completely taking over and possibly ending in her death. One thought can lead to another, and before she can stop, she’s being pulled into a thought spiral, which she calls invasives.

“It’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure exactly what that makes you.”

When we first meet Aza, we meet her best friend Daisy along with all of their lunch table friends along with her disorder, all at the same time. It’s an amazing introduction. We are seamlessly submersed into the world of Aza and her friends. We also learn that there’s a billionaire fugitive on the loose with a sizable reward for information leading to his capture. Which would be simple lunchroom gossip, except, as Daisy is insistent to point out, Aza once knew his son.

This novel is a stunning coming of age, both vivid and breathtaking. But what sets it apart isn’t the raw honesty regarding living with mental illness. It’s that Green explores issues of substance, that anyone of any age can relate to in some fashion. This novel is wonderfully complex. It isn’t only when we are teenagers that we question the nature of our existence, or the meaning of love in all it’s beauty and consequence. But there is a certain poignancy in framing these questions not just in an adolescent perspective, but also in the specific view of mental illness.

“But I also had a life, a normal-ish life, which continued. For hours or days, the thoughts would leave me be, and I could remember something my mom told me once: Your now is not your forever.”

I don’t have OCD. But, I do have my own struggles, and everything Aza thinks and goes through is so relatable. The parts that aren’t relatable, are presented in such a raw way that they are easily understandable. I don’t know if others with anxiety or depression have them, but I really relate to thought spirals, things that invade my mind and paralyze me for moments, hours or even days at a time. They aren’t about bacteria or germs, but they are there nonetheless. It’s hard to explain them sometimes, and Green brings them to life, in all of their weird intensity.

More than that, Green is unflinching in his portrayal of the guilt, the loneliness, the fear and the uncertainty, and all the complex emotions that go along with mental illness.

“I know you’re not trying to make me feel pressure, but it feels like I’m hurting you, like I’m committing assault or something, and it makes me feel ten thousand times worse. I’m doing my best, but I can’t stay sane for you, okay?”

This is something that I rarely come across in books about mental illness. The way you feel like you have to be okay, even when you’re not, because people around you are worried about you. The pressure to make everything seem fine. It isn’t that they’re asking you to lie, necessarily, but the worry and the fear are palpable to you. It’s hard to explain why you can’t just be better. Why you can’t just be normal. So sometimes it becomes easier to just try and cover it all up. They don’t mean to add pressure, and you feel terrible for even suggesting that they’re making it worse. But they do, and sometimes they are.

This isn’t a book where we get a superficial look at the relationships in Aza’s life either. The relationship with Daisy was one of the best, in my opinion. Being best friends with someone is an intimate relationship. In some ways, even more intimate than a romantic one. I adored Daisy. She’s fun, sassy, funny, loyal and driven. But she’s complicated and struggles to understand Aza. Even more important than understanding her, is simply loving her and accepting her.

“What I want to say to you, Holmesy, is that yes, you are exhausting, and yes, being your friend is work. But you are the most fascinating person I have ever known.”

This struggle felt so real, because living with mental illness is exhausting sometimes, and loving someone with mental illness can be just as exhausting. It doesn’t need to be excused or justified or apologized for. And the honesty it took to examine this aspect of their relationship is heartbreaking and amazing.

We fight with our moms, our friends, people we know, sometimes people we don’t. Yet, when people know you struggle with mental illness in any facet, this fight tends to be held back. Your actions are excused, or justified, or worse, relationships get distant and fragile. So when you find people that will confront you, and fight with you, and make you feel normal (even when it makes you feel awful) it can feel monumental. Green gets that, and captures it beautifully.

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

I still feel that there is so much more to say about this book, but honestly, I don’t think I can capture everything in one blog post. This book made me feel so many things. I laughed, and cried, and flagged quote after quote. It is beautiful and necessary and such an important contribution to the conversation about mental health.

It isn’t easy to admit to mental illness. It’s even harder to describe that struggle. To open yourself up exposes you to the world in an intimate vulnerability that is difficult no matter who you are. John Green opens a piece of himself up to us by writing this gorgeous book. Aza is fictional, yes, but the truths written within her character are very real. So to him, I say thank you. Thank you, for writing a book that made me feel seen. That made me feel understood. That just made me feel.

