The Beauty That Remains

the beauty that remains

New Release: 3-6-2018

The cover of this book is a promise of the beauty within. 4 stories are interwoven with each other to show how different families and teenagers deal with very different kinds of losses in very different ways. It’s like Love Actually, if Love Actually was about untimely teenager deaths, those left behind, and the common threads that connect them all together in grief and life.

Ashley Woodfolk’s debut novel The Beauty That Remains was provided by Delacourte Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

I have read other books like this one. Books that ask the question “How do we deal with those gone too soon?” Cancer deaths, accidents, suicide – you don’t have to look far in YA to find these kinds of situations and the effects of the deaths on families and friends. Woodfolk includes ALL of these themes in her debut, but adds another question to the usual YA grief recipe.

How do we move past the loss of a loved one when they are all around us on social media?

The most important part of this novel is how it makes us question the ever-present social media craze. How many selfies does a teenager take in a day and post to Instagram or Snapchat? How many videos on Youtube? What happens when a young person’s existence isn’t just their body and relationships but also an online presence that can outlive them?

Before there was a cellphone and camera in the hands of every 8-18 year old, if something like this happened we mourned, attended the funerals, felt the missing pieces in our daily lives, and then eventually we found a way to heal over that hole and reshape our world to fit the life without that loved one in it.

How do we heal over a wound when the person isn’t truly gone? When we can watch a multitude of videos online and hear their voice and see them move? When their face and comments are everywhere to be seen forever? How do we move on and accept a world without the dead when they haven’t completely left us?

The short answer is that we can’t. The quick solution is to have a failsafe on an account that deletes it after an amount of time of inactivity or perhaps anyone under 18 must have a parent on the account as well (or if not that, then if an account holder is proven to be under 18, a parent must be provided with the username and password in order to manage or shut down the account). Shut it down is a fast, quick, and easy solution.

The longer answer is that no one is quite sure. This is a question unique to our time, and it’s one that mental health professionals, counselors, and families themselves will find a way to answer, hopefully to preserve the sanity and healthy grieving of anyone affected by any of these types of circumstances. A few regulations might not go amiss either, to make sure that social media companies provide the information that grieving families need to heal and move forward, while still remaining legally on point.

Don’t rush to this book, because there are a lot of triggering stories and scenarios in it. If you have a fresh, recent loss this book will hurt. It really covers its bases. But if you would like a story that asks some important questions and makes you think about a world that young people are currently living in and figuring out, this is a magnificent book to pick up. Go get you some.

Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road

New Release 2-27-2018

Seraphina

The third book in Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina collection, Seraphina’s younger half sister Tess (of the pair of twins) is the center of this tale. Tess of the Road was provided as an ARC by Random House for Young Readers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.¬†

I’m not sure why I skipped over the second book of the collection. I vaguely remember that I took Shadow Scale out of the library and then had to take it back because someone else had it on hold, or maybe it was because it was 2309483570922 pages, but either way I can say with certainty that you should read Seraphina first, but you could pick up Tess of the Road or Shadow Scale next and you wouldn’t miss a beat.

While her two previous novels were hefty tomes full of detail and world-building, Hartman changes pace with Tess of the Road and has created a triumph of feminism in a medieval setting. From teenage pregnancy to rape, arranged marriage to vocations, family relations to religion – Tess of the Road shows that girls and women can buck the system and they will always find someone who will support them no matter where they go.

One of the few drawbacks of the story is that Tess is only 16 when the book begins, but it is mentioned so rarely and so many of the themes are very adult, that you can read the book as though you are reading about a young adult in her early twenties and never notice the difference.

The major plot here involves World Serpents, creatures older and larger than the dragons, and the novel continues the storyline of the saar (dragonkind), quigutl (lizard-type creatures), and humans and the politics, religion, and saints that surround them all. Tess meets up with her childhood friend Pathka, a quigutl who is on a mission to discover Anassussia, a World Serpent of legend who has called to him in his dreams. This quest is the umbrella over all of the feminist themes that Tess tackles on her journey to discovering herself and all she is capable of.

Again, you will want to at least read Seraphina first so you have an idea about this world and the players in it, but I would wholeheartedly recommend Tess of the Road, especially if you know a headstrong young woman who might be in need of inspiration and encouragement in the midst of a world that is just beginning to accept loud, brash, strong women as normal.

