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Illuminae

by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Rating: 
(4.32 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published October 20, 2015, by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Genre: Fiction / Sci-Fi / YA

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 599 pages


Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)I am the ship and the ship is I. If I breathed, I would sigh. I would scream. I would cry.

If a nuclear missile hits a battleship in the dark void of space and there are less than 1,000 people on board (but 99% of them are afflicted with a zombie virus), does it still make a sound?

Kady Grant is about to find out.

Her only resources are her techy brain, her trusty datapad, and the possibly insane (definitely murderous) AI system with a God complex known as AIDAN.

I know them. All of them. Better than they know themselves. All this in the time it takes God to blink.

I don’t know what you were doing when you were 17 years old, but I wasn’t exactly a tech-savvy hack-master with the capability to rescue thousands of people and escape a cadre of virus-riddled infectants who are bent on revenge. I mean, if you were that bad-ass then please accept my congrats and a standing ovation. However, I get excited when I can just get Microsoft Word to perform correctly.

So, Kady Grant has a lot on me. She escaped the BeiTech Industries attack on the colony established on planet Kerenza, and now all she has to do is survive so that she can tell the story of that attack to the Universe.

BeiTech killed the people of Kerenza, and if you find this, you have to tell the ‘verse what happened.

This was a book like none I’ve ever read before. The events that play out in deep space between the Alexander fleet (including ships Alexander, Copernicus, and Hypatia) are relayed to us via intercepted emails, IM chats, transcribed video surveillance, classified office memoranda, etc. The 6000+ people on board the three vessels are flying for their lives from the one remaining BeiTech battleship, the Lincoln, that is bent on eliminating all witnesses.

AIDAN has also let loose a squad of passengers infected with the fatal and mind-bending  Phobos Beta virus, and now they’re spreading it to others on board. There’s chaos among the stars and eventually, it all comes down to 17-year old Kady to save everyone.

They don’t need this girl in neuroprogramming, they need her in psych ops, eyeball to eyeball with the guys who need to see things a little differently.

The action is constant and fluid, and the format of Illuminae will keep you turning pages long past your bedtime. Even now, AIDAN’s creepy voice (as I imagine it) is ringing in my head, “Am I not merciful?

Although there were familiar themes present (AIDAN is obviously 2001: A Space Odyssey -inspired; HAL could be “his” generation 1.0), that doesn’t take anything away from what makes this book remarkable.

Read it.

Illuminae is followed by Gemina (published in 2016) and Obsidio (published in 2018), and each book in the trilogy focuses on the same invasion of Kerenza from the perspective of a different pair of surviving teenagers. If you’re into science fiction and lots of YA action (with just a touch of romance), you’ll enjoy this futuristic space adventure.


About the Authors

Image result for amie kaufman and jay kristoffAmie’s Website

Amie’s Twitter

Jay’s Website

Jay’s Twitter

Amie Kaufman is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. Her multi-award winning work has been published in over 35 countries and is in development for film and TV. A couple of her career highlights so far include professional wolf-howling lessons, and working as a story consultant at NASA.

Jay Kristoff is the #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES, and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of five Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, has over half a million books in print and is published in over thirty-five countries, most of which he has never visited.

(Bios courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman
Rating: 
(4.35 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 9, 2017, by Viking – Pamela Dorman Books

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Adult

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 327 pages


Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineI do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination.

In horror movies, there is that one part (that may happen over and over again) where the mood changes. The scene gets darker, the music is more ominous. Maybe even all the action is just a touch slower. As viewers, we know that this is the moment when something is about to happen. The bad guy is coming.

That’s what it was like for me while I was reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Because, of course, she isn’t. And there are bad, bad things lurking around her that definitely deserve a dark setting and ominous music.

But on the surface, Eleanor is making her awkward way through the world: sticking to her routine, correcting everyone’s grammar, and drinking copious amounts of vodka. It’s the normal life of an introvert for her – and, after all, who’s to say what “normal” is anyway?

If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, ‘What would a ferret do?’ or, ‘How would a salamander respond to this situation?’ Invariably, I find the right answer.

I actually saw some of myself in Eleanor. While I’m (thankfully) nowhere near as awkward in public as she is, we do share some of the same introverted tendencies:  being committed to a routine that varies very little from day to day (or at least from week to week), and often having limited contact with other people for long stretches of time. Even in this modern age of technology and all the world’s advancements, there is still a lot of alone-ness going around.

Honeyman sets up Eleanor at times to be a pitiable character, highlighting her loneliness and her painfully cumbersome social interactions. But at other times, we see her as a complicated success story. No, really. She’s a survivor that really shouldn’t even be as well off as she is. And so you can forgive all of her idiosyncrasies because there’s so much depth to her as a person.

…I’d probably want to pluck out my own eyes, to stop looking, to stop seeing all the time. The things I’ve seen cannot be unseen. The things I’ve done cannot be undone.

