Morning Star – Review

Here’s the deal Howlers! This is the third book in a trilogy, so this review will contain spoilers from the first two books. It can’t be helped so stop whining, you gorydamn Pixies. To be perfectly honest darling, if you haven’t read this series by now, you are never going to earn your scar at this rate!

“I rise into darkness, away from the garden they watered with the blood of my friends.”

In case anyone could forget the traumatizing cliffhanger that Golden Son left us with, Pierce Brown stabs us right in the gut with his opening sentence. Again. This guy loves making his readers cry. Repeatedly.

But it is such a sweet agony!

The opening of Morning Star tests our limitations for hopelessness. In fact, this book, out of the three tests the reader the most.

“I feel like a prisoner who has spent his whole life digging through the wall, only to break through and find he’s dug into another cell.”

This is the first book where Darrow cannot hold onto his own chains of secrecy. He has to learn to trust, really trust, in his friends. In the way he asked for before but never gave in return. This trust is difficult for him, but opens the door for some beautiful relationships to begin to develop with Darrow.

The beauty in this book is the emphasis on trust. Darrow isn’t a chosen one. Yes, he’s a symbol, but the fate of mankind is not fated on his shoulders. Even the rebellion isn’t fully dependent on him, though obviously, he plays a key role. I feel like this book really refocuses the whole point of what the Son of Ares stands for. Building a better Society for everyone, not the few.

While the previous two books can feel very cold and cruel, Morning Star is a book full of warmth. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of brutality, violence and cruelty written in the pages. This society didn’t undergo a complete change of heart overnight, after all. But, in contrast, you see the possibility of the rebellion solidify into the full potential of Eo’s dream.

“I always told Victra to let people in. I could never take my own advice because I knew one day I’d have to betray them, that the foundation of our friendship was a lie.”

But potential doesn’t always mean victory.

Darrow learns rather quickly that war is messy, and difficult to control. They have unleashed the tide of the lowColors into open rebellion, but they may not all share the vision of a peaceful society like he does. Many want to see Golds punished. But this isn’t the way to bridge society into a better tomorrow. This discord once again provides a tone of reality to this series that I really enjoy. It also ensures that nothing with Darrow, nor his plans, will ever go easily.

“Victories are less romantic when you’re cleaning your friends off the floor.”

Beyond the rebellion and the battle over the future of Society, this book is about relationships. We see them develop in such an intimate way. Not just with Darrow, but between everyone that is choosing the side he and the Son of Ares represents. It’s a fascinating conversation over fighting for an ideal versus fighting for what’s right. Do you watch horror and atrocity and wrap yourself in your ideals to excuse the violence? Or do you see beyond it to something more?

We also get to see the dynamics and power structures of other Colors beyond the Gold and Red. Finally we see how fully the Golds of Society have stayed in power. The full scope and horror of their manipulation is jaw-dropping. And also the sheer arrogance they have shrouded themselves in.

“And man was never meant to tame fire. That’s the beauty of it,” he says challengingly. “This moon is a hateful little horror. But through ingenuity, through will we made it ours.”

Everything in this book is played with higher stakes. This is an all out battle over a Society to remain the same, or one that will be forever changed. Adding the element of the deeper relationships, along with showing characters dealing with the trauma not just of war, but of torture and loss, adds to this escalation experience.

Every single battle is more intense, whether the scale is one to one in the snow of the Poles, or facing an enormous Armada in the depth of space. And, again, the intensity ratchets up even more because war is never clean. War is never easy. And people on both sides die. Brown isn’t afraid to show us the horror of loss, the reality that war isn’t selective and that death comes to us all.

“War is not monstrous for making corpses of men so much as it is for making machines of them. And woe to those who have no use in war except to feed the machines.”

And the ending. Oh, goryhell, talk about a writer ripping your heart out and holding it while it bleeds on the floor. I am rarely shocked at a book. And I rarely am so upset that I am tempted to close the book, slag that, throw the book and never look back. You think you’re ready for heartbreak. But you have no idea. And while I won’t ruin the reading for anyone, just keep reading. Remember, I said this book will test you.

While any death is difficult, rarely is it careless in this series. Heartbreak is sometimes inevitable. Brown never relents in doing what is true for the story, true to his characters, even if it means doing the hard thing.

“Everything is cracked, everything is stained except the fragile moments that hang crystalline in time and make life worth living.”

Pierce Brown gets the tragedy of what it means to be human. We are a fickle species. Capable of achieving the heights of greatness or falling to the depths of depravity. He shows us this spectrum without flinching, or romanticizing it. This series will take you down through how truly awful we can be, but will also show you how simultaneously wonderful we also are.

