Mirage (Mirage, #1)

⇒Daud’s debut doesn’t disappoint! A coming-of-age cautionary tale about preserving one’s own identity in the midst of great oppression.⇐


Mirage Cover

by Somaiya Daud

Author: SOMAIYA DAUD

(3.79 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: YA / Fantasy / Science Fiction

Published August 28, 2018, by Flatiron Books

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 311

#Mirage


The blood never dies. The blood never forgets.

Sabé. Do you know that name? Maybe you do if you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan. I had to look up her name, but I remember her character well. Sabé was Queen Padmé Amidala’s handmaiden and body double. She swore allegiance to the queen and vowed to protect her no matter the threat. Not only did she look like her queen, but she also loved and admired her and willingly served her.

Why am I talking about Star Wars – a classic Sci-Fi story when I’m supposed to be reviewing Somaiya Daud’s new debut YA novel, Mirage? Well, because they have several things in common: body doubles, droids, TONS of politics, and very determined rebels.

Happiness is rebellion.

Furat

Amani, a common farmer’s daughter, has a general sense of the political unrest around her, her loving family, and the villagers she loves. After all, they have lived under alien rule for all of her life. But it is only after she is kidnapped by royal droids and forced to become a body double for the evil Princess Maram that she becomes truly aware of the tenuous plight of her people and their planet. Vathek imperial rule has attempted to subdue everyone, but there are some that are willing to fight it until the end — will Amani be among them?

So the Vathek are the bad guys. They ruined the atmosphere on their own planet, now they’re invading and taking over everywhere else – planets, moons, everywhere. Bullies. They forced their rule, language, and beliefs on everyone in their star system and their main focus now is crushing any opposition to their empire. As with any planetary takeover, there’s a buttload of politics in this story: Alliances, allegiances, appropriation, and autocracy. But there are also lots of fantasy elements, especially in terms of the native people’s belief systems and lore. The story is brimming with symbolism and traditions that marked the rich history of the people before Vath occupation. But that history is slowly fading from minds and hearts as Vathek ways permeate all nuances of life. Amani’s capture only emphasizes this: no one has their own free will – you live or die all at the whim of the Vathek King Mathis.

Which brings us back to Amani. She is kidnapped (against her will), forced to live in seclusion in the royal palace (against her will), forced to alter her appearance and personality (against her will) all to serve a cruel princess who loathes and despises her. So, yeah, the opposite of Sabé in almost every sense. So why the comparison? Because Sabé was a handmaiden, but she made herself indispensable, earned respect, and became powerful even in her service to her queen. Amani will need to learn those same traits in order to survive as Maram’s double. But could there be some kind of humanity left in Maram? Amani plans to find out.

I wanted something else, something more tangible and immediate. I wanted the world.

Amani

Somaiya Daud’s debut novel blends several lit genres into a fast YA read that will leave fans wanting more. The book is packed with rich sci-fi elements including crafty technology and space travel. You won’t find faeries or trolls here, but there are direct references to mythical and supernatural beings and animals alike. And for readers who like a side of romance with their YA, Daud has you covered there too with a sticky little love triangle that almost seems inevitable even from early on.

You are not responsible for the cruelty of your masters.

Amani

Although the “cliffhanger” fell a bit flat for me, the draw towards book #2 is clear. Budding world-building and steady character development are certain lures for readers, even if constant language immersion and inconsistent action are a bit draining (hello, Kushaila/Vathekaar translator app, anyone? If you’ve ever tried to learn Quenya or Dothraki, you’ll love this book!). The primary draw is all the rich, non-traditional characterization and imagery. There’s lots of color and texture here, and as we all know, variety is the spice of life!
All-in-all I’d say there’s a little something for everyone in this suspenseful YA debut. And if you read it and are on the fence about eagerly awaiting book #2, Court of Lions, let the blurb from this back cover convince you:

The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me,

My face changed, my body broken.

But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.

I was my mother’s daughter,

And I would survive and endure.

I would find my way back home.

Amani

Read an excerpt of Mirage here.

