Saturday, December 5, 2015

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

worlds of ink and shadow
Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley
Released: January 5th 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Source: received a NetGalley e-arc in exchange for an honest review

Goodread | Amazon

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families. (from Goodreads)

Here's the thing - I'm not a fan of biographical fiction because it's an oxymoron. HOWEVER, once fantasy is added, I am far more amenable. In this fantastical account of the famous Brontes, we get to see and explore what led to these homely parson's children becoming some of the most celebrated authors in history. And quite frankly, I almost want to believe this account over the real biography. I'm just putting that out there.

I am a huge Bronte fan; of Charlotte and Emily. I haven't gotten around to reading Anne but that will happen! Team Bronte all the way over Team Austen! When I read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights back to back for a high school project, I closed their pages wondering how these two brilliant women could come from the same family and be wildly different in style and voice. They are fascinating people, and the moment I saw Worlds of Ink and Shadow I had to commend Lena Coakley for taking on such a profoundly huge subject matter. That took guts! Not only that, she wrote Charlotte and Branwell and Emily and Anne with such individual, precise, organic voices that I finally understand that question I had!

There was one thing that I regretted after reading this book - I regret Branwell Bronte never publishing a novel. After reading this book, based on the Bronte's real childhood writings, I am thoroughly intrigued by this lesser known Branwell Bronte. Coakley also delves into, however briefly, why Branwell isn't as famous as his sisters, why only a portrait of them, with his own face blotched out, is his claim to any amount of fame. Even though that subject was broached for only a short time, I appreciated it. Now I can imagine Branwell's wicked mind producing something that could have rivaled Wuthering Heights, could have been the link between the differences in Emily and Charlotte's writing style. I enjoyed getting to know Branwell Bronte.

I enjoyed learning of their characters - Rogue and Zamorna - who could have been the basis for characters like Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester. It makes me want to read the Bronte juvenilia for myself! And isn't that one of the points to writing? To encourage MORE reading? This book didn't just satisfy my taste for all things Bronte; it made me curious; it made me want more! Some criticize a book/retelling for not being perfectly accurate, but I think that if a book can encourage someone to learn more about the subject matter then it has done its job. Like the fantasy infused animated movie, Anastasia, that triggered my undying love for all things Romanov. Worlds of Ink and Shadow did its job in promoting the incredible minds of the Bronte children. I give it a round of applause.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis

spinning starlight
Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis
Released: October 6th 2015
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Source: ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads | Amazon

Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it's hard to escape it. So when a group of men show up at her house uninvited, she assumes it's just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi's vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers' survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans strings the heart of the classic with a stunning, imaginative world as a star-crossed family fights for survival in this companion to Stitching Snow. (from Goodreads)

I've never been a scientifically or technologically minded person, so it surprised me just how much I enjoyed this book (as well as R.C. Lewis's first book and companion novel, Stitching Snow). It's kind of like being thrown head first into a Star Trek episode, with the characters talking about this device or interacting with that tech. It certainly kept me on my toes in order to keep up with each important piece of sci-fi that was mentioned! Sci-fi as a genre is not one that I usually gravitate towards, but since R.C. Lewis intertwined it with a bit of fantasy and a healthy dose of fairytale re-imaging, I HAD to read.

While Spinning Starlight does have a wonderful romance in it, at its heart this book is about family. As the youngest of nine children, Liddi has never known a life without her tech-genius brothers, and her relationship with them truly is what makes this book special. I loved the bond Liddi shared with each and every one of them. I loved how they defined her, and how she comes to define herself without them. All her life she's lived in their shadows, with the eyes of the entire galaxy waiting for her to live up to the Jantzen family name. That's a lot of pressure to live with! And Liddi may have crumbled under it... had she not found her own voice, ironically by losing it.