Yes, these books are about war. And societal strife. They are full of violence and cruelty and brutality. But they are also about friendships. Love. What it means to live for more. To live for others. It is a book on the grand spectacle of humanity. And one very much worth reading.

Red Rising – Review

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”

Anyone who has known me at all, for any time, during the last two years, has probably had me try and push this book on them. I mean, it’s pretty bloodydamn amazing. As I’ve pushed it and raved about it and wanted to get ready for the new release of Iron Gold, a quiet part of me wondered, would my love of this series survive a reread?

Yes, my goodmen, it gorywell can!

For those of you who may not know the story of Darrow, Red Rising is the first in a trilogy. And be warned, this series will not be for everyone. It is violent, brutally so. This book is a fascinating and in-depth look at the complexity of power in society.

Darrow is a Red. Born in the mines underground on Mars, mining an element that will make terraforming planets possible. They are told they will be heroes when they mine enough. Saviors of mankind. They work on the promise of a better life for their children.

But that promise is a lie. Built by the Golds.

Darrow soon learns of this betrayal and his rage drives him to do the impossible. Become his enemy.

Through Darrow’s eyes, we learn of the enormity of the lies he had been raised on. We learn of the vast caste of Colors, all playing a role in maintaining a society that thrives. Golds at the top, and everyone else serving beneath them.

But we also learn that there is a reason the Golds rule. They are cold and cruel. Willing to inflict pain for the greater good. Willing to do what is necessary to retain their power.

“Gods don’t come down in life to mete out justice. The powerful do it. That’s what they are teaching us, not only the pain in gaining power, but the desperation that comes with not having it, the desperation that comes when you are not a Gold.”

There is so much to rave about in this series! SO MUCH!

The examination of power within a society is fascinating in this book. Not just in the caste system and the way it’s laid out. But even the level of power an individual has within each caste. Not every Red is created equal. Not every Gold is created equal. Each Color has it’s own positioning, with appropriate benefits or punishments to be doled out as the leaders see fit. This book really does an excellent job of showing how precarious power can be, and how ruthless people have to be to secure it.

“Security and justice aren’t given. They are made by the strong.”

If Game of Thrones upset you over an author willing to kill his darlings, be prepared, because Pierce Brown drinks the tears of his readers for breakfast and laughs. Except it isn’t just the fact that he willingly kills off characters. It’s that he writes such amazing side characters, with such depth, and gives them such vibrancy, that it doesn’t take very long before you’ve become attached. It’s actually quite a skill to create these personalities in his characters that manage to find their way into your hearts so quickly.

Brown’s ability to write this diverse and vivid cast of characters is impressive. If your favorites manage to stay alive, and that’s a big if, you’ll find that even though this book is told in the first person entirely through Darrow’s perspective, Darrow isn’t the only character you root for. I dare you not to fall for our favorite little goblin or the giant teddy bear of a warrior! I DARE YOU!

“If violence is the Gold sport, manipulation is their art form.”

The level of manipulation and betrayal in the Gold caste is breathtaking. Characters you root for, you find yourself cursing. Alliances change lightening fast. Power a tricky and slippery thing. Again, this look at how power works is stunning. How it is elusive, and even individuals in a group considered Gods among men can still fall. Or be powerless.

Brown doesn’t write drastic black and white characters, with allegiances firmly in the good or bad camps. Instead we get something closer to reality, both present day and historically. We see political machinations working underneath processes thought free of them. We get to pull back the curtain to see how leadership is often taken, rarely actually earned. This harsh reality can make for uncomfortable reading because these characters don’t follow normal tropes or formulas. Like Darrow, Brown sees the game and rips it apart.

“An empire cannot be destroyed from without till it is destroyed from within.”

I happen to like books where you might like the villain as much as the hero. Where the hero makes mistakes and isn’t perfect. Where the villain may be evil, but also holds grains of good. People are rarely all good, or all bad. They are generally made up of a million shades of both and everything in between. Brown writes his entire universe in that spectrum and it makes for an intense, bloody, and breathtaking ride.

The first time I read this, I inhaled the words. This book felt like a campaign of shock and awe. It was stunning in scope and awesome in detail. I wasn’t sure what the ride would be like a second time. Turns out, it was just as intense, but somehow, knowing what was to come made the book even more heartbreaking. I was able to really understand how fast these characters are introduced and how strongly they make an impact.

I am a huge book pusher when it comes to this series. It is unlike anything you’ve ever read. It is about power. Love. Loss. Revolution. Rebellion. Rising up and falling down. It is bloody, violent, harsh and cruel. It will show you the best of humanity and the worst. Sometimes in the same breath. And it all happens in bleeding space!

Bring it on Golden Son, because here I come!

The Balance Project – Review

“You’ve got to make your own dreams happen, Lucy,” Ty says. “Sounds a lot like you’re helping to make someone else’s dreams happen.”