 

The Golden City (Threads Quartet #1)

The Golden City

This ARC was provided to me directly by the author in return for an honest review. I don’t typically review self-published books, and it becomes even more precarious when the author is a friend, but the cover was intriguing and I was up for the challenge.

Sharon Gochenour doesn’t ease you into the first book of her Threads Quartet. You are immediately thrust into a desert caravan that is in danger of being buried by an oncoming sandstorm. The main character Tadala makes a fast decision to race towards a structure in the distance with her twin half siblings in a last ditch attempt to save their lives. What they discover is a strange city seemingly out of time and space with beautiful gardens, food, and sanctuary, as well as an eccentric woman named Elabel who takes them in and cares for them for a strangely long period of time. When it is discovered that the caravan is lost, Elabel helps Tadala bury them, exposing her seemingly magical powers.

Once Tadala disovers Elabel’s powers, Elabel asks for her help in locating some of the threads. Tadala isn’t sure about what those are, but once she happens upon a weak spot, they seem to be links to the past or possibly to an alternate universe. It is here that we are introduced to the Empress-Elect Elabel, and we learn where she has come from, why she is alone in this city in the desert, and what it might take to return her to her people as a full and strong Empress, with Tadala and the twins along for help and support.

I enjoyed reading this book. The story is compelling and you will be tugged along the thread of the plot with a desire to know how things turn out. The idea of threads that connect everything and that only certain people are able to see and manipulate them is an original, thoughtful device that I enjoyed learning about and exploring.

The character Elabel is very weak, not in development but in her character. I found myself becoming frustrated with her, especially because she is constantly apologizing and never seems to take up any power over herself. To be declared an Empress-Elect by her society’s systems and be so shy and withdrawn seemed too much of a stretch for the story, especially when contrasted with the strength of the Recorder and Swordkeeper that were chosen from her family as well. The mythology behind her society is so interesting though that your curiosity about that will help you excuse the mousiness of the Empress-Elect for the middle portion of the book.

This quartet has a lot of potential. With a professional editor and a publishing house I feel as though it could find its place among other books in the fantasy genre which are flourishing at the moment with dragons and magic. In fact, my only criticism was the editing – there were places I felt went on too long when I already had the point of it, or language that seemed too flowery to belong with the other things that had been said, or details that were rushed through that maybe needed to breathe more air to add weight to the plot.

Gochenour has unearthed a diamond in the rough with her creative mind, writing style, and original themes. Give it a try and you just might think so too. I hope that someone higher up gives the manuscripts a chance, because with a little polishing, this series could be a real gem that I wouldn’t want the world to miss out on.

 

The Two Towers (LOTR #3(and #4))

The Two Towers

LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring

This series is actually a set of six books condensed into 3. In this second volume we have book 3 which outlines Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas’ search for Merry and Pippin after they are taken by the Orcs, their interactions with Fangorn forest and Treebeard, and the journey to and defense of Rohan at Helm’s Deep. This part was very easy to follow because of my enjoyment of the movies, but the book added some very nice details to things I already knew. I got to spend more time with Treebeard and learn about the Ents, and Rohan was a little less moody and more honor bound than the movie would have you think.

The second half, book 4, follows Frodo, Sam, and Gollum as they move towards Mordor. They arrive at the Black Gate, Gollum briefly becomes Smeagol due to the kindness and mercy of Frodo, and then they pass through the daddy issues in Gondor which breaks the good streak in Gollum and upon their release by Faramir, he decides to lead them to the giant spider Shelob on the alternate path to Mt. Doom to have her kill the hobbits so he can take the ring for his own again. In this half I was also glad to find extra useful information that the movie left out, and so I enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed watching.

I have found a complaint! One of the major differences between the movies and the books thus far has been the depiction of the Aragorn character. The long lost king of Gondor in exile as the Ranger called Strider, Aragorn is the most important character in the stories besides the hobbits.

In the books Aragorn is a whiny bitch who has Elendil (the sword that was broken by Sauron but is reforged by the elves) from the start after the first visit to Rivendell and waves it around all the time, announcing who he is to anyone who tries to get in his way. By the time I got to the end of book 3 I was so tired of Aragorn that I didn’t even care if he ever became king.

In the movies he is hesitant to take up the mantle of king, content to remain in the shadows and avoid taking a chance that the weakness that caused his ancestor to fail to destroy the ring of power might also run in his blood and take hold of him as well. Until Lord Elrond brings him Elendil in The Return of the King movie, he doesn’t announce his heritage anywhere. This is definitely a rare circumstance when I believe the movie handled a character better than the books. Sorry Tolkien.