So now, back to my horror movie analogy – you know by now that I’m not the spoiler type, so I’ll just say that Eleanor is an introvert and part of the story is her learning to function differently in society. She’s figuring it out basically alone. How to shop for clothes, how to get her hair styled, how to interact at a party, how to dance! But Eleanor has a boogyman, and sometimes the darkness creeps in. In the midst of several distinct triumphs, there are setbacks that threaten to destroy all the progress she’s made. Her secrets overwhelm her and are too scary to face.

But no one had ever shown me the right way to live a life, and although I’d tried my best over the years, I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.

Gail Honeyman writes a captivating contemporary tale about an unusual woman who is battling some tough demons. It is subtly suspenseful and Eleanor is entirely frustrating while simultaneously being entirely loveable. Reading this book was like watching a baby deer take its first wobbly steps into a wild world – awkward and fantastic.


About the Author

Gail HoneymanGoodreads

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Gail Honeyman wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full-time job, and it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2014, was longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)

Featured

A Court of Frost and Starlight

by Sarah J Maas
Rating: 
(4.23 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 1, 2018, by Bloomsbury YA

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 229 pages

**Warning – Mild spoilers follow**

To the stars who listen…A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

I know this is basically a book review, but this novella also taught me a lot about my own reading weaknesses. I present to you:

EASY WAYS THAT AUTHORS CAN DISTRACT ME WHILE I’M READING…

1- Start writing about renovations. My mind immediately jumps into HGTV mode. So while Rhysand and Feyre are concerned with rebuilding Velaris after the Hybern attack, I’m thinking, “Hmmm, I wish they would talk some more about the renovations – Are there competent builders in Velaris, Are they using a specific color theme, Ooh is there shiplap???

2- Add a character like Amren with such quirky qualities that she seems to dominate every scene she appears in. This book had that in spades. Amren’s adjustment to being fully High Fae now was grossly hilarious and disturbing. I love thinking of scary, dangerous Amren as this book’s comic relief.

And 3- Include a scene where three hot, Illyrian males are naked in a sauna. No explanation needed.

I snorted. ‘So the three of them are just in there. Naked. Sweating.’ Mother above.

Despite my mental distractions while reading, A Court of Frost and Starlight is a much-anticipated little novella that whets our appetites while we wait for the next installment of Night Court magic coming from the SJM camp in 2019.

But… not a lot happens.

Am I disappointed in that? Nope. Why? Because we get some picture-perfect scenes with Rhysand and Feyre, some classic boy-behavior from Rhys, Cassian, and Az that makes us remember that they are friends first and warriors second, and some truly LOL scenes with Amren who is still – hilariously – learning to not be an alien.

Amren: I should have selected a male form. At least you  can whip it out and go wherever you like without having to worry about spilling on —

This is an important character-building installment where we see more of our favorite – and not-so-favorite (i.e. Tamlin) – characters as they are normally, without the added pressures of war or catastrophic kidnappings and torture. We learn more about Mor, who I personally can’t wait to see act out her revenge on the entire Court of Nightmares and rulers of the Autumn Court as well. And now it seems that Rhysand isn’t planning on holding her back whenever she decides to do exactly that.

Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by the paltry Winter Solstice celebrations of the Night Court. We didn’t get to experience how Velaris rings in the changing of the seasons. After the descriptions of such a spirited celebration in the Spring Court during Calanmai the year before, hanging pine boughs, eating a big meal and exchanging presents feels… uninspired. Surely the Night Court could have come up with more creative traditions than those. For example:

  • Magical ice sculpture competitions in the city. The Velaris citizen that creates the best one wins dinner with the High Lord and High Lady.
  • Ice skating on the frozen Sidra river. The banks could be lined with faerie lights. And after the sun goes down, the males of the village could race on it by starlight.
  • There could be a huge Winter Solstice Ball. That would be a much better reason for Feyre, Mor, and Elain to wear the fancy gowns they love so much. And then Amren could have a perfect excuse to wear some of her exquisite jewelry – as if she needs a reason!

While those suggestions still pale in comparison to the feverish excitement and long-standing tradition of the Calanmai celebration, they’re still better than a meal and drinking until passing out, which is all our beloved characters seemed to do. Dull.

Still, while I was disappointed by the Solstice, Nesta’s continued personal exile, and Lucien’s put-upon behavior, I was satisfied that Elain seems to be coming out of her shell, Feyre finally has a hobby, and Rhysand remains utterly perfect.

Plus, there’s more than one mystery in store: Mor encounters something dark and shadowy skulking in the woods. Who/what could it be? Bryaxis, maybe? What was in the small box that Varian gave to Amren? What are Keir and Eris plotting during their not-so-casual meetings in the Hewn City? Could they possibly join up with the butt-hurt Illyrians and begin a civil war right there in the Night Court? And why is Lucien so convinced that Rhys and Feyre will need Tamlin as an ally in the not-so-distant future?