The Balance Project is such a fun read! Very reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, The Balance Project is about the life of a working woman who earnestly and whole-heartedly believes that women can have the perfect life, everything they’ve ever wanted. If only they balance everything just right.

That woman is Lucy Cooper’s boss, Katherine Whitney, COO of a juice empire. Her new book, The Balance Project, has launched her into a new level of success with millions of women dying to know how they too can successfully have it all.

Lucy on the other hand, does not have it all. She doesn’t want to be an assistant forever, so her career isn’t exactly moving on the right track. And she doesn’t want to get married, which her boyfriend Nick is adamant about, so relationship may also be slightly unbalanced. When Katherine begins to fall apart at the seams, it falls even more on Lucy to hold it all together for her. Which is fine, until Katherine betrays Lucy unexpectedly. Not Lucy has to make a choice, and that choice will impact the course of her life. And Katherine’s.

“It sure doesn’t seem like your life is all that balanced, and you’re at ground zero of this balance operation.”

This book is a very fun read! And very funny! Lucy has an internal dialogue that is sarcastic and witty, which made her very enjoyable to read. Even when she makes the wrong choices, or doesn’t stand up for herself, she’s written in such a way, that it doesn’t feel cliche. She feels very real to me.

I think we’ve all had moments in our lives when we actively justify things that are happening, or make decisions we instantly regret, or even decisions we later regret. The thing I enjoyed about Lucy was it didn’t matter if you didn’t agree with how she processed things, or her decisions. The point was you understood. And were usually entertained along the way.

“It feels like there are crack-addicted trapeze artists in my stomach, and they are just beginning their routine.”

I really liked how we are introduced to the situation and characters without a giant info dump at the beginning. The flashbacks and narration is well paced and done so that it feels very natural to the progression of the plot. We learn a lot about Lucy and Katherine in the first chapter through a clever use of an interview. We also get a very real sense of the pressure Lucy feels as Katherine’s assistant in that first chapter. I loved that the tone and pace were introduced and maintained very consistently throughout the entire book.

Ava, her best friend is probably my favorite character. She’s the only one who I liked the entire time. It would be easy to hate the best friend who loved her job and made everything look easy while also posting an inspirational quote daily, but Ava is so kind and awesome you just want to be friends with her. I really loved that, because it’s so easy to go Mean Girls these days. It was nice to not have that cliche love/hate your best friend trope, and to also have a character that I genuinely adored throughout the entire book.

“Ava works at Cosmo – she is a fun, fearless female – as an associate features editor. She loves her job, and by love I mean she would make out with her job if she could.”

Nick, I wasn’t a fan of. And this part may get a touch spoiler-y so BEWARE! I didn’t like how the author managed to hold every other character accountable to their shitty behavior EXCEPT FOR NICK! Somehow he gets to act like a complete jerk to Lucy, give her a really intense ultimatum and in the end, he gets off the hook. Something about his list and how he handled her rejection just really didn’t sit well with me. It reeked of control issues and a refusal to compromise that didn’t fit with the rest of the books message.

Lucy is a complex character for me as well. She is willing to admit her fears and her weaknesses, but is also willing to allow people to treat her pretty poorly at times. Namely her boyfriend and her boss. And while their behaviors can be rationalized, Lucy doesn’t seem to be able to stand up for herself in healthy ways until extreme situations hit. The interesting part is I actually really liked Lucy, so maybe I just wanted her to be a bit more of her own advocate. I wanted her to see her worth more than if felt she did.

I realize that we all have to go through bad jobs, and bad relationships, and bad friendships to learn where our boundaries are. This book is a good exploration of that process. I think Lucy did forgive Nick way easier than Katherine, and wish that Nick would have offered a little more reflection on his bad behavior like other characters.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book. It was a very fast read, I finished in an evening, and there were multiple laugh out loud lines. Even though that part with Nick really bothered me (obviously because I can’t seem to let it go), the book was a good presentation on how important it is to balance your life when you’re young.

Lucy explores some very relevant issues facing most women at all ages. How do we balance work and personal lives? When is too much too much? Is marriage and being a mother right for you? These are all very real things that most women struggle with. I was really happy to have a book that is enjoyable to read without seeming preachy, but still gives a thoughtful examination of some of these struggles. I think that most women will find a lot of it relevant and relatable, not to mention sassy and thoroughly entertaining!

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

Containment – Review

“When it comes to contagious diseases, it’s a pretty small world.”

I knew by the synopsis that this book was going to be a terrifying ride. I knew going in, and yet somehow I was still unprepared for the terror this book brought!