Liddi is thrown into a world that she does not know, tasked with saving her brothers, the most important people in her life, much less the galaxy's - all while unable to speak. She's never trusted anyone but her brothers, and now their fate relies on her trusting a young man who has every reason to doubt her. There is so much that could go wrong, SO MUCH that relies on Liddi's strength of will. It was fantastic to watch and to feel Liddi's weaknesses become her strengths. She is the kind of heroine I LOVE rooting for!

Tiav was an interesting character to follow, as well. He is tasked from the get go as Liddi's handler when she stumbles out of a portal, lost, helpless, and confused, into his world. Their relationship is so sweet. It's riddled with boundaries - communication, cultural, religious - and rife with misunderstandings. And yet, these two just get each other. I loved watching them grow up and take on the galaxy together, with all the ups and downs that come with adventures.

The worlds in which Lewis created was thrilling to discover. Liddi comes from a seven planetary system, with a fabled eighth that turns out to be not so fabled. The seven planets are linked and completely reliant on each other, and Jantzen Tech is at the heart of keeping them connected. And Tiav's world, the eighth planet, is so wildly different in values and practice. Through these differences, Lewis explores the role that religion and technology play in society. How over-zealous, extremist behavior on both sides do far more damage than anything else.

This book explores trust and dependency and family and love and hate and self-worth and pride and humility. There is so much for a reader to take away from it! I highly recommend adding this book to your TBR list! And if you already have, then I recommend moving it up and reading this book as soon as possible!


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis

the one thing
The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis
Released: September 8th  2015
Source: ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads | Amazon

Maggie Sanders might be blind, but she won't invite anyone to her pity party. Ever since losing her sight six months ago, Maggie's rebellious streak has taken on a life of its own, culminating with an elaborate school prank. Maggie called it genius. The judge called it illegal.

Now Maggie has a probation officer. But she isn't interested in rehabilitation, not when she's still mourning the loss of her professional-soccer dreams, and furious at her so-called friends, who lost interest in her as soon as she could no longer lead the team to victory.

Then Maggie's whole world is turned upside down. Somehow, incredibly, she can see again. But only one person: Ben, a precocious ten-year-old unlike anyone she's ever met. Ben's life isn't easy, but he doesn't see limits, only possibilities. After awhile, Maggie starts to realize that losing her sight doesn't have to mean losing everything she dreamed of. Even if what she's currently dreaming of is Mason Milton, the magnetic lead singer of Maggie's new favorite band, who just happens to be Ben's brother.

But when she learns the real reason she can see Ben, Maggie must find the courage to face a once-unimaginable future...before she loses everything she has grown to love. (from Goodreads)

I've written and re-written this review about twelve times because I just can't seem to express how much and why I love this book. All the words aren't coming out right! So I'm just going to say it:

I love The One Thing.

It has more than just one thing. Pun intended! There is an adorable friendship that makes me so happy inside. There is romance. Dealing with blindness. Parent issues. Tested friendships. Self discovery. Heartbreak. Music. Miracles. Pistachio ice cream!

Maggie Sanders was a fun character to read. She's blind, but that just means her voice has to be louder. In fact she's pissed about all the adjustments she's had to make upon being blinded by a case of meningitis some six months prior. The girl had plans, she had a life, and then... she didn't. Now all she has is a grudge and a raging sense of sarcasm. Until she meets Ben, a precocious, ten year old boy who has a few problems of his own. And I love this kid. I don't think I have ever been so enthralled by such an odd-ball relationship as the one that Maggie and Ben share. Ben is so full of enthusiasm and joy and hope, all the things that Maggie hasn't felt since she lost her sight. With Maggie's smart ass quips and Ben's humor, I couldn't put the book down until I got to the next scene they shared together, and then the next... and the next. Needless to say there came a point where I binge-read all night!