And please, please, please, SJM, please bring back Emerie the Illyrian shop owner! I can’t wait to see how she could eventually fit into the cozy little family in the Court of Dreams. I have my own ideas about how that could happen 😉

4 stars for this little novella which was a sip of cold water on a hot day. And yes, it left me thirsty for more.


About the Author

Sarah J. MaasWebsite

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Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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Featured

Circe

by Madeline Miller
Rating: 
(4.47 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published April 10, 2018, by Little, Brown and Company

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Historical Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 400 pages

Circe… in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth.

Back in high school – which really doesn’t seem so long ago to me now – I had an excellent teacher named Ms. Willoughby. I may have been in the minority, but I LOVED Ms. Willoughby. She introduced us to the classics, to hidden gems, and to books that ultimately became some of my favorites.

But Ms. Willoughby’s face would light up and she would gain a new level of animation when she talked about mythology! Greek, Roman, African, or Asian – she loved to teach us about gods, demigods, monsters, and the privileged (or not-so) mortals that interacted with them.

Gosh, I wish I had paid more attention.

Too late for all the things I should have known. I had made so many mistakes that I could not find my way back through their tangle to the first one.

I remembered that Circe is a goddess, but here is what I just relearned: Circe is a Titan, but is still considered to be a lesser god. Her dad is Helios, the Titan god of the sun, and her mom is a nymph, Perse, a daughter of Oceanos, also a Titan.

Circe grows up in the earthen halls of her father and grandfather, but she’s an outcast. Her brothers and sister are favored in her parents’ eyes and she is eventually exiled to an island, Aiaia, to live out her immortality alone as a witch.

Only, she doesn’t exactly end up entirely alone.

You know by now that I hate spoilers, so I’ll refrain from saying too much; however, since Madeline Miller’s book is more of a retelling, I couldn’t actually give too much away especially if you’re already familiar with Circe, Greek mythology, or even Homer’s The Odyssey.

What was I truly? In the end, I could not bear to know.

I have a confession to make here: I was drawn in. I had cover art shock. I mean it, this book cover is GORGEOUS. Seriously, a standing slow-clap ovation to Will Staehle, the jacket designer. Do you do that – get drawn in by the cover and the hype surrounding a new release? Well, I have succumbed to those two enchantments more often in the past two years than any other time in my life. Sometimes it has served me well (Children of Blood and Bone), but other times not so much (The Rules of Magic and The Hazel Wood).

Circe’s cover is admittedly eye-catching, but when you remove the jacket (which I usually do when reading hardcover books), the book cover itself is really plain. And that’s what I felt about this story.

Circe is truly an underdog – a lesser god, ostracized from her family, exiled to a remote island, and hunted by powerful and dangerous deities. You can’t get much more underdog than that. And I usually root for the underdog! But for some reason, I never felt connected to her. Whenever I wanted her to stand up for herself, she submitted; and when I felt it would be better for her to take a step back, she charged forward. Maybe that’s the difference between gods and mortals – besides the immortality part.

The Fates were laughing at me… It was their favorite bitter joke: those who fight against prophecy only draw it more tightly around their throats.

Miller does do a great job of marching both mortals and gods through Circe’s life so that we can see her interactions with well-remembered favorites: Hermes, the trickster son of Zeus who acted as Circe’s social media consultant; Athena, the goddess of war and Zeus’ favorite; Daedalus, the mortal that first captured Circe’s heart; and Odysseus, the mortal prince of Ithaca who ultimately changed Circe’s immortal life in several very significant ways.

It was an entertaining read but it wasn’t a favorite. Some parts of the events depicted felt monotonous while some of the more interesting events were covered too quickly and then left behind. I saw Circe as sad and tragic for 88.8% of the book, and that’s a tough kind of MC to get behind. However, I don’t regret buying it, if for no other reason than it looks stunning on my bookshelf!


About the Author

Madeline MillerWebsite

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Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students for more than fifteen years.

She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms.

The Song of Achillesher first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. It has been translated into over twenty-five languages including Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic, and Greek. Madeline was also shortlisted for the 2012 Stonewall Writer of the Year, and her essays have appeared in a number of publications including the GuardianWall Street JournalLapham’s Quarterly and NPR.org. Her second novel, Circe, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller. She currently lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

(Bio from MadelineMiller.com)


 

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My (not so) Perfect Life

by Sophie Kinsella
Rating: 
(3.83 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 11, 2017, by The Dial Press (Random House)

Genre: Women’s Fiction / Humor

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 448 pages

My Not So Perfect LifeI’m owning my embarrassment. I’m not hiding or playing games. I lift my chin, high and resolute. ‘Here I am: Katie Brenner, Embarrassed. There are worse things to be.’

If you’re on Instagram, you’ve seen them – the people with the perfect lives. They’re always eating at the best restaurants, taking perfectly filtered pics of the most delicious-looking food, while wearing the most en trende outfits.