(Courtesy of EW.com)


Author's pic: Somaiya Daud

Somaiya Daud

Like most writers, Somaiya Daud started writing when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. In 2014 she pursued a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)


The President Is Missing

by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
SmellRating4
(3.98 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 4, 2018, by Hachette Audio

Genre: Fiction / Political Thriller

Format: Audible Audiobook

Narrators: Dennis Quaid, January LaVoy, Peter Ganim, Jeremy Davidson, and Mozhan Marnò

#ThePresidentismissing

The President Is Missing by Bill ClintonTake out the leader, and the rest of the pack panics.

Back in 2001, a little show called 24 hit the small screen. Jack Bauer, expertly played by Kiefer Sutherland, as a member of LA’s Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) “raced against the clock to subvert terrorist plots and save his nation from ultimate disaster” – as IMDb puts it. And I was there for every second of it!

There were plots and sub-plots, bad guys, good guys, bad guys who became good guys, good guys who became bad guys, good women, bad women, and worse women… and in the middle of it all, there was Jack Bauer just trying to save the country from destruction over and over again. It was easily one of my favorite shows.

So it was no surprise when, later, another little show called Scandal rocked my world. Once again, it was a highly skilled team (lead by one amazing person) rescuing us from devastation. This time Olivia Pope, played dynamically by Kerry Washington, advised the hell out of everybody in the White House and beyond, managing crises that threatened all sorts of highly ranked officials, including the president himself.

So why wasn’t I into reading this book at first?

Primarily, I think that I assumed that it wouldn’t be any good. #Truth. I mean, really – a fiction novel written by a former president? Pass. I was initially less than interested. It didn’t even tickle my reading radar at all.

Then, one morning while I was dressing to go spend a day of vacation on the beach in Hilton Head, I watched an interview with Bill Clinton and James Patterson about the book, its storyline, and why they wanted to write it. By the end of the interview, I was sold.

They both spoke about including authentic action in response to real-life scenarios that are very genuine threats to national and international security. And Patterson mentioned that he consulted with Bill Clinton specifically to make it as detailed as possible and to get all the facts right. I love authenticity in books. It says to me that even though a story may be fictional, the author cares enough about it to get it right.

After reading this book, I am glad that I saw the interview and totally satisfied with my decision to change my mind and check it out. It is – at its essence – a James Patterson book. If you’re familiar with his writing style, you will feel his touches and patterns throughout the story.

However, I was also distinctly aware of President Clinton’s experienced voice weaving within the narrative, especially (and not surprisingly) in the character of President Duncan. Duncan is the president that Clinton aspired to be and that I wish we had today. Strong, but flawed; brave, but cautious; powerful, but compassionate. The story shows us all these sides of a heroic leader who is battling threats to his command on both foreign and domestic fronts.

When the mountains and molehills all look the same, campaigns and governments devote too little time and energy debating the issues that matter most to our people. Even when we try to do that, we’re often drowned out by the passion of the day.

Here’s a little of the plot without spoilers: President Duncan faces one of the most difficult weeks in his life. He is asked to attend a congressional hearing that will decide if he is to be impeached, he is also notified that a cyber terrorist is planning to detonate an Armageddon-level attack on the United States, and a chronic infirmity of his is once again rearing its deadly head. Duncan knows there is a mole within the White House, and it’s one of his most trusted Circle of Eight. He must figure out who he can trust before the cyber-terrorist strikes and plunges the entire nation back into the Dark Ages.

The Wild, Wild West, this cyberterrorism. This new, scary frontier. Anyone sitting on a couch in his underwear could undermine the security of a nation.

It’s set in real time over the course of 4-5 days with a large cast of sufficiently fleshed-out characters. There’s a lot of political instruction (not the most enjoyable), a lot of misdirection (entirely enjoyable), and multiple points of view which keeps the action interesting and fluid.

The President is Missing is heavy on the patriotism, equally involved with explanations of certain key members of all three branches of government and their duties, and reverently appreciative of how indispensable the secret service is to the protection of our nation’s leaders – none of which I ended up minding even though it seemed to slow the action down significantly at times. I could really feel Clinton’s expertise and admiration in those chapters and it made me appreciate his in-depth contributions.

Despite an epilogue that came across as a bit long-winded and too patriotically “preachy” (but on its face was meant to inspire and unite us – I could practically hear Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” playing in the background during the president’s speech), I enjoyed this book and have already recommended it to others who also enjoy James Patterson, political fiction, and a few select friends who really enjoy a good thriller with a stealthy terrorist plot!