Mariah Rossi studies viruses and works to make sure that in the event of a breakout, it can be easily and quickly contained. Curt Kennedy, scientist and covert CIA agent, also works to ensure containment of outbreaks. But when a lethal virus begins to kill people outside of Philadelphia, time is not on their side. They need to work together to figure out what this virus is, and how it can be contained.

Told from multiple perspectives, we get to watch this terrifying virus reveal itself. We see it through Mariah and Curt’s eyes, but also Doctor Vector, the terrorist developing the virus to be even deadlier than it was originally. Using ticks as its carrier. While the outbreak is happening in Philadelphia, the conspiracy that unleashed it ends up taking Curt and Mariah all over the globe as they race to stop Doctor Vector from releasing havoc onto the world.

“Doctor Vector smiled. Soon his soldiers would be ready for battle.”

The twists and turns this book takes you on are as exhilarating as a roller-coaster. The plot builds and builds, and just when you think you have a grasp on what’s happening, the floor plunges from out beneath you. Over and over again, until your heart is pounding in your ears and you’re breathless with the intensity of it all. There were twists I never would have guessed that completely blind-sided me. And yet, each turn the plot took, each twist that presented itself, all made sense in a very real-world setting. Which made the entire thing even more chilling than if it remained in the realm of fiction.

Most thrillers and suspense novels borrow from real life. They take a ‘what if’ and explore the dark underbelly of possibility. What could happen? And even though we know these things could happen, we take comfort in knowing they probably won’t.

With Containment, the details hit a little too close to home. They unravel with breathtaking speed, and every event makes your stomach queasy. Even more disconcerting is finding out that the author has studied and lectured on these exact topics. The book is fiction, but the ideas within the pages are all too real. As you read you can hear the reality a little too clearly.

There is a lot of “shop talk” within these pages. A credit to the strength of writing and story-telling of Parker in how he manages to make them seem natural to the reader. There is a glossary in the back, but I never felt the need to look up a term or felt confused in reading. He doesn’t work it into the dialogue, or place an awkward technical explanation in the writing, he simply is able to describe what he means without dumbing it down or calling it out. By the time I reached the glossary, I realized that how elegant these work-ins were. I didn’t even realize I needed a glossary.

It’s strange to think, but most plots, whether fictional or real life, truly only impact a small number of people. A person gets murdered, and while the effect on their friends and family is deep and profound, the tragedy is contained. Part of what makes Containment so bone-chilling, is the sheer idea of how many people can be impacted. A virus can kill millions in the blink of an eye. People, wildlife, pets, infected and killed, sometimes within hours or even days. The sheer volume of casualty is shocking, and the speed in which it can occur even more horrifying.

The title eludes to more than simply finding and stopping a virus. Containment zones need to be put into place, and the extent of those zones will vary by threat. It was chilling to read how quickly you could lose your rights in the event of a tragedy or emergency. How fast law-abiding citizens turn rogue as fear and panic set in. How little control we end up having in the face of disaster. The idea of containing not just the virus, but the fallout as well. I love a title that has multiple layers of meaning hidden within it.

I will caution sensitive readers going into this book. While there isn’t graphic violence, there are disturbing ideas discussed and presented. Parker doesn’t shy away from giving a direct understanding of what lethal viruses would look like in a human and animals, which is unpleasant to read about. There is a trigger scene involving a sexual assault. Again, nothing graphic or explicit, but the detail is realistic and can be disturbing.

This book is a thriller in the most strict of definitions. I found myself having to put it down and breathe through my unease. It is realistic and terrifying. Like any thrill ride, you’ll put the book down feeling shaky; adrenaline having spiked through your muscles leaving you exhilarated and shocked, but stronger for surviving the ride.

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

Blade’s Edge – Review

“Was it impossible to hide who you really were forever?”

What an incredible book! Blade’s Edge is such a phenomenal story. A fantasy world built with similarities to feudal Japan, but written with such intensity that it mirrors a dystopian novel. I was immediately swept into the enormity of this world and immersed in the beauty and horror of these characters lives.

To be a woman in Gensokai, the island that this story takes place on, is a terrible fate. We don’t know the details, but learn that the actions of one powerful female Kisoshi have damned the future of all females for the past one thousand cycles. It is dangerous to be a girl. Even more dangerous to be born a girl with any detectable kiso.

“Fear can be a powerful destructive force.”

Kiso is the ability to manipulate energy. People have various levels of kiso and some are stronger than others. Once trained, they test to become kisoshi and can move up to higher ranks. At the beginning of the book, we get a glossary of terms and even a forward by the author ensuring that while this may feel and sounds like pieces of Japanese history and culture, this is entirely fantasy.

I will say that this is an instance when having the physical copy would have been enormously helpful. I find it a pain to toggle to an index with a kindle, and would have preferred to simply be able to turn the pages.