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

 

The Grip Of It – Review

“I worry he’ll think I’ve been keeping secrets. And then, because I don’t want to keep secrets, I keep more secrets.”

The Grip Of It is an eery novel about one couple’s struggle to live in a haunted house. Of course, they didn’t know it was haunted when they first moved in, but with each passing day, their grip on reality slips further and further from their grasp.

James and Julie decide that a move into a nice small town, away from their city problems and city life is the perfect solution to their most recent marital woes. Well, Julie decides this. And James goes along with her, because maybe it really will help. It can’t hurt to take his gambling problems far away from their constant allure. It can’t hurt to settle down somewhere with a slower pace to find their bearings once more. It can’t hurt.

“The span between hurt and help is not a span at all: a fine dotted line,”

When they are shown the older house, complete with hidden rooms and secret passages, they thrill at the idea of living somewhere so unique. When their offer for lower than the already low asking is accepted, they rejoice at their new start.

But almost right away, things begin to feel off. The neighbor stares through his window at them almost constantly, never acknowledging them, never talking to them. The house makes noises, at first vague and odd, but increasing in intensity and frequency. Items move without them moving it. But the time bruises begin to appear on Julie’s body and they question if they should move, it appears the house already has them firmly in it’s grasp.

“James and I are living in a Latin mass, memorizing ritual, reciting mysteries we’ve given up on deciphering, foreign syllables unrolling in order.”

This book had me on the edge of my seat until the end, when, well, things sort of took a confusing turn. Ending a horror story is a daunting task. Do you let them escape unharmed, the house waiting for the next victim? Do they become part of the haunting? Is it all a dream or a descent into madness? And how do you tie it up to the ending you want without making it feel predictable or cliche? Jac Jemc manages to write her ending so that it isn’t cliche, or predictable, but I also wonder if it was an ending at all.

The thing with supernatural subject matter is that often they leave us with a bit of a vague answer. The reader is required to form some opinions and the author drops them at a crossroads of paths. Usually, it is only a few paths, but they are there, ready to allow our imaginations to continue the journey and to follow our subconscious to our own conclusions. I really enjoy these types of books because they stay with me long after the pages have ended. These are the characters you think of like old friends you lose touch with. They exists, somewhere, because their endings were never written.

That said, this ending had more than a few crossroads at the end, and I’m not entirely sure it felt even close to wrapped up for me. We were being led down a path, but then at the last minute, Jemc turned on the light in the room and revealed that maybe there had been multiple paths happening all at once without our knowing. This is a trick we see sometimes in horror or suspense. M. Night Shyamalan does this trick exceedingly well in his movies. Except in his movies, we want to rewatch the story to revel in all the details we missed. The experience is added to, not changed.

With The Grip Of It, I felt like I needed to reread the entire book from the beginning to even try and figure it out. It wasn’t to add to my experience, but rather a need to understand it. Options and paths were added at the end, that felt at odds with what we were initially presented with in the beginning. In all, I felt somewhat confused.

There are vague endings full of uncertainty, and then there are vague endings that are entirely uncertain. The Grip Of It was the latter for me. Perhaps I didn’t pick up enough clues, or the right clues along the way. Maybe it was meant to be as ambiguous and unsettling as the characters felt. If so, then that part was well done. Like Julie and James, I have no idea what was real and what wasn’t. The house was haunted but there are so many loose ends, details that were presented but never answered. It’s difficult to not feel as if I reached the end only to find pieces missing.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this was less about the haunting and more about experiencing the haunting with them. We feel the unease, and the creepiness building in intensity until we are dying with curiosity to know what’s happening. We have to know, we want to know, but maybe some things aren’t knowable. Perhaps the greatest horror of all is never knowing.

Thank you FSG Originals for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Nine – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Army Wife – Review

“There’s nothing better than welcoming your husband home from war — nothing except welcoming your sons.”

Army Wife is the perfect name for this memoir describing how being married to a soldier really is. Her voice really shines through in this telling memoir, and she strikes me a very fun and sassy woman. That spark made reading the book fly by.