All right, on to books 5 and 6 (Book 3: Return of the King). What are you waiting for, get reading! ūüôā

Down the River Unto the Sea

Down the River Unto the Sea

New Release: 2-20-2018

This is the stupidest fucking book I have ever read, and I’ve read The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak.

Oh, btw this book was provided to be by Mulholland Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review and HOLY SHIT ARE THEY GONNA GET WHAT THEY ASKED FOR.

The main character is a cop, we’re gonna call him Dick Cop. Now Dick apparently has been forced out of his position because he was set up for… rape I guess? In his explanation of his past, we are told that he is sent by his dispatcher to a townhouse to arrest a woman for grand theft auto. When he gets there, the car in question is parked out front, and when he knocks on the door a¬†beautiful woman opens the door and gives a 3 sentence explanation about why she has the car,¬†AND THEN THEY IMMEDIATELY FUCK.¬†He admits in his own description of his past that he can’t keep his dick out of the ladies. “It’s gotten me into trouble” he says. NO SHIT.

He’s arrested for rape (she falsely accuses him as part of the set up AND THERE WERE CAMERAS ALL THROUGH THE APARTMENT so his family gets to see them after he’s thrown in the slammer…omg) and like, somehow also getting head in exchange for not arresting her? and is sent to jail. While in jail he is treated as you would expect a cop to be treated despite being in a single bed cell, and then to protect him after a few attacks the cops decide he’d be better off in solitary confinement? where he stays for almost three months? and makes a “blackjack” which he plans to murder people with. Oh and he has a wife and a daughter at home that find out about all this through the news.

So in just the first 10% of the book I’m told that this cop is (1) dirty, (2) gross, (3) murderous, (4) framed? and now as we work into the story in the “present day” (8 years later) I’m supposed to feel sympathy and be interested in how he moves forward to solve his own case and also maybe move to Hawaii to start over? And also his daughter is somehow on his side and works for his private detective agency that he started when he got released from prison because the charges were dropped?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

NO FUCKING WAY, WALTER MOSLEY. GO SELL THIS SHIT TO DUDES THAT GET OFF ON THIS KIND OF GARBAGE AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY KINDLE. WHAT A PILE OF HOT, SMOKING TRASH. THIS BOOK IS AN INSULT TO THRILLER MYSTERY NOVELS. THESE BOOKS SHOULD BE RECALLED TO AVOID PEOPLE BEING SCAMMED OUT OF THEIR MONEY. I WANT COMPENSATION AND ALL I GOT WAS AN ARC, IMAGINE IF SOMEONE PAID $29.99 FOR A HARDCOVER?????

*ahem*

Don’t read this book. Period.

 

The Great Alone

The Great Alone

New Release: 2-6-2018

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah was provided as an ARC to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Hannah’s story is set just after the Vietnam War. Leni’s parents are complicated. Her mom became pregnant with Leni when she was 16 and her dad Ernst was 25. When Leni was very young Ernst was drafted into the Vietnam War. He came back 6 years later, obviously damaged, and we see a brief glimpse of their home life before a letter arrives, informing Ernst that his army buddy Bo left him his plot of land in Alaska (aka “The Great Alone”) and Ernst decides this is the new beginning to end all new beginnings and moves the family north from Washington to Homer, AK.

This book was 100% terrifying. The tension never gets below a 5 out of 10 from her dad’s PTSD to the ultra-survivalist lifestyle they stumble into in Alaska. Even the never ending days of summer and unrelenting nights of winter contribute to the terror. It was kind of the author to allow them to move at just the right time so they have the entire “summer” to learn how to live through an Alaskan winter. Otherwise things would have become dire very quickly.

What adds to the suspense is that most of you who will read it live in a world where we couldn’t imagine using an outhouse or having to hunt to put away meat for winter or garden to can enough preserves to make it until spring. When was the last time you saw a goat let alone milk one and know how to churn that into other things? Have you ever had to lug water from a river to boil before using it? How long could you go without power? If you pick up this book, really imagine what it would be like to have 5 months to become completely literate in living off the land and sea or be murdered by the famine or insanity that the Alaskan winter brings. Reading this book in the 70s would evoke a much different reaction than reading it today. Our current reality adds to the horror of this novel.