That said, the terms and their uses are so thorough that I didn’t feel lost while reading, or really feel that I needed to flip to know the terms. You learn them quickly as you read and by the end, they are as much a part of the story as if you had known the definition all along. That is quite an accomplishment in writing!

The story is written entirely from two main characters, Taka and Mishi, both female. We do get a third perspective thrown in from a woman we are introduced to who plays a larger role later in the book. Given how dreary this world is from a female perspective, it was a nice touch to only show us the viewpoint of female characters. It really focuses on how awful and male driven this society is. It isn’t just the power that the men hold. It is the way they look down on women, dismissing them as not being worthy of any respect or worth the air they breathe.

“It was clever work really, the work that the instructors put into making the girls fearful, then timid… wouldn’t that timidity eventually lead to self doubt?”

This book reads a bit like The Last Airbender blended with The Handmaid’s Tale. The fantasy portion of this book is incredible. Amazing world building with such vivid descriptions of the sweeping landscapes that you practically smell the forest and feel the mountain breezes. The elemental magic and magical beings are very creative and come to life on the page. But the portions that depict life as a woman, are so bleak, it’s nauseating. The contrast between the beauty of the land and the horror of life as a girl is stark and severe.

While there aren’t any graphic scenes, this book tackles incredibly brutal topics. Abuse, rape, murder, slavery, war. These are the horrifying realities of this world. With each new truth revealed as the girls grow into their own powers, the more you are chilled to the core at how this society functions.

“She hadn’t understood it very well when she was still living under Haha-san’s roof, but over the cycles since then she had come to understand the cruel fate that produced the girls with the empty eyes.”

Regardless of the brutality and dark nature of their surroundings, the girls Taka and Mishi are incredible characters. Both strong in their own unique ways, the journeys their lives have taken them on give us a broad view of this country and society. Even though Mishi’s journey seems easier than Taka’s in some aspects, they both have an incredibly difficult road in their futures. Regardless of the difficulty in their paths, though, they are smart, strong, funny, resilient women.

Even though we see only from the perspective of Mishi and Taka, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a good idea of the people in their lives. We are introduced to a wide array of men and women, some good, some evil. They are all complex and unique. The side stories are well developed and even though we don’t know their thoughts, we get a really good sense of who they are based on dialogue and the girls’ observations. Again, this is solid writing.

The main accomplishment of this novel, (outside of the brilliant character development and fantastic world building, is that throughout the very dark and brutal topics woven into this society), these girls never lose hope. This is such an amazing novel of the strength of finding yourself and resiliency. No matter what is thrown at them, they never lose faith that they are fighting for a better future. And it made the book an amazing read!

“How can anything about me surprise you, when you know absolutely nothing about me?”

In addition to creating this divine landscape and these incredible characters, the book itself is gorgeous. Each section has a haiku written for it, and the chapters have Japanese characters depicting the timeframes they take place in. It just feels balanced and beautiful. The physical layout of the book is as poetic as the writing.

I haven’t been as enthralled in a world like this in a long time. This novel is simply phenomenal. As both a fan of fantasy and dystopian, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves either genre. The themes and topics are difficult but eerily relevant to not just history, but our present as well. This book would be fantastic for a book club. There are so many detailed and complex topics to explore. I cannot wait to dive into the second book, and will be looking for this author in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Rockstar Book Tours to read in preparation for for m participating in their tour of the sequel, Traitor’s Hope. I was not required to review it.

 

The Outskirts of Hope – Review

“During the height of the civil rights movement, my family moved to a small, all-black town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, where my father opened a clinic and mother Aura Kruger, taught English at the local high school.”

This book is a memoir, written by the youngest daughter Jo, but mainly told through the diaries of her mother Aura. At the time, the Kruger family was one of the only white families living in Mount Bayou. Aura kept journals from the time she lived there, so the book is built on those. Jo destroyed her own, but recreated her entries.

I have some seriously mixed emotions on this book. I understand that this is a memoir so this is her telling the story of her family. However, it comes across at times as very privileged and skates dangerously close to perpetuating racist stereotypes. Which is where I struggle, because I don’t think that was the intention of the author. Obviously no one intends on coming across as borderline racist, but I actually don’t even think they had racist views, privilege aside. It just comes across the way this is pieced together.

First, let’s touch on the privilege.

The first few chapters are from Aura’s perspective on her sudden move from a nice middle-class life in Boston to living in a trailer in Mississippi. The change is drastic, and according to her mother, she didn’t even have a vote. She simply went along with her husband, who decided this was what he wanted to do with zero input from his wife. Yes, it was the 60’s, but it doesn’t make him likable at all.