Their hair is styled perfectly. Their children are gorgeous. Their partners are gorgeous. Their jobs are high-paying and meaningful. In short, they are The Perfect Life People.

I’ve seen them, heck, I follow them. I’ve envied their cars, their homes, even their also-perfect friends. But I also realized that perfection is a myth and there’s always other things that a carefully cropped and filtered picture doesn’t show.

That’s the theme of this Sophie Kinsella novel: Getting past the Insta-mask and seeing people (and ourselves) for who they/we really are.

Katie Brenner has always wanted to live and work in London. She dropped her Somerset accent and exchanged her naturally curly hair for a sleek hairdo with bangs when she got her junior research assistant position at respectable Cooper Clemmow in London. She also changed her nickname to “Cat” and convinced her friends and family that she was living the high life through upbeat phone calls and a carefully constructed Instagram page. But life in London wasn’t quite as rosy as she was making it out to be.

Kinsella drops us into Katie’s life as she’s struggling to find her place in her dream city, a new job, and within a group that seems – to her – to have everything going for them. Especially Katie’s boss Demeter. We watch as Katie envies and emulates Demeter even as she judges her harshly for being disconnected, scattered, and insensitive.

I think I’ve finally worked out how to feel good about life. Every time you see someone’s bright-and-shiny, remember: They have their own crappy truths too.

A prominent theme in the book is to never judge a book by its cover. As the story progresses through Katie’s gained footholds and fumbles, we see how her revelations of this theme create a more mature young adult. But being a Kinsella character, we still also see some truly LOL self-inflicted foibles and hijinks.

My (not so) Perfect LIfe was an enjoyable quick read that reminded me that life is what you make it, and how you present yourself to the world – whether it’s fact or fiction – could have a big impact on how you ultimately view yourself.

Four happy, Somerset-accented stars for this feel-good story of revelation, family, and friendship that makes me feel so much better about posting unfiltered pics on my Instagram feed!

Get it here: Amazon, B&N, Half Price Books, Book Depository


About the Author

Sophie KinsellaWebsite

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Sophie Kinsella first hit the UK bestseller lists in September 2000 with her first novel in the Shopaholic series – The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (also published as Confessions of a Shopaholic). The book’s heroine, Becky Bloomwood – a fun and feisty financial journalist who loves shopping but is hopeless with money – captured the hearts of readers worldwide. Becky has since featured in seven further bestselling books.


 

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Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi
Rating: 
(4.49 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published March 6, 2018, by Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Pub. Grp, LLC)

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 525


Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue.

To say that I am enamored with everything this book has to offer would be a gross understatement. It easily earned every one of the five stars I willingly granted it. I was only disappointed that, by the “laws” that govern book rating, I couldn’t give it more. From the stunning cover (kudos Rich Deas!) to the heartfelt acknowledgments this book drew me in and refused to release me – even after the all-too-brief epilogue.

Tomi Adeyemi has birthed a world that instantly lives and breathes with some of the richest characters that have graced the fantasy genre. Orïsha is a land inhabited by the virtuous and the vengeful – each side holding their collective breath, awaiting a battle that will decide the fate of the kingdom and of magic itself.

Zélie Adebola did not ask for the battle to come to her. She only desired peace and for her family to be whole again – a fruitless hope since her maji mother had been slain by the king’s guard years ago. That’s when the magic disappeared and left Orïsha as hollow as her own heart. Since then, Zélie has seen people like herself persecuted, chained, beaten, and forced into the shadows of society – all at the hands of King Saran.

But when Zélie enters the capital city to trade a fish in order to pay her family’s taxes, her life is inexplicably and irrevocably changed forever. The events that follow will require more strength than she ever imagined she possessed, not only to attempt to bring magic back to her world but also to survive.

Her spirit swells through me like lightning breaking through a thunder cloud. It’s more than the feeling of breathing. It’s the very essence of life.

This is a story about a hope and determination that refuses to be quenched even in the face of extreme force and seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s a saga about learning who you are and opening yourself to trust others through life’s journey. It’s about recognizing that inner strength that is the essence of your very being and not allowing it to be suffocated by life’s circumstances.

Further, this is a story that is, in fact, a fantasy; however, its underlying topics echo real-world struggles of inequality, bigotry, and the overwhelming, invasive poison of corrupt government leaders. So, although this is a work of fiction, its themes are instantly recognizable and relatable to parallel current societal issues.

It doesn’t matter how strong I get, how much power my magic wields. They will always hate me in this world.

I recommend this book to fantasy lovers who appreciate an epic saga that is action-packed from the very first chapter. Fans of A Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings who love being able to follow the action along on maps included with the books will not be disappointed here. There are also descriptions of all the maji clans, their powers, and their deities (10 in all). All that is important because you’ll need it not just for this book, but also for… wait for it…

THE NEXT TWO BOOKS – because Children of Blood and Bone is only book #1 in the Legacy of Orïsha trilogy! And that’s not all. Fox is already adapting book 1 into a film!!! If I’m being honest, I hope they do a REALLY good job, because it will be hard to beat the images that played through my head as I read this.