I do not want to give away how this book ends, but if you are looking for a very fast-paced thriller that’s like My Side of the Mountain on powerful steroids, go get this book right away. Hang on tight though, it’s quite a ride.

 

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)

The Bone Witch

I have no idea why I finished this book. Looking back at it it was pretty monotone the entire time and I didn’t really even get told anything about what’s going on history-wise, and yet here I am with it finished and I’m wondering about the second book.

The basic idea is that there are different kinds of magical people named asha. These people control all different kinds of magic: fire, water, air, wood, earth, etc. Female asha  are trained as geisha who can fight and entertain, male asha become Deathseekers who do out to find the daeva. The daeva are mystical creatures that awaken every so many years (each daeva type has a different schedule) and must be killed and sent back to the grave to start their sleep cycle over again.

There is a type of asha called a Dark asha. There are not many of them but they can raise the dead and control other minds. So Dark asha are used to summon daeva before they rise on their own, control their minds, command them to die, and then send them back to their graves without violence. This is done to the daeva whose locations and sleep cycles are known, some are not.

So our 17 year old heroine accidentally raises her dead brother from the grave and is discovered to be a Dark asha, aka BONE WITCH because people are fucking intolerant and cruel, and is taken away to be trained as a murder geisha. Things go badly, plots by a group called the Faceless come to fruition, and we discover that something has happened to our main character Tea to cause her to go into exile and plan the destruction of all the kingdoms.

I mean, I probably kept reading because shit was so complicated. I wanted to understand the world being laid out in front of me but at the same time I was invested in the characters because I love a good revenge story. This was also a story where I forgot that the majority of the characters were teenagers, and it could stand as adult fiction as well. It was YA but the writing was intricate and engaging. I feel like a foundation has been laid and something is about to happen; we are on the edge of a great awakening and a huge battle. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Don’t rush, but go get you some.

Freshwater

Freshwater

African mysticism takes center stage in this novel which explores growing up, mental health, and passion. Ada is born with a multitude of gods within her head, who are not locked out by the shutting of the door. As she grows, a more specific “god” steps forward in the form of her wild, promiscuous side and controls her passion and physicality. All along the gods demand blood, and we find Ada cutting with broken glass wherever she can find it, and the appearance of the blood calms the plethora of voices in her head.

I really liked the premise here. The representation of the confusion in a mind that struggles with depression, anxiety, or personality disorders is well represented with these external forces of African origin. Ada comes from Nigeria to America and brings those influences with her. I have mixed feelings about the depth of this method, because eventually you’ll be reading and go, “okay, so now what?” There is some growth as the gods grow in power over Ada, but Ada herself does not grow or ever really gain control. She is always a servant to the forces within, and that sends a troubling message to those looking for hope, control, or some measure of peace. I suppose it could be trying to bring attention to the multitudes that are lost, but if that’s the purpose I don’t feel like the mark is hit.

Overall the book made me feel hopeless and lost, and in my current mental space that is not a place in which I necessarily wanted to be. But I suppose neither did Ada. So, point made, I guess?

It’s a good book. Don’t rush to it, but if you’re looking for something different and sad that will make you think, consider Freshwater.

Dreaming in Chocolate

dreaming

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes

New Release 2-6-18

One of my favorite quick bite books from last year was The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell. It involved magical pies, found families, romance, and new beginnings and it was a beautiful combo of everything I love in a short and spectacular novel.

So when I saw that she had another magical food book out, I requested the ARC right away, and it was provided by St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in return for an honest review. And you guys know that I am always honest.

Penelope and her mom run a chocolate store in the small town of Malarkey.  Turns out that an old cabinet/desk in the store gives out magical recipes that only Penelope and her mom, Sabine, can see and execute. The town believes in the magic and comes in often for the regular chocolates and the magic chocolates alike.

Penelope’s daughter Ella has an inoperable brain tumor and we are told that they have decided to stop treatment and just let Ella enjoy life since there is nothing more the doctors can do.

At the previous year’s Festival of Fate, they all drank a hot chocolate from one of the magical recipes called “Kismet Hot Chocolate” and wished for Ella to be cured. So when P&E stopped treatment, the town thought she was better, and Penelope let them believe it so they wouldn’t lose business because people would think the recipes didn’t work.