I had issue with how she complained, extensively, about her concern for where they were going to live. When offered that they should live in a “shack” like the rest of the town population, she nearly had a stroke. Coming from the perspective of someone who wanted to help end racism and bring change during this tumultuous time, she seems very self-centered. Even after she gets two trailer (not one, but two), and they have carpenters build them a connecting room, plush with all the luxuries of water, AC, power, heat and indoor plumbing, she never takes any time to consider how to help the town.

The most frustrating part of reading this, is that she makes friendships with people in this town. Yet, it’s never discussed or talked about how her family lives in drastic luxury compared with most of the other people. Or at least, that is how it comes across.

She mentions quite a few times her “worry” for their lack of heat, shoes, clothes that fit, etc. But, there isn’t any mention of her trying to do anything about it. She has connections to get three students full scholarships to an east coast college, yet she can’t raise money to buy shoes or clothes?

Which is my major problem with the underlying privilege of the book. She has her own views and standards, and insists on everyone meeting them. Take the three page example of teaching phonetics and the word ‘ask’ for a glaring example of that. Education was important to her. And I agree, and even see where she is coming from. But, shoes are probably an immediate problem she can help with.

Where we come near perpetuating racist myths is in Jo’s entries. Nearly every entry she talks about boys grabbing her and trying to reach down her pants. Of the 8 entries she has from her childhood perspective, 4 of them are about this type of molestation. She certainly makes it seem that every teenage boy in that town grabs her in inappropriate ways except for her three friends. Again, I understand this is her perspective, but she’s writing this from memory. If she didn’t want to perpetuate that racist myth, she could have worded these entries differently, or added a few that actually talked about other experiences.

Overall though, they just aren’t very likable. I think the biggest piece of enjoying a memoir is actually enjoying the people you’re reading about. I didn’t like the husband at all. He seemed cold and indifferent to his wife and children and never noticed their struggles. Either this portrayal didn’t do him justice, or he simply cared more about helping people other than his own family.

Aura doesn’t come across as very likable frequently either. She seemed spoiled, privileged, slightly arrogant and very self-centered. She complains about how her husband is oblivious to her unhappiness, yet seems absolutely just as clueless about her own children. The scene where she made her injured daughter get out of bed to create a “scene of familial tranquility” is absurd. Her attitude is described as Pollyanna positive but seems to be very passive-aggressive instead. She complains but then tries to spin it after complaining. It gets old.

Yet, when Jo revisits the town decades later, the scene she paints are like reading an entirely different book. People remember her cleaning tables for pinball money, and she seems to have good childhood memories. Yet, all that was recreated was the bad. For someone trying to bridge the gap in race relations, painting living in an all-black community as terrifying and miserable probably isn’t the right angle to take.

Her students even had more powerful stories about how she helped them. These memories from the students takes away from the self-righteousness and savior type attitude, and highlights more of what they remembered. It makes her seem actually more giving and helpful than she made herself sound. The journal entries were maybe focused on her own view of what was important, but again, perspective matters.

Of course, her own encounter with a boy who assaulted her left a bad taste in my mouth. But, that whole last section of the book was infuriating all around.

 

It’s probably not surprising that I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. I would have preferred to read a book that was less reliant on only journals and memory, and perhaps had included some of the impressions the students themselves had. It would have taken more of the white savior feel out of it, and made it more in depth and meaningful.

Thank you to BookSparks and She Writes Press for a copy to read and review as part of your pop up blog popportunity!

The Cottingley Secret – Review

“The soul of the fairy is its evanescence. Its charm is the eternal doubt, rose-tinted with the shadow of a hope. But the thrill is all in ourselves.”

The Cottingley Secret is part historical novel, part contemporary novel, where the two stories intersect and meet together in the end.

In 1917, two girls brought together by the Great War find a little bit of magic in the garden by their home. Frances Griffiths was ripped from her home in South Africa when her father was called to war. She and her mother move to Cottingley, England, where she and her cousin Elsie Wright become as close as sisters.

Present day introduces us to Olivia Kavanagh. Olivia finds herself back in Ireland after the death of her grandfather. She learns that she inherits his bookshop, Something Old, and with it, a number of financial problems. Somehow, her grandfather knew she would need time and space to set her course, and also leaves her a manuscript. Olivia finds herself falling into the past and reliving the grip of a nation in a frenzy over fairies.

This book is simply magical. Personally, I am a fan of books that take two different times and somehow write a compelling story that makes them relevant to each other. Something about connecting the past to the present is really appealing to me. Gaynor executes the weaving of these two times and these two stories so beautifully. Each is it’s own story, but also reliant on the other. You want to know what’s happening in both, and wonder all the way through how they are connected.

It isn’t necessarily a mystery, as enough large clues are given so that you can draw the conclusions on technical relationships. But it is the mystery of magic in both stories that make them so unique and such a pleasure to read.