Cody doesn’t hold back or glamorize her life as a military spouse, and later as a military mom. She fully admits to her doubt and frustration over moving and living alone during deployments. Fear as her husband and then her sons deploy into combat zones. Life in the military isn’t easy, and life as a military spouse isn’t any easier.

“Life is full of surprises, but I don’t think we fully understand and appreciate that until we are pushed out of comfort zone, backed into a corner, and tested in ways we don’t expect or anticipate.”

We are taken through the story of her life, from the moment she met Dick Cody forward. Cody writes with a fast paced cadence, sprinkled with a sharp sense of humor, a trait that I’m sure held her together numerous times. Strength is one thing. Being able to laugh at your trials is quite another. Perhaps she wasn’t laughing at the time, but her humor shines through in hindsight.

I was continually amazed at her emotional maturity and just how self-aware she comes across. She is very blunt and honest with her entire spectrum of feelings, talking openly about the honeymoon period that welcoming her husband often triggered to the struggle of readjusting to him in her daily life always triggered. And what shines through the brightest, is her knowledge of herself as an individual outside of being a mom or a wife. I think that awareness is what made living her (sometimes) tumultuous life possible. She never lost herself in the craziness and so she could weather any storm.

“But I never lost sight of who I was, as a woman and as a person. When they boys let home, I just had to shift gears and find my inner self again. (I think it was always there — I was just busy being a mom.)”

There are some heavy issues happening within these pages, and she doesn’t come across as flippant or superficial, but she doesn’t dwell on them either. If anything, Cody comes across as a woman that probably is a solid shoulder to cry on, is handy to have in a tight situation, and would give excellent advice. While her husband led an illustrious career, she doesn’t dismiss or forget that others were not as lucky. Her humility opens us up to a graciousness and gratefulness that is admirable.

One touch I really liked is her PS notes at the end of some chapters. She makes reference to the fact that often when her husband was deployed overseas, they couldn’t manage the time zones along with expensive phone bills, so letter writing became their primary method of communication. Letters that she still has to this day, that can bring her back to those moments in time just by looking at his handwriting. Those little PS notes felt like she was writing little letters to us in each chapter. They summarized and offered a more personal touch. They really made those notes feel like she was reaching across a table and grasping your hand.

But this book isn’t just about life as an Army Wife. It is also about life as an Army Mom.

“It was an important life lesson for all of us: we don’t always get what we want, and sometimes we have to change course.”

Reading the chapter on September 11, and how her boys were transitioning from their college lives into life as an active military member is emotional. It’s one thing to be a mom to soldiers during times of peace. It’s another during times of war. This time, she felt the sorrow of knowing people lost at the Pentagon, and the terror of her husband and both sons possibly deploying.

The reality of the her oldest’ deployment is once again told to us without restraint. It’s understandable that she feels angry at her husband for not going with him, combined with fear over what might happen and the lack of control. But it is a tender thing to read that for the first time her husband actually experienced what she felt every time he deployed. Every mother can understand that while watching her husband deploy was difficult; watching her sons deploy was excruciating.

“When you marry a soldier, you pretty much marry the Army and everything it stands for.”

Vicki Cody married a soldier. She married the Army and then she mothered it, both literally and figuratively. This book is her experience of that life. I’ve never been an Army wife, or an Army mother, but I expect that this is an honest and in-depth look at the reality of it.

While her life was filled with emotional ups and downs, it’s hard to deny it is an incredible one. Meeting First Lady’s and Presidents, living in historical houses, watching your husband on TV while he is a half a world away, meeting Wynona Judd and other celebrities; are all incredible moments for anyone to experience. Her life is her own, but is also intertwined with major historical milestones made very personal for her. But she didn’t simply sit and bask in her husband’s success. She worked hard to contribute to the support of not just his solders, but their families as well. It’s a fascinating journey.

One thing that struck me is not just how the Army is a massive network comprised of soldiers. We don’t really see that side of the Army in this book. Rather we see the network of civilians who support one another in amazing ways. Support groups, and newsletters, and monthly meetings. The human touch that makes living with all that fear and worry a little more bearable. You marry the Army, but that means you get a spouse in return.