And then there is Mason, Ben's older brother who just so happens to be the lead singer in Maggie's favorite band. Of course, Mason finds Maggie suspicious. A 17-yr old girl suddenly hanging out with a 10 yr-old kid, who just so happens to be wearing a fangirl t-shirt when Ben introduces them? Yeah. Mason kind of loathes his brother's "new friend" from the moment they meet. But my second favorite part of this book is how these two evolve, together and separately.

There is so much going on in Maggie's life right now, a lot of it catalyzed by Ben. It was incredible to see her juggle so many various problems at once, while still figuring out how to live with being blind. Maggie's story is inspiring. My only wish for this book is that it was longer. I would have loved to see MORE. Go into all of these serious issues just a little bit MORE. This is a personal preference. It was written so well, full to the brim with Maggie's unique voice. I felt everything that Maggie wanted me to feel. But I am a greedy reader - I usually want moremoremore!

The One Thing is a fantastic contemporary, and I think any fan of the genre will want to read and add it to their collection!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

everything everything
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Released: September 1st  2015
Publisher:Delacorte Books
Source: ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads | Amazon

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I started this book late at night, not expecting to get too far into it, just trying to catch up on my netgalley reading while waiting to fall asleep. But then I couldn't stop, and I had to force myself to put it down because I had somewhere to be early in the morning. I kept thinking about it and getting antsy to get back to reading about Maddy, and then I had an 8 hr drive home... and no matter the motion sickness I usually get from reading in the car, I HAD to continue reading.

Maddy's story was one that touched my heart because her voice was so pure and innocent and unadulterated by the anger and resentment that so many YA narrators have. It was... refreshing. And even when Olly came into her life and showed her all the things she was missing out on, all the things that should make her envious and resentful, she never wavered from her good nature.

Now, as a fantasy nerd, my mind almost immediately started shouting at me that this story was like a contemporary retelling of Rapunzel (a la Disney, mind you, minus Gothel). And in many ways it is! Maddy is locked inside her house, never able to leave, and then Olly jumps into her life and gives her, not the desire to leave, but a reason to.

The narrative style was perfect for this story. It doesn't have traditional style chapters, but many short chapters, some even consisting of demonstrative pictures. It was so easy to read and SO EASY to get caught up in. I thought it might be difficult to show the development of Maddy and Olly's relationship that way, but it WORKED, and it was so purely Maddy.

I am so glad that I read Everything, Everything, and I recommend this book entirely, especially to fans of Gayle Forman's If I Stay. This is the story of a sick girl who is given the opportunity to stop seeing herself as sick, to stop settling, and instead LIVE life like it's meant to be lived.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

a history of glitter and blood
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
Released: August 4th 2015
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Source: ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads | Amazon

Sixteen-year-old Beckan and her friends are the only fairies brave enough to stay in Ferrum when war breaks out. Now there is tension between the immortal fairies, the subterranean gnomes, and the mysterious tightropers who arrived to liberate the fairies.

But when Beckan's clan is forced to venture into the gnome underworld to survive, they find themselves tentatively forming unlikely friendships and making sacrifices they couldn't have imagined. As danger mounts, Beckan finds herself caught between her loyalty to her friends, her desire for peace, and a love she never expected. (from Goodreads)

I am not entirely sure what just happened. One moment I was floundering to figure out what the hell was happening in this book, deciphering where the narrative was, dealing with a bossy storyteller trying to tell me what to do and believe, and very nearly giving up on the book. Then, suddenly, about 25% in, I couldn't stop reading. Like, I don't remember eating. I do remember being extremely uncomfortable in my position and just not being able to care because I needed to finish reading the page before I could think about moving something as trivial as my numb leg. And my eyes hurt. But I could not stop reading. 

Honestly? This book seems like this huge dysfunctional mess of  so much happening all at once, and yet... it some how manages to be cohesive and whole and unified. And it's just plain crazy-awesome-weird how well it works - if you only give it the chance/time/patience to work

What I didn't like...
The structure of the book was difficult to get used to. It jumps back and forth between past and present with no indication other than context clues, and you are expected to figure it out for yourself. I actually have a love/hate relationship with that. On the one hand, I appreciate a book that expects me to keep up, while on the other it made for an extremely bumpy beginning. 