Ella is the daughter of Penelope’s high school sweetheart Noah, who the Kismet hot chocolate told Penelope that she would be together with forever. She told Noah this, and he went running for the hills. She found out she was pregnant, had the baby, and stayed in Malarkey while Noah went elsewhere to start a business and live his life.

Only now he’s back because a relative of his broke their leg and needs help running their in-town business, and so not only is Penelope trying to help Ella live out the remainder of her life in a happy way, but she is hiding Ella’s parentage from both Ella and Noah, because she doesn’t think that involving Noah at this point would be good for Ella in their current situation.

Everybody still with me? Okay.

I was with this book for a long time. The Kindle, at the time of this blog post’s composition, is reading 61%. But I just cant anymore guys, I can’t take it. Every other sentence is how Ella doesn’t have much time left, as if we had forgotten about the cancer and don’t have the mental capacity to feel that tension build as time passes. And sandwiched in between these reminders and actual storyline are reminders that Noah is her father and how she must keep the secret that Ella is his. Ella is his. Ella is his. Ella is dying. They went to the store and saw Noah. She can’t tell Noah that Ella is his. Over, and over, and fucking over.

Crispell tries to convince us that there is some kind of physical connection between Noah and Penelope but every time they brush against each other lightly Penelope cringes or flinches – nothing heats up. The only cool things about this story are Ella’s bucket list and this magical fucking table and I haven’t heard about them in what feels like a very long time.

When books get repetitive like this I lose interest in things. There isn’t anything pressing me to finish the book at this point. I’m not invested anymore. In fact, the repetition and constant nagging actually makes me feel babied, patronized, and a little intellectually insulted. THERE IS A KID. IN THIS BOOK. THAT HAS CANCER. WHO WILL DIE. IN SIX MONTHS. and I don’t care. Not even a little. No emotions.

There is a lot to be said about subtlety. You can pull my heartstrings by inserting little reminders about her cancer in Ella’s actions and health. She’s enjoying an ice cream but loses her balance. She gets lost at school because she suddenly can’t remember the route back to her classroom. It was like Crispell figured headaches must be the symptom of a brain tumor, and bad cancers only end in death, and that was the extent of her research. There was a way to handle at least the cancer in a way that made me want to see Ella’s story through to the end, even if the reappearance of the dad wasn’t that interesting.

So while I would wholeheartedly recommend The Secret Ingredient of Wishes, Dreaming in Chocolate turned out to be a boring flop for me. I’d give it a hard pass.

 

Timekeeper (Timekeeper #1)

timekeeper

Imagine if there was a set of gods that controlled Earth, water, sky, and time. Kind of like a weird Captain Planet situation. Only in this mythology Captain Planet murders the god of time for asking humans for assistance with managing the fibers of time. So there are powerful clocks installed all around the world that are inhabited by clock spirits who keep the time around each area moving in the absence of this god, Aetas.

Without the clock spirit, its clock, and the central cog in the clockwork a city or town becomes magically Stopped, frozen in time forever, impenetrable from the outside. Someone is going around bombing clock towers in England, where our story is set. The main character Danny, a clock mechanic whose father is trapped in a Stopped town, is the youngest clock mechanic ever and must discover who is behind these terrible incidents. Along the way he falls in love with the clock spirit in Enfield, and this complicates his efforts.

I have to admit that this book was a little below where I usually read in terms of reading level. It’s classified as YA but it’s obviously meant for very young YA. The sentences are short, the print is bigger, and it was an obvious plot. The person you most medium expect is the bombing culprit, and the resolution of the story is overwhelmingly positive. Tara Sim is obviously not trying to break anyone’s heart or scar childhoods with this one.

What I really loved about it was the new mythology that was laid out and the questions it posed for future volumes. While I do not intend to follow it further myself, if you have young tweens that enjoy magical stories this would be an amazing book to hand to them. In addition to it being a fun, historical, fantasy story, the main character Danny is gay and we hear him explain how he comes out to his coworkers and family, and watch as he falls in love with Colton, the clock spirit. For a younger person who may be asking questions about their own sexuality, this was a beautifully portrayed journey that would inspire anyone to be themselves and to pursue happiness.

A solid start to the Timekeeper series, with the second installation Chainbreaker recently released into bookstores everywhere, it’s a great time to discover a magically transformed London, teetering on the brink of chronological collapse. Go get you some, or at least get it for a young reader in your life. They are going to love it.