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! 🙂

52 in 52: See A Movie

Black Panther.jpg

I don’t have a lot of things that I truly love. The husband will tell you that my response to most experiences is “it was okay.” Hearing me say “it was good” is rare enough, “I loved it” is an anomaly, and “that was amazing!” is almost never uttered.

I was super excited to see Black Panther. Black culture in all its diverse glory is amazing to me and I want to see it flourish and grow and be celebrated. Not even my excitement could have prepared me to the magnificence that was this movie. It was gorgeous from start to finish.  It hit so many raw places for me and I’m so white I could blind someone. I’m just going to cover a few important themes here, but really you should just go see the movie for yourself.

Toward the end of the movie I found myself holding back actual body shaking sobs. On the surface what was happening in the movie was very sad (no spoilers!) but it took me a little bit after I got home to realize why this story affected me so deeply.

What happens in this story is akin to what happened to us in American in 2016. An outsider with links to the system, came in with destruction in mind and used the rules of the system to gain power, and is primed and ready to wreck EVERYTHING. The disbelief and horror on the Wakandan faces when Killmonger seems to win the blood challenge is what we felt when Trump became a reality. This story made me relive all of that without me even realizing it, and it was a subconscious, emotional journey. So when things (of course – not a spoiler) turn out okay as they do in most superhero stories, I think I was crying with relief.

While I was crying with relief I was crying with sympathy. Killmonger is not your usual villain. He’s out for revenge, not just for himself but for his dad too. He wants justice, and that desire is fueled by a child’s anger at the unfairness of a situation that is not related to T’Challa directly but involves Wakanda specifically. The idea that he has trained, focused, and grown up with the one goal of returning to Wakanda to fulfill his father’s dream is equal parts terrifying and inspiring. Both men only wanted to provide the wherewithal to their non-Wakandan black brothers and sisters to fight back against the oppression they experience elsewhere in the world. To have that goal firmly in his grasp, only to fail – something about that just struck me deep in my soul despite the methods he used to achieve his goal.

It was the oddest feeling to rejoice that Wakanda remained safe a location and an idea and mourn the dreams of Killmonger, who was shut out of this dream through no choice or fault of his own. The catastrophe of the African diaspora, the colonization of Africa, the slave trade, and all the other colonizer-related disasters to happen to Africa has prevented many individuals of African descent from connecting with their heritage. WE can only imagine what Arica would be like now had she not been robbed of her people, who may have brought about the Afro-futurism that is featured in this movie if they had been left alone to thrive and grow and love and create.

This movie screams the question “What if?” over and over, and it is the saddest, most terrible thing.

What if Wakanda wasn’t completely locked down and disguised?

What if they were able to share their advances with the world?

What if they allowed refugees and showed them what was possible before their ancestors were stolen from their homeland?

These are all questions that we are all asking right now in real time, but are tackled by T’Challa and the strong women of Wakanda to the point where they can only open themselves to the global society and offer aid. It is a new era in Wakanda, and it is a great thing.

***

A short postscript about my favorite character Okoye. She is the leader of the Dora Milaje, a group of the deadliest warriors of Wakanda and personal guards to the king. When Killmonger becomes king and T’Challa is believed dead, she stays because her duty is to the king and Wakanda, but her hesitation begs the question – where should your loyalties lie? To whom to you owe your allegiance? When something like this happens, how do you protect your country from those who would seek to destroy it while still fulfilling your sworn oath? Which comes first: self, friends, family, duty, king, or country? It’s a question she’s never had to answer before, and so she can only do what she knows.

It is a relief to her when T’Challa returns and shows the challenge for the throne to be unfinished, because she can “technically” now fight against Killmonger while still staying true to her beliefs and her country. This makes her so real to me – I would want her character to rebel but the reality is that she needed to see that her country is more important than who sits on the throne, and by learning that lesson she becomes even more dangerous to anyone who might try the same thing again.

Through conflict we are made stronger and smarter.

Wakanda Forever. ❤

***

Heading to week 9, and I’m not sure what I’ll do next. I’ve done so much already!

IMG_20180224_110032.jpg

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.

 

Clash of Responsibilities

So today I had a talk with my principal about how I can continue to flourish as a book blogger while maintaining relationships with the diverse student, parent, and coworker population that we serve.

While I am not willing to tone down the profanity here (which, let’s be honest, isn’t that pervasive and is warranted on the terrible reviews) I do concede that my social media accounts can use some tweaking. So I have made the following adjustments:

  1. My Facebook will remain open and as is, with less use of the words fuck and shit in the descriptions. No more videos will happen, including live videos. Posts only.
  2. Twitter has been locked down and will require approval to follow me. I am hopeful that this will not interfere with when I tweet at authors and publishers. If you haven’t yet followed me on Twitter, click on the bird on the right and request to follow.  (Really it was my retweets that were getting me in trouble, the political ones in particular.)
  3. Instagram isn’t an issue either, and it’s basically food, dogs, and books, so I unlocked that and it should remain as is.

I also edited my About Me page to be more focused on me as a person and how I am in this space. Please click on “Meet Amanda” above and let me know what you think.

Thanks for following and reading.