There is also the matter of random 1st person interludes, like the narrator putting in his 2 cents every now and then. That was disconcerting at first, but I actually came to appreciate those as the book progressed and I came to understand who the 1st person POV was. 

Then there was a whole lot about this book that made me uncomfortable. And when I realized I didn't care that it made me uncomfortable, that made me even more uncomfortable. This book is gritty, to say the least. It deals with issues like war, prostitution, murder in various forms - all with no regard for the reader's comfort. But the reader has to realize that's the point

What I did like...
As it turns out, everything that I didn't like morphed into what I loved about this book. I LOVED the unorthodox story-telling. I LOVED the untrustworthy narrator. I ended up loving that I had no clue what was going to happen next even though I was reading from both the past and the present and I knew how the past would end. 

But most of all I love the relationships in this book. I should say character development, but these characters are so weirdly dependent on each other that each one wouldn't be developed without the others. 

I think it's unfair that the summary only mentions Beckan. That is so grossly unfair, because she is nothing without Josha and Cricket and Tier and Rig and Piccolo. And Scrap. I don't understand how none of them, especially Scrap, aren't mentioned in the summary. But then, if I think about it, it's also kind of perfect that it only mentions Beckan (it would be too spoilery to say why). The love that these characters feel for each other is ridiculous, in the best way possible. They are in love with being in love with each other. But in the times that they live, in the situations they are in... well, it's means for some excellent, take-my-breath-away tension.

I loved how the war and racial tensions are intertwined into these characters' definitions. People are not the same during wartime as they are in peace. And in this grotesque, horrific wartime world that Hannah Moskowitz created - where fairies live forever but none of them are whole, where gnomes eat fairies, and tightropers think they know what's best - nothing can ever stay the same, no matter how hard Beckan and her pack try. 

This is a story about holding on and letting go and never being the same. When I started it, I didn't think I could possibly like this story, and somehow I ended up loving it. I have a feeling these characters will stay in my heart for a long time. 

If you are a fan of gritty, whimsical, romantic stories that take no prisoners in the telling there of, then I highly recommend reading A History of Glitter and Blood.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Confessions of a Queen B* by Crista McHugh

confessions of a queen b
Confessions of a Queen B* by Crista McHugh
Series: The Queen B* #1
Released:July 28th 2015
Source: ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads | Amazon

Alexis Wyndham is the other type of Queen B—the Queen Bitch.

After years of being the subject of ridicule, she revels in her ability to make the in-crowd cower via the exposés on her blog, The Eastline Spy. Now that she's carved out her place in the high school hierarchy, she uses her position to help the unpopular kids walking the hallways.

Saving a freshman from bullies?
Swapping insults with the head cheerleader?
Falling for the star quarterback? So not a part of her plan.

But when Brett offers to help her solve the mystery of who’s posting X-rated videos from the girls’ locker room, she’ll have to swallow her pride and learn to see past the high school stereotypes she’s never questioned—until now. (from Goodreads)

I do love myself some good old high school hierarchy drama. I really don't think life gets any more exciting. It's like being at war, and perhaps that's why - being a huge fantasy nerd - reading the HS misery of someone else is oddly and sadistically gratifying. Isn't that what a lot of fantasy tales are about? The little guy overcoming all odds and defeating the great evil in the land and winning the heart of the fair princess/prince? It's exactly why nerds, such as myself, clung to fantasy while going through the hellish middle/high school years. 

Alexis Wyndham is one such heroine. The kind that takes matters into her own hands and defies all social norms to overthrow the high school royalty. But what sets her apart from ALL THE OTHER HS Dramas out there is her voice. Alexis is hilarious. At least, I thought so. She brought humor to situations, even when she was terrified of what she was doing. She's loyal, sticking up for a sister who dwells with the enemy. She's vulnerable, while trying desperately to keep her tough girl veneer. She's basically everything I wish I could have been when I was young. 