…today I crave it. I’ve been practicing and I’m ready. I know I can win.

Twenty-three-year-old Tomi Adeyemi has written a book that I will not loan out. That’s big for me.  (Have you seen that cover? I’m taking NO chances with that beauty). She has also helped to renew my love for the fantasy genre again (I can thank Sarah J. Maas for that too). But it’s more than that too: This is The Black Panther meets The X-Men; It is Roots meets Indiana Jone;. It is Rosewood meets Harry Potter.

It is all those things and more. It is its own stand-out story of desperation, doubt, hope, and triumph in the face of debilitating hatred and destruction. It is its own story of failure, tainted victories, and questionable truces. It is like so many things, and yet like nothing else I’ve ever read before.

I have to say thanks to my Bookstagram community for hyping this book and inspiring me to read it. It’s one of the few impulse purchases that turned out to be totally worth it.

Get it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Half Price Books


About the Author

Tomi AdeyemiWebsite

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Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. Her debut novel, CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, was released March 6th, 2018 and the movie is currently in development at Fox with the producers of Twilight and The Maze Runner attached. After graduating Harvard University with an honors degree in English literature, she received a fellowship that allowed her to study West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil. When she’s not working on her novels or watching Scandal, she can be found blogging and teaching creative writing to her 3,500 subscribers at tomiadeyemi.com. Her website has been named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest.


 

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New or Old – That Smell is Incredible

Welcome to my book review blog. Thanks for dropping in!

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

–W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever I get a new book, or mooch an old book, or borrow a book from the library, for that matter, I bring it close to my nose… and inhale.

Sometimes the smell is crisp and warm, almost woodsy. Other times it’s ancient and musky, like well-worn furniture. Either way, it’s a great smell. Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is showing Anna (future Yale student) around the library and she picks up a book and smells it? Yes, just like that: #bibliosmia.

So now you know I read old books and new – and I love them both equally. So if you’re here to just see reviews on all the hot new releases that everyone else is reading and blogging about, then you’re not in the right place. Sorry.

I do read selective New Releases, but I also have a lot of “Dusty Bookshelf” reads that I am committed to getting through in this upcoming year (I said that last year too), and a lot of books that people have recommended to me that I will finally get around to. The books I read/review won’t always be current, but they’ll always be interesting.

I prefer reading hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks (there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands), but I also read several e-books and listen to a few audiobooks each month, so you’ll likely see reviews for publications in those formats as well.

Occasionally, when she lets me, my daughter and I will read her books together. She’s in 4th grade and has a bookcase full of chapter books that we work our way through whenever she’s not bogged down with school-assigned stories. When our read-along books are especially good, I’ll review those too under Daughter Read-Alongs.

I’ll also occasionally be featuring my favorite authors, book events in Georgia, upcoming new releases, links to free e-book deals, and throwback looks at my favorite childhood reads.

I’m a Goodreads member and belong to several groups there. The book cover pics I post will most often come from Goodreads along with mentions of their overall rating of each book. However, I do not – I repeat, NOT – allow the rating from “the masses” influence my personal opinion of any book I read. Reviews are my own individual thoughts and I am absolutely not receiving any compensation for anything I post here.

As you may have guessed, this is my first foray into blogging so I’m sure I have some kinks to work out. If something isn’t working or posting correctly, just bear with me and I’ll get it worked out. Eventually. ♥

Enjoy!

booksniffing

The Crooked Staircase (Jane Hawk #3)

by Dean Koontz
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

(4.0 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 8, 2018, by Bantam Books

Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Suspense

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 512

#TheCrookedStaircase  #NetGalley

The Crooked Staircase: A Jane Hawk NovelJane stood in the dark, and the dark stood in her, the latter being the darkness of both her past actions and letal potential.

OK, be honest, did Dean Koontz have a clandestine meeting with George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) before he wrote The Crooked Staircase? Because he definitely broke readers’ hearts and left a bitter taste in my mouth with this book.

In this 3rd book in the Jane Hawk series, former FBI agent Jane is bent on climbing the Who’s Who ladder within the Arcadian Society to exact some revenge for the death of husband and the ruination of her career and peace. With her son safe in hiding, Jane makes major moves to settle some scores and get closer to cutting off the proverbial head of the beast.

There is no honor anymore. No integrity. Treachery is everywhere. Machinations, hollowness, treachery, and ruinous disorders!

In this series, Koontz capitalizes on our fear of losing control of our true identities and succumbing to another’s whims and agendas. He is a master storyteller, and he conveys as much of the story by what he leaves out as he does by what he includes. And although this installment is action-packed, fairly little ground was gained.