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook here.

Buy it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play


About the Authors

Image result for james patterson and bill clintonBill Clinton and James Patterson

JP Website

Clinton’s Twitter

Patterson’s Twitter

William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III) was the forty-second President of the United States, serving from 1993 to 2001. Since leaving office, Clinton has been involved in public speaking and humanitarian work. He created the William J. Clinton Foundation to promote and address international causes, such as treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and global warming. In 2004, he released a personal autobiography, My Life.

James Patterson has created more enduring fictional characters than any other novelist writing today, with his Alex Cross, Michael Bennett, Women’s Murder Club, Private, NYPD Red, Daniel X, Maximum Ride, and Middle School series. As of January 2016, he has sold over 375 million books worldwide and currently holds the Guinness World Record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers. In addition to writing the thriller novels for which he is best known, he also writes children’s, middle-grade, and young-adult fiction and is the first author to have #1 new titles simultaneously on the New York Times adult and children’s bestseller lists.


 

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Vox

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Berkley Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Christina Dalcher

SmellRating3

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Expected Publication: August 21, 2018, by Berkley Publishing Group

Genre: Dystopian Fiction / Sci-Fi

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 336

#Vox  #NetGalley

VoxThink about where you’ll be — where your daughters will be — when the courts turn back the clock… Think about waking up one morning and finding you don’t have a voice in anything.

Let me get this out of the way first, and then you won’t have to hear anything else about my comparisons of Vox to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because they really, really do have a lot in common: 

  • the oppression of women including the banning of reading, writing, and free speech
  • the vilification of Christianity
  • programming/reprogramming of the children
  • classification of women in terms of social standing & “virtue”
  • violent deaths for opposers
  • a mother attempting/considering escape for the sake of her daughter(s)
  • and an underground resistance movement

In addition, Dalcher also uses the flashback method (as Atwood did with Handmaid) to take us back to life before the new government created this new “Pure movement”.

Dalcher doesn’t shy away from the Atwood association though, and she lists her as a literary influence on Goodreads (along with Shirley Jackson and Stephen King). So, there!

Ok, so the two books are a lot alike; HOWEVER, there are also some key differences that made me view The Handmaid as scary but empowering, and Vox – not so much.

Monsters aren’t born, ever. They’re made, piece by piece and limb by limb, artificial creations of madmen who, like the misguided Frankenstein, always think they know better.

So here’s the plot summary: Dr. Jean McClellan used to be one of the foremost neurolinguistic scientists in the United States. Past tense, because ever since the new president took office and set up the loquacious Reverend Carl Corbin as a White House advisor, women aren’t allowed to speak, let alone work as scientists – or anything – anymore.

Women have been stripped of their careers outside of the home, all their bank accounts, cell phones, laptops, access to birth control, and – most invasively – their voices. According to the new government, the female population is only allowed 100 words a day. Any more than this and a band on their wrists administers a painful electric shock that increases in intensity with every additional word. The ultimate goal is to force women back into “more traditional” roles within the home: cooking, cleaning, and raising families – whether they want to or not.

Jean inwardly rails against the establishment, but she does so silently, until the day an opportunity presents itself that may offer a way for her and her daughter to buck the system and get to speak again. But will the cost be too heavy a price to pay? And is her husband truly being supportive or just secretive?

I’ve become a woman of few words.

OK, so I’ll review first and rant later.

This is a hard review to write. I have to separate how I feel about the subject matter from how I feel about the writing/plot development/characters/etc., and if you’ve ever reviewed any type of controversial book before, you know that is not an easy thing to do.

As dystopian novels go, this one was packed full of frustrating circumstances, despair, oppression, and all the negative emotions you can imagine a dystopian novel would contain. No, all the characters aren’t likable (even, surprisingly, the main character), and most of them aren’t given a whole lot of backstory, so don’t expect a lot of character development here. It’s a quick read and most of the true action is stuffed into the final few chapters.

But the premise is extremely compelling and it does draw you into the story easily. I did read this mostly in one sitting because I was so interested to see how it all played out in the end.

Vox certainly serves as a cautionary tale reminding us that evil ideas prevail when good people do nothing – especially when we don’t go out and vote! You know that totally “woke” friend who is always pushing everyone to call their congresspeople and to oppose this cause and that cause? Listen to her. If nothing else, this book taught me that much.