“It is only by believing in magic that we can ever hope to find it.”

I didn’t know going in to this book about The Cottingley Fairies. As I was reading, I found myself going online and reading more about it. This is one of my favorite things when reading historical fiction. When an author takes real events and works them into a story. It feels so much richer to me when you read about a time, or an event, or a person and get to immerse yourself in a possibility of the past.

What I find so completely magical about this book, and about the original story, is that it really becomes less about the actual fact of the fairies and more about the idea of believing in the fairies.

“If we can believe in fairies, perhaps we can believe in anything, even in an end to this damned war. And wouldn’t that be something.”

I loved that at every turn in this book, it didn’t matter if you believed in fairies or magic or not. It became about the ability to believe in possibility. Francis needed to believe in the possibility of her father coming back. She had to wish for it, and in order to wish for something, you have to believe in magic. For Olivia, her wishes required less magic, but belief nonetheless. She needed to remember that she can be whoever she wants, and do whatever she wants. She simply needs to believe that she can.

It’s books like these that make reading so magical to me. We are always urged to grow up and to focus on reality. We forget that there’s a magic to life, even if we don’t expect fairies to greet us in every garden. There is a gift in not knowing what’s going to happen next, and we can find enormous power in simply believing that anything is possible. It’s a wonderful reminder to read a book and be gently reminded that we can create magic in our own lives every day.

“Make-believe keeps us going at times like this. We have to believe in the possibility of happy endings, sure we do, otherwise what’s it all for?”

Francis and Olivia both need to believe in their own happy endings. Which is true of all our lives. We are the bearers of our own magic. We can determine if we believe in the possibility of something, or if we can’t. And our fates will follow our beliefs. So many things we take for granted today would be considered magic centuries ago. Lights that turn on with a switch, or movement. A machine that allows us to talk to anyone in the world, anytime we want. Movies, television, phones, heat, air conditioning. These are all things no one would have dreamed of. Until someone did.

This is the magic that Gaynor brings to life in her book. It is the magic of what could be. The magic of what we can’t imagine yet. It tells a tale of fairies, yes. It weaves a story about a little girl who saw fairies and the choices she made afterwards. It is fiction, wrapped with a touch of reality. Yet it still pushes us to close our eyes and remember the days of our own youth. When we believed in magic and possibility.

Were the fairies of Cottingley real? Was it all a hoax? And, really, does the answer matter at all? Like any good story, it isn’t the details that matter. It is how we feel when we close the pages. We each have magic inside. We simply have to choose to ignite it.

Thank you BookSparks and William Morrow books for sending me a copy to read and review for FRC 2017.

The Party – Review

“The interview room is small and square.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slipsliding by the Bay – Review

“We can’t stay locked in the past. That’s one of the temptations of the ivory tower, to fall into the trap of complacency.”

Slipsliding by the Bay was a fun, quirky read. The book follows the trials and tribulations of a struggling Lakeside University in the 1970’s. Lakeside has been struggling for a few years, and a new President, John Gudewill, is determined to set things right. But no matter what he does, it seems that both students and faculty alike are determined to have things go their own way. Even if their way leads to the continued failures of Lakeside.

“Do you ever have the feeling we’re merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?”

Each chapter is short and follows one of the characters. We hear from Eliot, the snobby English professor determined to Unionize the University, regardless of the consequences. Lucy, the sexy librarian who has her own agenda regarding Lakeside. Stein, Gudewills assistant, who does his best to keep tabs on all the plots and scandals. Along with a handful of students, some of which aren’t really worried about the future of Lakeside or the dysfunctional happenings of the campus.

Setting the book in the 1970’s gives it a unique flavor, and really makes the politics of the campus interesting to read. After the rebellious 60’s, there are many people, faculty and alumni alike, who are hoping that the protests and social justice movements become a thing of the past. But the students realize that going backwards isn’t the answer, and do everything they can to help move the campus forward.

I really liked the way McDonald framed the larger social issues of society at the time within the framework of the college campus. The book actually covers a lot of ground and gives a good perspective of the social unrest of the time. It also gives a good feel for how the issues and ideals that triggered the sixties formed the framework for larger change.

McDonald captured the contentious relationship that every generation faces with the past. Here, you have young idealists, who see the power of social revolution, wanting only to have a voice in their own futures, battling an older generation who simply wants to go back to the way things were when they themselves were young. While previous generations may not remember their youth as being quite as rebellious or contentious, I think in their own way, youth always rebels against the norms of their parents. The seventies were no different.

With the short chapters and the diverse cast of characters, this book reads like a fun caper. Each miscommunication and mishap unfolds like a comedic tragedy. The comedy isn’t just in the quirky characters, but in the irony of the results. McDonald captures the stubbornness of human nature, and our sheer refusal to sometimes step back and see the bigger picture. Lack of willingness to communicate leads to an outcome that could have been avoided. The lesson is that this is true in many facets of life and continues to unfold in similar ways over and over and over again in current events.