Sometimes it’s easy to think of the Army as a nameless faceless entity. It’s easy to get lost in the political commentary surrounding that entity. Army Wife brings back the point that the Army, the Navy, the Air Force; they are all filled with people. Men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. These are people, who worry, who love, who are willing to face unknown threats anywhere in the world. This was the perfect book to read this weekend.

“I had come to realize that being a soldier is more than a job, more than a career; it’s an affair of the heart, a way of life.”

Thank you to all the soldiers and their families for your service. We wouldn’t be the country we are without you.

Thank you as well to Booksparks and She Writes Press for sending me this book to read and review!

After Midnight – Review

“Alix knew she was in trouble.”

We open with that line, immediately pulling us into a story full of scandal and intrigue. Alix, blackmailed into impersonating her twin sister Lily, begins her misadventure by thinking Lily’s husband Nicholas to be an oblivious fool. Lily has assured her he pays no attention to her and will be completely unaware that she isn’t Lily. Alix agrees because she has to, and only hopes she can find the piece of paper hiding somewhere within the house that will free her of the ridiculous sham.

“It was not a dream that memory returned to her, but the deplorable act of the outrageous scheme that ensnared her.”

It’s difficult to unthread all the plots within this novel, without giving too much away. The base of the story, the blackmail, is very well done, and feels realistic when reading. It is easy to see the scandal Lily creates, the selfish person she is, and how she can corral Alix into participating in this scam.

“She was worse than a siren, simply devouring any man foolish enough to look at her.”

Nicholas, however, is far from dull, obtuse or unaware, and quickly begins to notice that things with his dear wife are not at all what they should be. It takes him quite awhile though to fully piece together what he thinks is happening. I really enjoyed how his disgust and contempt for his wife clouds his judgement and thinking. Not because it simply works to move the plot along, but also because I felt his struggle. What would it be like to live with someone you couldn’t ever trust, so much so, that you constantly second guess and are suspicious of every little thing they say or do?

“She turned to her minions and left him gazing after her in puzzled silence. He could barely stand to look at her, and yet he was as dazzled as if he had glimpsed the sun eclipsing clouds in her eyes.”

While impersonating Lily, Alix begins having nightmares, and her murky past starts to become somewhat clear to both us, and to Alix herself. Her uncle, Quentin, makes a journey to France in order to help uncover the secrets that Alix is desperate to remember.

There are a lot of side plots happening in this novel, and for the most part, they were easy to keep track of, and made the novel much richer for them. The one I didn’t quite understand was Robert’s role. I didn’t really understand role he played in the grand scheme of the novel, and within the specific plot he was written into. Most of the pieces with him felt unnecessary to me, and it felt like the pieces of the puzzle that he revealed, could have been more impactful through Quentin.

I also got frustrated with Quentin’s story. After all the time we spend with him, I felt like there still weren’t many answers of what actually happened that caused him to flee to England with his niece in tow, and live as a servant for two decades. It felt very vague, and everything in France wrapped up a little too easy for him to have been worried literally about dying if they came back.

The history, the touch of romance and all the scandal and intrigue made the book fun to read. I wanted to know what happened to Alix the entire time, and the pacing of that story unfolds nicely. I also really enjoyed Jenny, her maid. The relationship they develop, even knowing that Jenny has been in on it from the beginning, was quite lovely to read. In upcoming books, I hope that the tiny nugget of mystery that was written about why Jenny works for Lily comes out. That tiny detail drove me crazy. I wanted to hear more about that story!

“Times change.”

“And history remains.”

“It depends on who’s writing it.”

Overall, this book was very enjoyable. It ends rather abruptly, which felt less like a cliffhanger and more like hitting a brick wall, but there is a sequel coming June 2018, so at least there are answers coming! There are many, many things I need to know about. And if the book picks up where this one left off, I have no doubt that more scandal, mystery and intrigue is sure to follow!

If you enjoy historical fiction full of multi-threaded plots and mystery, this book is definitely for you. The added scandals of nobility make it even more fun to read! I look forward to reading the sequel next summer!

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