The bad guys are truly brutal. The protagonist is still amazingly resourceful, but she seems to be stretched a little thin. Plus, readers may start to cringe now every time she asks any of her friends for help of any kind. The body count rises in heartbreaking ways right along with the level of intensity. Lovers of fast-paced action will especially appreciate the final two sections of this novel.

I think to myself, I play to myself, and nobody knows what I say to myself.

I’m a Koontz fan, but I had to take off a few stars because of my extreme distaste for the brutal violence (triggers include rape, torture, and child abuse) and for the all-too-convenient way the bad guys were able to track down every single one of their targets regardless of the paltry clues they had to go on. Even in today’s high-tech society, I found that incredibly inconceivable. And finally for the abrupt ending that felt less like a cliffhanger and instead like the book was just unfinished.

Fans of this series will rush on to read Book 4, “The Forbidden Door”, and hopefully, they will be rewarded with an ending (if it ends) that is completely satisfying.

**Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and Bantam Books for the opportunity to read and review this book.


About the Author

Credit EngstromWebsite

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Acknowledged as “America’s most popular suspense novelist” (Rolling Stone) and as one of today’s most celebrated and successful writers, Dean Ray Koontz has earned the devotion of millions of readers around the world and the praise of critics everywhere for tales of character, mystery, and adventure that strike to the core of what it means to be human.

Dean R. Koontz has also published under the names Leigh Nichols, Brian Coffey, David Axton, Owen West, Deanna Dwyer and Aaron Wolfe.

Dean, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever, Elsa, and the enduring spirit of their goldens, Trixie and Anna.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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Fruit of the Drunken Tree

by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Rating: 
(4.45 stars – Goodreads rating)

To Be Published July 31, 2018, by Doubleday

Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 304

drunken fruitMamá always said — the life she knew was a last-minute tsunami that could sweep away fathers, money, food, and children.

Chula and her family live in Bogatá in a nice home with all the standard comforts. Just a few miles away, their young housekeeper, Petrona, lives in a makeshift hut in the hills with the remnants of her large family and no comforts. But the thing that connects them all is the violence of the time and place in which they live. Car bombs, kidnappings, drought, and hours-long bans on electricity equalize them all in the country where the paramilitary, guerrillas, and Pablo Escobar are constant threats to “normal” life.

We made ourselves deaf and dumb, but still we lost. The story repeated itself, and we lost some more. We had no other choice.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras writes an engaging fictional novel set in the late ’80s through the early ’90s based on actual events in her own life and countless others living in Colombia. The story is told in two perspectives: nine-year-old Chula and fifteen-year-old Petrona, both of which are laced with an ominous expectation of something terrible looming just over the horizon. Events loop through past and present sometimes in limited, unconnected ways – typical of a young girl with limited experience and understanding.

The story is absorbing and suspenseful with characters I felt attached to even after the last word was read.

*Many thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday, and the author for providing me the opportunity to read and review this book.*

A Court of Wings and Ruin

by Sarah J Maas
Rating: 
(4.53 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 2, 2017, by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 705

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)If he was the sweet, terrifying darkness, I was the glittering light that only his shadows could make clear.

If you’re not familiar with this fantasy series already, quick sum-up: Feyre was kidnapped from the human world and forced to live among the faeries in Prythian. These aren’t Tinkerbell fairies, no. These are otherworldly creatures with varied characteristics and deadly powers.
Feyre suffers a lot (that’s a bit of an understatement), there are a few love triangles, she meets some nice faeries, and then she meets some not-so-nice faeries.  And in an extreme effort not to spoil the series for you, I’ll just say that several relationships become more than a little strained in Prythian, and Feyre has a lot to do with it!

This series was not one that I initially set out to read. As you’ve read from me before, fantasy isn’t my usual go-to genre (although I have read more of it recently than in times past). YA also isn’t my usual go-to genre, so I can honestly say that I got influenced to read this series based on fan enthusiasm alone. And, overall, I haven’t been disappointed. I gave high marks to both Book 1: A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Book 2: A Court of Mist and Fury. However, sadly, my fan-love couldn’t push me to give this particular book in the series higher than 3 stars.

It was war.

I don’t really enjoy reading about war, and this book is filled with it – rumors of war, preparations for war, strategies of war, outright war, individual battles,  casualties of war, and the aftermath of war. Is there gonna be a fight? Are we gonna have to fight? Who is gonna fight with us? Who’s gonna fight against us? Are we gonna win? On and on and on. Because of that, there were some chapters that I found tedious and repetitive.

Remember that you are a wolf. And you cannot be caged.

Here is where I make a confession: In movies where there is a battle scene, I often fast-forward until it’s over. Yes, I know, I know. It’s sacrilege. But I get it. Two sides disagree, they battle, it’s gory, there are some heroes, there are some cowards, one side wins, everyone loses some people. Done. See? I don’t have to see all the guts to get the point.