Did I love it? No. Was it worth a read? Sure. Of course, there are plot points that are infuriating and potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, but isn’t that almost a requirement for good dystopian fiction? This book made me angry, sad, frustrated and – at times confused,  but I left it knowing that someone’s words caused all those feelings in me, and isn’t that kind of the point of reading?

I wonder what the other women do. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their husbands in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little bit?

Now for the rant – and, don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. I’ll just put it right out there: I’m a Christian. I NEVER push my beliefs down anyone’s throat nor do I devalue anyone else’s faith. So, it was VERY painful to read this book and see all the many, many, many times the main character maligned Christianity as a religion and its followers as a whole. There was no separation of “these certain religious fanatics” or “a specific group of extremists”. No. It was the entire religion and everyone who believes in it. That made me angry and it separated me from the story. I couldn’t relate to the characters, who were obviously suffering and deserved my sympathy, because of that gross and blatant injustice.

And I’m personally astounded by all the times Christianity is portrayed as the villain in mainstream media without anyone condemning that practice. We will defend the rights of Islamic Muslims to not be categorized as terrorists and the rights of Catholic men to not be pigeonholed as pedophiles, etc., but with Christians, hey! it’s free game! I take issue with that.

You obviously don’t need to be told that all Christians are not extremists. All Christians are not judgmental separatists who dream of a controlled society where diversity is non-existent. Most Christians are just hardworking, God-loving people who are just trying to live good, compassionate, charitable lives. To lump us all with the images of a few power-hungry radical individuals was a gross misrepresentation, and I take exception to that.

OK, rant over. But know, that while I did harbor that resentment throughout the book, I did not rate the book based on my personal feelings about the subject matter. And I’m not attacking the author either for the opinions of her main character!

Phew, I feel better getting that out of my system!

According to my personal rating scale, I gave Vox 3 stars: “This book was alright. Might be worth reading for most, but there are several things about it that will keep me from recommending it to all.” Three stars is not necessarily a bad rating from me. Lots of what I read ends up in this category. It was a solid book and will appeal to a vast majority of readers. If you pick this one up, here’s my two-cent advice: Read it for what it is, try hard not to compare it to other stories, and find at least one character you can relate to. Good luck!

Release day for Vox is August 21st so pre-order now! Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


About the Author

Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher

Website

Twitter

Instagram

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.
Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.
After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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Ace of Shades

by Amanda Foody
SmellRating3
(3.87 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published April 10, 2018, by Harlequin Teen (Owlcrate Exclusive Edition)

Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 408 pages

Triggers: Drug use, mild sexual references, altered profanity, pedophilia, and violence

#Ace of Shades  #Owlcrate

Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)Some say the City of Sin is a game, so before you arrive – ask yourself, dear reader, how much are you prepared to lose?

-The City of Sin, a Guidebook:
Where to Go and Where Not To

Tropps is the game of choice in New Reynes, otherwise known as the City of Sin. The players begin with 3 cards. Here are yours: A gangster, a schoolgirl, and a mystery? That’s a questionable hand, for sure. If this were a typical round of Tropps, I’d advise you to fold. However, the game you are playing is far grander and deadlier than your standard casino offerings. To win is to become a legend. To lose is to die.  -Amanda Foody

Ace of Shades is the story of Enne Salta, a proper, disciplined young school-girl whose virtue is tested in New Reynes, the City of Sin when her mother, Lourdes, goes missing for months. Enne meets Levi Glaisyer, one of New Reynes’ resident gang leaders, and together they try to solve the mystery of Lourdes’ disappearance.

Image result for ace of spadesTo be frank, reader, you’d be better off not visiting the city at all.

Hey, nice quote. Maybe that was good advice because Ace of Shades did not wow me. Sorry! (Not sorry.)

New Reynes is a bad place. It’s deceitful, dangerous, and everyone inside of it is evil. We are reminded of this over and over again. Maybe if we had been introduced to a kinder, gentler city first – like Bellamy, Enne’s hometown – for contrast, we’d be able to tell the difference for ourselves instead of being reminded of it over and over again.

Enne only enters New Reynes to find her missing mother, Lourdes. She does not intend to stay because she needs to return to Bellamy in order to graduate and finally become a true and proper lady. But once New Reynes has its grip on you, corruption is inevitable (or so we keep getting told).