Alexis is bound and determined to rid the halls of Eastline High from the tyranny of the popular crowd, except... there's one small hitch in her plans. She's falling for the golden boy, the top dog. And for good reason. Brett is pretty much perfect, and, as it turns out, a lot more like her than Lexi is comfortable with. It's like realizing that all the beliefs that you've held close to your heart for so long, lived your life by, may not actually be true. This is why Confessions of a Queen B* is only book 1 in a trilogy! The book ends in some murky waters, and I cannot wait to see where Lexi's story goes from here!


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows

the truth according to us
The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows
Released: June 9th  2015
Publisher: The Dial Press
Source: ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads | Amazon

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten. (from Amazon)

It was about halfway through that I knew this book would break my heart. I knew it was going to cause me an extreme amount of emotional pain, and every self-preservational instinct I had was telling me to stop reading. But I couldn't, because that's a fairly usual feeling I get when I'm discovering a new book to add to my favorites list. I had the same feeling when I read Maeve Binchy's The Glass Lake, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road. This feeling keeps pretty good company, so I tend to ignore it.

The Truth According To Us is about a young girl, her aunt, and a woman whose presence altered this family's perception of truth forever. It's about a family still trying to redeem themselves and recover from a tragedy that happened 18-yrs in the past. It's about spying and bootlegging, lying to others and lying to one's self, fitting in and breaking free. There are so many stories being told all at once, but the chaos of it was... kind of the point.

I could have read the book entirely from young Willa Romeyn's point of view, whose precocious and childishly clever and unadulterated voice reminded me of Scout Finch. The love she has for her Aunt Jottie and her not-always-around father Felix Romeyn, as well as the rest of her family, and the way she thinks about them and acts around them and for them - it's the heart and soul of this book. I felt a bond with Willa. What she goes through, the way in which she feels, the way she has this desperate need to know her family, even the way she dreams, I felt a kindred spirit in her. There is nothing better about reading a book than finding a soul mate in its pages.

But Willa's story was only part of the tale, completed by the stories told by Jottie Romeyn (who is stuck in the past) and Miss Layla Beck (who is struggling to figure out her future), and how their lives, for however long or short a time, basically revolve around Felix. It's an interesting thing because he has so little present page time, but consumes so much of the book. Throughout the entire novel, you can see how Felix is bad to the bone, but at the same time why Willa and Jottie stick by him with a devotion that both melted and broke my heart. And perhaps its for that reason that Felix is lovable, not for himself but because of Willa and Jottie.

Layla Beck is a different story. She is a bit of an oxymoron. She's both loveable and irreversibly annoying. She was a main character with a strangely secondary character feel. Though, that is to be expected when you are surrounded by the Romeyn family. But Layla shines in her own way, if you're willing to put up with her. She's smart, but naive. Stubborn, but floundering completely out of her element. But I have to say, the best part about Layla is that she latches onto the Romeyn family, which is probably the best and worst thing anyone can do.

Much of the tone of this book is similar to that of Annie Barrows's other book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It has the same small town, home-is-where-the-heart-is vibe; the same type of endearing and quirky cast of secondary and background characters; and the same authentic taste of history. And while Guernsey has plenty of critical acclaim, I must say that I felt The Truth According To Us surpassed it, emotionally, technically, vocally, though this may be because I am not partial to the epistolary style of Guersney.

However, I am going to conclude this review with a quote from Guernsey.

"Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books 
that brings them to their perfect readers."

That's how I feel The Truth According To Us came to me. There are certain books that come into your life and you feel like they belong there, with you, and they were always meant to belong to you. So much of this book feels like it belongs to me and me alone, but I know and I hope that many someone elses will find this book and feel the exact same way.