Only, with a book, I can’t fast-forward. I can’t skip pages. I can’t leave it unread. I know some people are able to do that and be okay with it, but – even with a bad book – I force myself to suffer through it all. So I did. Every battle, every slash of every sword, every clang of ash arrows against every strong shield, and every heart-wrenching injury to characters I’ve come to know and care about over about 1,750 pages now.

So, battle lines are drawn in Prythian and, if I’m being honest, the motive isn’t really clear. Apparently, the residents of neighboring island Hybern (with King Hybern as their lead – yes, confusing) don’t want to be confined to their lands anymore and they want to be able to take humans as slaves again. Yet, when they begin the war, they invade the human territories and just kill everyone. Uh, question? And then their interests are torn because they also want revenge against Feyre for surviving being Under the Mountain and ruining Amarantha’s plans (Book 1). So Hybern is fighting on several fronts, battling several individual Courts, AND the humans, and none of it seems very advantageous or sane.

But it’s war.

But I can say that in 705 pages, LOTS of stuff happens in this book. New allegiances are formed – on both the good side and the bad. Many new characters are introduced, some of whom I have been eager to meet since Book 1. And, of course, Sarah J. Maas does not skimp on the detailed faerie love scenes. Intense. Everyone’s beautiful/handsome, everyone is deadly, and everyone, EVERYONE, has an ego.

Several strings that I thought were going to be tied up were still left dangling in the wind and one of them, in particular, became a little more frayed as it just hangs there (What’s going to happen with Azriel and Mor in light of everything now?) Ugh, so frustrating.

You’ve read my gripes about war and about the dangling threads, but don’t let that make you think that this is a bad book. Sure, it was slower than the others, but still packed with the action and risky adventures that this series is known for. I enjoyed it, just not as much as the others. AND, I’m still looking forward to the novella A Court of Frost and Starlight (Book 3.1) that gets release May 1st, another short novella (Book 3.2), and Books 4, 5, and 6 after that!

Get it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-million | IndieBound | iBookstore | Kobo | Waterstones | Amazon UK | Book Depository


About the Author

Sarah J. MaasWebsite

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Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


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A Court of Mist and Fury

by Sarah J Maas
Rating: 
(4.71 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 3, 2016, by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 626


A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)It had been a year since I had stalked through that labyrinth of snow and ice and killed a faerie with hate in my heart.

When I was growing up (in the 80s), little extravagances were luxuries. And one such extravagance was Neapolitan ice cream. Three flavors in one! No longer were you stuck with a choice of just chocolate or vanilla or strawberry (blech!) alone – you could have a combination of two or (gasp!) all three!!! One of the world’s greatest inventions: Neapolitan ice cream.

What in the world does Neapolitan ice cream have to do with A Court of Mist and Fury? It’s immediately where my goofy mind went as Feyre began to discover all of her many (and varied) High Fae powers. Because she was knit back together and resurrected Under the Mountain by power from all seven High Lords, she has a bit of each of their extensive abilities – command over water, air/wind, fire, the night/darkness, the day/light, the ability to shapeshift, and the ability to heal (among others). So, she not only became High Fae, she became Neapolitan High Fae!

You forgot that strength, and that you can burn and become darkness, and grow claws. You forgot. You stopped fighting.

OK, in all seriousness – and in the interest of somehow saving this crazy review – I really liked this sequel.

I wonder if – after the success of ACOTAR, Sarah J Maas sat down with George R R Martin and said, “George, how many pages can I stuff into one book before readers start to question my sanity (and their own)?” I have a pretty good idea that George would have topped her out around the 975 mark, which makes the 626-page A Court of Mist and Fury seem altogether manageable.

I had let them make me weak. Bent to it like some wild horse broken to the bit.

Quick summary: Feyre has survived the horrors of Amarantha and Under the Mountain and is living with Tamlin in the Spring Court. But she’s bored. She has things to do, parties to attend, her wedding to plan, but we know Feyre – she wants excitement and adventure! And that’s exactly what Tamlin wants to protect her from. Tamlin knows she’s had enough adventure and doesn’t want her forced to face any more danger. After all, she’s already being called Feyre the Cursebreaker by the people who are in awe of her. So he has to keep her safe for their sake and her own. Feyre’s still having nightmares about being a captive and let’s not forget that there is still the bargain struck with Rhysand to spend a week with him in the dreaded Night Court each month. A bargain that Feyre resents and Tamlin will do anything to break. Anything.

The issue isn’t whether he loved you, it’s how much. Too much. Love can be a poison.

Now, I’m not going to go into any more of the plot because, well… spoilers. But really, it gets juicy! We meet new heroes and new scarily powerful fae-folk. Feyre makes new friends and has to deal with old ones again (in new ways). And just when you thought that Amarantha was the dirtiest and most evil of all of Prythian’s enemies, here now enters Lord Hybern – the evil from which Amarantha’s evil was spawned. (ugh, he makes me want to spit just thinking about him).