Image result for ace of spadesIn the City of Sin, secrets are their own sort of currency, and reputation holds more power than fortune.

This is going to read like a non-sequitur, but you know what I like best about Star Wars and The Hunger Games? You win the hand if you said, “Not the politics!

Although politics is central to each story, keeping track of affairs of state becomes tedious in the middle of an otherwise great action tale. However, just like in those blockbusters, politics is an essential part of this story too and it’s part of the world-building strategy Amanda Foody uses to furnish all the characters with motivations for surviving in the City of Sin. With several different street gangs, Mafia families, and blood-thirsty ruling governments – each with their own powerful leader, there are a lot of moving parts in this story and you’re not sure who Enne and Levi should fear the most.

The inclusion of politics did, however, give AoS the perfect vehicle to introduce some pretty important themes: The Dangers of Classism, How Power Corrupts, and The Individual vs. Society. Important? Yes. Interesting? Marginally.

Avarice, pride and lust — these are all modest desires. What the City of Sin truly Image result for ace of spadescraves is destruction.

Foody drops us into the City of Sin in this dual-perspective (Enne’s and Levi’s) YA fantasy laced with gang wars, dark magic, and a deadly card game that won’t be denied a soul or two. 

There’s a lot of backstory vital to Enne’s self-discovery that doesn’t become clear. Ever. (Like, what made Lourdes leave Bellamy in the first place? What made the Mizers so hated? How did Enne escape the House of Shadows as a baby? Etc.) And while there is a good amount of world-building, a lot of it feels initially like a big info-dump with several strings that are left hanging even after the epilogue’s last period.

Three stars because the book wasn’t un-enjoyable, but I was left with questions that shouldn’t require a series to resolve.

But for people that rated this one higher than I did, the epilogue was good enough to yank them right into the next book of the series, King of Fools, due April 30, 2019.

Not sure if I will be interested in traveling back to the City of Sin. Ask me again in April next year (if my TBR hasn’t stretched into infinity by then!)

Check out the first chapter of Ace of Shades for yourself courtesy of Amanda Foody HERE.


About the Author

Amanda FoodyWebsite

Twitter

Instagram

Tumblr

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she works as a tax accountant in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books.

ACE OF SHADES is the first novel of THE SHADOW GAME series. Her debut, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, released in July 2017.


 

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Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury
SmellRating4
(3.98 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks (my version)

Genre: Fiction / Classics / Science Fiction

Format: Trade Paperback

Page Count: 159 pages

Fahrenheit 451Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy…

No, this isn’t a new book or even a nearly-new book. It is, in fact, fairly old having first been published in 1950. But it’s eerily even more relevant today than it was when it was written.

Guy Montag lives in our future, in a place that only seems dystopian to those of us judging from the safety and normalcy of Guy’s past. Guy’s government has set him and all of their citizenry up to enjoy leisurely days and nights unhampered by the worries of deep thought, introspection, and empathy. How did they do it? They destroyed literature, of course. They burned it from the planet and instead left inane room-sized reality TV and speeding race cars in its place. Their escape – their Utopia.

‘Kerosene,’ he said, because the silence had lengthened, ‘is nothing but perfume to me.’

At first, Guy revels in this system. He even operates within it working as a fireman – one who burns books and the houses that hide them. Books have become illegal and the people who own them are criminals subject to arrest and the loss of all they possess. He knows his job and does it well. He glories in the dance of the fire as it burns away the last vestiges of Earth’s ancient wisdom and imagination. But then Guy meets someone who changes his perspective and what once made perfect sense to him is suddenly the cause of his complete metamorphosis.

Isn’t that how it always is? You’re going along just like normal and then, BAM! one thing happens that uproots almost everything you were comfortable doing and thinking previously. It’s amazing how profound a little chink in the chain can be.

… We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

Speaking of dystopian societies, F451 reminds me in many ways of The Handmaid’s Tale. In both, subtle decisions made “on high” resulted in extreme changes to civilization as a whole – which then conformed to “someone’s” version of a perfect society. And in both of those societies, reading books was banned. Also in both, certain factions of humanity readily contributed to these modifications and even welcomed them without looking back at what they lost. Seriously, burning books? BOOKS? No more Shakespeare or Austen or the Bible or Qur’an. No more YA or autobiographies, Greek tragedies, or sappy romance novels? No more poetry or prose of any kind, except what is hidden in our heads or our hearts?