The politics of academia was also really well done. It wasn’t surprising to read that McDonald had been employed by a University, because she does seem to really understand the dynamics that each individual and collective group brought to the campus. Reading on the impact that Unionization could have, and the arguments for and against the changes were interesting and very well done.

“There comes a time in the economic life of an institution when it must become pragmatic and ruthless.”

I found that quote to be at the heart of not just the politics of this campus, but probably many campuses everywhere. Where do you draw the line between providing a good education and maintaining profit? Looking back on how colleges have changed over the years, it was compelling to read about a campus in the midst of that transition and crisis.

Slipsliding by the Bay was a joy to read. I read the book in a day. Again, it was a fast and fun read. My one downfall with the book is the ending felt a little abrupt and several characters were sort of quickly faded out, so it felt rushed. But, I suppose that in the spectrum of life, the ending wasn’t the point. This book was more about the journey than the destination.

Thank you to BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy of this book to read and review as part of their pop up blog tour!

Truly Madly Guilty – Review

“It was interesting that fury and fear could look so much the same.”

Truly Madly Guilty is a book that dug it’s way deep under my skin and planted itself firmly in my heart. It explores the idea of what can happen on an ordinary day. A day where a group of adults, neighbors and friends can get together and relax while their children play. A day that we all recognize for it’s uncomplicated similarity to days we’ve all lived through. A day that can turn complicated in the blink of an eye. A day where everything goes right until it all goes wrong.

Erika and Clementine have been friends since they were little. But from the very start, their friendship was developed with complicated terms. These complications haven’t left their friendship over the years, and so Erika and Clementine find themselves in a relationship of habit more than endearment. Except, perhaps thats too simple, too easy.

This novel is about more than just a day gone wrong. Truly Madly Guilty really tackles the complexity of relationships we have as adults. Marriages, friendships, neighbors, even parents, can sometimes be made up of so many layers, we lose track of them. At least, we can lose track of the heart of them.

“Somehow she knew there would be an unspoken truce on their unspoken battle over God knew what when they were old.”

What I find so fascinating about Liane Moriarty’s novels, or the few I’ve read, is how they really make us look at relationships from the outside looking in. She always shows us how these characters view someone else’s life, often with envy, and then she gives us a look into the reality. And, as is true in life, the truth is often shocking.

The novel gives us a chapter from varying perspectives, Erika and Clementine play prominent roles, but we also see the view from Tiffany and Vid, Erika’s neighbors; from Dakota, their daughter; from Harry, the other neighbor, from Oliver, Erika’s husband; and from Sam, Clementine’s husband. Each adult has their own unfolding of events from that day, but also has their own struggles; both from before the BBQ and after. Moriarty is brilliant in her ability to offer us all of these perspectives. She is masterful in her execution and you are never confused or left unfulfilled. If anything, every page leaves you wanting more.

Each personality contributed to the BBQ, and each character was left changed by it. This isn’t a suspense novel, but it is full of suspense. In order to make sense of these changes, you need to know what happens. But by not giving us the answer first, Moriarty forces us to look at each character in their full humanity. We are forced to get to know them before we can judge them.

By the end of the novel, I found myself in tears. It wasn’t the shocking events that unfolded, or the result of those events. It was more the heartbreaking depth of each character. You felt what they were going through. We feel for them because of their reactions rather than react to a situation. I found that interesting. How would we feel about certain events, if we knew the emotional outcome rather than the cause. If we had to know the people and not the events.

“So this is how it happens, a part of her thought as she rocked and begged. This is what it feels like. You don’t change. There is no special protection when you cross that invisible line from your ordinary life to that parallel world where tragedies happen.”

I could hear their reactions echo in my own friends and family. I could see the tragedy of events not known, and actions never taken. It is difficult to describe how much compassion you will feel at the end, because that was what I was struck with the most. Compassion. Understanding. Empathy.

I think we often judge first and ask questions second. And, I think this novel did an excellent job of slowing that judgement down. What would you do if these were your friends? If this was you? Because, the truth is, this novel could happen to anyone. That really struck me as very powerful.

Each word in the title is emphasized and clarified throughout the novel. As adults we often do feel true. True to ourselves, to our spouses, to our children. And sometimes we feel mad, and very often we feel guilty. These emotions and reactions are within each character in this novel. These words capture the essence of their struggle, both before and after that ordinary day.

I adored this novel, and am positive that this story will stay with me for a long time.

Thank you BookSparks and Flatiron books for sending me this beautiful novel in exchange for an honest and unbiased review!