I know, I know, this review is a bit all over the place, but for good reason. I’ve just only moments ago finished reading this book and my emotions are going all Willy Wonka right now! I’m satisfied that I finally read this monstrous tome and that it was good! I’m excited to get the next book maybe as soon as tomorrow in the mail. I’m anxious about how this story ended and the tenuous state of my beloved characters. And I’m angry that I ran out of words to read about them until the next book gets to me!

He thinks he’ll be remembered as the villain in the story. But I forgot to tell him that the villain is usually the person who locks up the maiden and throws away the key. He was the one who let me out.

YA fantasy fans will appreciate the careful world-building descriptions and back-stories. Love-starved (sex-starved?) adults will relish the intimate scenes (boom chick wow-wow! No, seriously, she doesn’t hold back in this one). And readers who love good books will recognize Sarah J Maas’s careful attention to detail and respect for the genre.

I’m typically not a bandwagon reader. I don’t immediately read the most popular, the most critically acclaimed, or the most tweeted-about titles just because 100 bookstagrammers are highlighting them in their shelfies. That’s probably apparent simply by the fact that it has taken me so long to even become interested in this series. You can also probably blame that on my infinitely long TBR list too. But when I finally do discover gems hidden in that ever-growing pile (which is rarer than you’d think), I like to give them my version of virtual all-hail, hands-raised, dirty-kneed genuflection – or rather, a great review.

Get it here: AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBoundBooks-a-millioniBookstoreKoboAudible, and Book Depository


About the Author

Sarah J. MaasWebsite

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Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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Baby Teeth

by Zoje Stage
Rating: 
(3.9 stars – Goodreads rating)

To Be Published July 17, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Thriller

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 320



Baby TeethHanna knew nothing was wrong with her. But Mommy wanted them to look. Again.

As a young(er) adult, I remember wanting to be a parent. I clearly remember that strong maternal pull to create someone, to nourish them, and to pour all of my love into a little person who would love me back just as intensely. It took longer than I anticipated, but I eventually became that parent that I envisioned. There is no instruction manual about how to parent a child “correctly”, and I have made plenty of mistakes; however, my daughter is loving, smart, and beautiful.

And, thankfully, she has never tried to kill me.

That is more than I can say for little Hanna Jenson. Seven-year-old Hannah Jenson (pronounced “Yenson”) is an elective mute who communicates with nods and gestures. She can speak, but words seem to work better inside her head. Her mommy and daddy love her, they play with her, feed her healthy food, and place her in the best schools. But Hanna hates her mommy. She wants Daddy all to herself, and the only way to make that happen is if Mommy is dead.

So Hanna would act, and give Mommy a chance to act in reply. And then she’d know. If Mommy passed or failed.

Zoje Stage sets up a creepy tale within the backdrop of a normal family from Pittsburgh. A custom-designed home, a successful husband, a stay-at-home wife, and… a possibly demon-possessed daughter.

And with that knowledge, we watch the little Jenson family spiral through uncertainty, indecision, awareness, and different levels of acceptance (and rejection) as they battle the demons (figurative and literal) that plague their daughter.

The story becomes a question of what happens when innocence is not so innocent? It’s the familiar parental war of nature vs. nurture or the human conundrum of love vs. loathe. And, as a parent, while reading this book I found myself on a slippery slope of opinion – often suggesting some things to do to this little girl that weren’t so nurturing.

The dynamics of these characters are puzzled together so perfectly, the reader see-saws between who is actually to blame for all the malevolent behavior that permeates this family. Is it the eccentric but brilliant young girl whose devious plots seem to stem from an internal distrust of her mother? Or is it the mother who struggles to force perfection into her own world despite being bracketed by unhealthy and flawed female relationships? Or could it be the father who has chosen to turn a blind eye to any troubles and instead view his family only through rose-colored glasses?

Daddy was an island that seemed like a paradise in her desire, but was nothing more than a rocky crag that couldn’t save her from drowning. Not with mommy beside him.

I was instantly locked into this family’s fight for survival in this thrilling story that is just a little bit too real for comfort. No comparisons to Hollywood’s Problem Child movie of the 90’s here because that was a comedy and there is nothing funny about Hannah’s chilling moods and deadly schemes to have her daddy all to herself.

I did feel a little cheated in the end though. There should have been a more definitive resolution. I think readers deserved that after the tensely suspenseful buildup. So, that’s why I deducted a half star.

I would highly recommend this debut novel to lovers of suspenseful, thrilling fiction and maybe to couples who are considering having children for the first time. (insert sarcastic side-eyed smile here)!

Get it Here      |  Read an Excerpt Here


About the Author

Zoje StageBlog

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An author of dark and suspenseful novels, Zoje lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her debut novel Baby Teeth (St. Martin’s Press) will be released 17 July 2018. It will be released in the UK as Bad Apple (Transworld).

(Bio from Goodreads)


 

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