The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine percent of them is in a book.

Thinking of that makes me sad for our future because the reality of that world could so easily happen even now with the agreement of a few like-minded heavy-hitters and a few backroom signatures. Then where would be we be? I tell you where I’d be: I’d be Lane Kim from Gilmore Girls hiding Lee Child and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle beneath my floorboards. I’d sneak Janet Evanovich and Tomi Adeyemi paperbacks from the ceiling in my closet to read by the light of a single candle at 2 AM. And I’d tremble through Stephen King and Dean Koontz by the glow of the moon every night. Books would be my Anne Franks hidden in my attic from the fire-happy Nazis who would seek to rip them from me.

I would be like Bradbury’s F451 character, Beatty, the fire chief – living a double life as a conformist during the day and a ravenous consumer of all my pilfered prose at night. And maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to make my usually brittle brain memorize more than just the opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities, or Aidan’s monologue: “Am I not merciful?” from Illuminae. I would make myself learn at least a chapter or two of Little Fires Everywhere and also something, anything, by Chinua Achebe, either of the Brontë sisters, or Neil Gaiman.

Would we all – the bookstagrammers, book bloggers, reviewers, and addicts – then be exiled like the old men beyond the city limits? Would we gather together around our campfires and relay from memory the stories smuggled safely away from the flames? That seems like the Dark Ages, but then again, it makes the Dark Ages seem not quite so dark at all.

And some day, after it sets in us a long time, it’ll come out our hands and our mouths. And a lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right.

Ray Bradbury’s story of one man’s awakening can be (and has been) interpreted in many different ways. To me, it is a bright neon warning sign to Stop! Pay Attention! Take it All In! Refuse the Dumbing Down of Society! That’s what Guy’s catalyst character, Clarisse, was – a warning – urging him to taste the rain and rub dandelions under his chin. To experience this life, to remember. But the key there was that she made him wonder if he was happy. He had to think about that. And from that one thought alone came all the rest.


About the Author

Website

Goodreads

Ray Bradbury is one of those rare individuals whose writing has changed the way people think. His more than five hundred published works — short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, television scripts, and verse — exemplify the American imagination at its most creative.

Once read, his words are never forgotten. His best-known and most beloved books, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, FAHRENHEIT 451 and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, are masterworks that readers carry with them over a lifetime. His timeless, constant appeal to audiences young and old has proven him to be one of the truly classic authors of the 20th Century — and the 21st.

(Bio from R.B.’s website)


 

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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

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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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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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Macbeth

by Jo Nesbø
Rating: 
(3.76 stars – Goodreads rating)

To Be Published April 10, 2018, by Crown Publishing/ Hogarth Shakespeare

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 464

MacbethTomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow. The days crawl in the mud, and in the end all they have accomplished is to kill the sun again and bring all men closer to death.

Remember Lit class in high school? Your teacher would pull out stacks of some sad, abused school-version paperbacks of this-or-that “timeless classic” and you and your classmates would groan, roll your eyes and then spend the next two weeks analyzing some old guy’s mood and underlying meaning. Fun times.

This is the Macbeth I wish I had read back in high school (No offense, Shakespeare – love your work) because it would have done more to capture my attention. There still would have been the obligatory groaning (groaning is required by students whenever an assignment is given), but the discussions would have definitely been livelier.

Nesbø’s book is a modern re-telling of a classic tragedy featuring a man, Macbeth, who is trying to make a name for himself in a no-name town.

Jo Nesbø reimagines Shakespeare’s character of Macbeth as a police officer in the 70’s working in a drug-riddled city that is also filled with crime and corruption at the highest levels. When we first meet Macbeth, he’s likable – a bit cocky to be sure, but likable. But as his ambition grows, so do his troubles, while his moral standards quickly take a nosedive.

Nesbø writes a great adaptation filled with strong “modern” versions of familiar classic characters. The story is still very much a tragedy and lacks none of the dark mood and circumstances of the original. There is also that special other-worldly sense just underneath the surface.

The story is packed with action, sinister plots, dirty deals, and greed-driven politics all perpetrated by various heroes and anti-heroes. Although slow at times, the entire tale builds toward a foreseeably tragic end that rivals any that old Will ever wrote.

I would recommend this book to lovers of classic literature, mysteries, and crime fiction.

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, Hogarth Shakespeare, and the author for the opportunity to read and review an ARC of this book.


About the Author

Jo NesbøGoodreads

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Jo Nesbø is a bestselling Norwegian author and musician. He was born in Oslo and grew up in Molde. Nesbø graduated from the Norwegian School of Economics with a degree in economics. Nesbø is primarily famous for his crime novels about Detective Harry Hole, but he is also the main vocals and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre.

(Bio from Goodreads)


 

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Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi
SmellRating5
(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

#ChildrenOfBloodAndBone


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

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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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Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(4.17 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published September 12, 2017, by Penguin Press

Genre: Fiction / Adult Contemporary

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 338

little firesAll up and down the street the houses looked like any other – but inside them were people who might be happy, or taking refuge, or steeling themselves to go out into the world, searching for something better.

I have movies that I watch whenever I see them listed on the guide as I’m scrolling past 1000 things I’m 100% not interested in. There are those few that I will always stop for: The Princess Bride (of course, it’s my favorite), The Fifth Element, Clueless, The Color Purple, The Holiday, and Chocolat.

That’s right, Chocolat – and not just because of Johnny Depp either! I get something from that movie every time I see it – a sense of adventure, of bucking the system, and a feeling of being inwardly powerful enough to affect a whole town just by being yourself.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk quite literally blow into the quiet, puritanical French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and immediately set up a chocolaterie (chocolate shop) – much to the dismay of several townspeople, including the town mayor, Comte de Reynaud. After all, what have these quiet, God-fearing people to do with chocolate? – And especially during Lent! They consider Vianne to be an immoral witch capable of leading them all astray into gluttony and sensuality all through the temptation of her delectable chocolates.

In the end, Vianne’s effect on the town is a marked one. She shows them all that sometimes old stodgy ways are just that, and that to be welcoming and nonjudgmental is sometimes all it takes to have a different and more positive outlook on life. Vianne’s free spirit doesn’t let her stay long in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, but we see that she made an impact that altered all the lives around her.

Now, you may be asking, what in the whole entire world does any of this have to do with Celeste Ng’s beautifully covered book, Little Fires Everywhere? Well, a lot actually.

In Ng’s book, Shaker Heights, Ohio is an idyllic town where Mrs. Richardson fits in perfectly with her husband and four children. Theirs is an orderly and purposeful world, where expectations are known and fulfilled for the most part (the youngest daughter, Izzy, does give Mrs. Richardson a run for her money). There are the usual community scandals occasionally, but nothing an orderly town like Shaker Heights can’t put to rights very quickly. That is, until two new tenants move into the Richardson’s rental duplex. Mia and her daughter blow into town and disrupt the status quo.

See the comparisons starting now?

I refuse to spoil this book for anyone, so I won’t disclose the events that lead up to some life-changing moments for every one of the characters. But I will say that, like Vianne Rocher, Mia Warren is that free-spirited soul – either by choice or necessity – dragging her daughter Pearl from city to city changing lives and making marks that cannot (should not?) be erased.

This book is better if it is revealed slowly, unfolded like the carefully tucked paper of a middle school note, or gradually developed like a photograph.

Celeste Ng writes what our hearts wish we could articulate about life, about intimate feelings and those ultimate longings that pull on us a little more every day. Little Fires is sincere and relevant; it will catch you by the heartstrings and hold on tight. You will feel emotionally tangled, angry, joyful, indecisive, and bitter. You may also find yourself battling with your own senses of conformity versus rebellion and wondering where you would fit into the juxtapositions of Shaker Heights society. And you will feel all those emotions because Ng is a master at her craft.

Politics, social norms, privilege, free-will, and the greater good all battle for scrutiny in this book, but all are deftly woven (without “preachery” or judgment) into the lives of this particular group of people who each – for better or worse – left a mark on me. I didn’t want their stories to end.

Five enthusiastic and well-earned stars for a book that I wanted to hold on to even after I’d read the last page. And, as you know, those are the good ones.

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


About the Author

celestengWebsite

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Celeste Ng is the author of the bestselling novels Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)

 

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