The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys

I live in Tampa Bay, Florida and I remember when The Dozier School for Boys was closed. I remember when they found the graves, and I remember when the unmarked graves were discovered and had to be explored and dealt with. Even as recently as 2019 they were still working there. My sister-in-law and her husband met each other while they were working there as a psychologist and guard respectively. At the time I was horrified at what I was hearing and seeing on the news, but it’s 2020 now and over the years I have come to understand that this was probably not an isolated occurrence. There are probably similar juvenile detention facilities scattered around the southern states that have graves and atrocities yet to be discovered.

What I really liked about The Nickle Boys, more than The Underground Railroad, was that it was more real to me. The characters were fictionalized, but the circumstances that brought them all to the Nickel School were real ways that black boys and men would get caught up in the system. The main character Elwood is on his way to take a college course in his last year of high school when he accepts a ride from a man who is heading toward the campus. The man has actually stolen the car, and so Elwood is charged with car theft as well for being in it and sent away to Nickel after his conviction. This happens despite the mountains of evidence that would have proved his innocence, but in the 1950s south that was a moot point.

The horrors that Elwood witnesses and experiences for himself you can probably imagine at this point. I don’t need to spell them all out for you. Nickel has a part of the campus for white boys and a part of the campus for black boys and in the middle is the White House where they go for extreme corporal punishment. There’s field work and house work but since it’s for kids it’s not a jail, it’s more like a dorm. Kids try to escape and are never seen again, kids break the rules or refuse to follow directions and are never seen again. Sometimes kids graduate back out into the real world, most of the time they don’t.

Honestly I’m horrified, but I’m not surprised. There was a period of time where as a white woman raised in one of the whitest states in the nation I was shocked and appalled by the things I learned about the racial inequities and history in this country. My education on these topics has been fast and complete and now it’s still horrifying, but I’m not numb to it, but I’m rarely surprised. My reaction now is “of course that happened in this nightmare country.”

It’s a short read, so if you’re curious about the history of the Dozier (Nickel) School, it’s worth it to pick up and bear witness to the story. The more people know that this happened, the lower the chance that these children will be forgotten. I linked to several articles at the beginning of the review if you are interested. It was an excellent read. Go get you some.

The Institute

The InstituteThe Institute was a popular one this past year, and when I first put a hold on it at my library I was number 84 on the list. It finally became available with no renewals, because of course someone else was in line behind me to read it, and so I had 14 days to get through this 600 page thrill ride or else send it back or accept the late fines.

I shouldn’t have worried about it. Once I started I couldn’t stop and I was able to finish it in about 8 days. Children are kidnapped from all over the country and taken to the secluded, northern woodlands of Maine to serve at the institute due to their telekinetic or telepathic abilities. Tests and shots and trauma are inflicted in an attempt to enhance these abilities, and then the children are sent to the back half of the institute, from whence they never return. Not surprisingly when our main character Luke is taken, he’s one of the smartest kids to ever enter the institute. When combined with a later arrival Avery, one of the youngest and most powerful telepaths to ever be brought in, they stage an escape that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I think my favorite King books are the ones that are 90% reality and 10% fantasy. They are the stories that make you believe in the plausibility of the fantastic existing in a world where the daily and mundane tend to hold sway. This story is especially engaging if you know how many children are taken in the US alone every year and never found again; it’s not so unthinkable that something as wild as the institute might be where they were taken, when reality is that it would probably be something just as traumatizing or worse.

Also knowing what I know about northern Maine, you could hide just about anything up there if you had enough money. People say they love Maine but what they mean is that they love the ocean, or Kittery, or Freeport, or Acadia National Park. They don’t know Maine, and the heart of it comes out in so many of King’s books. The terrifying ruralness that hides a multitude of horrors because no one ever goes there to ask questions.

I strongly recommend that you get on your library’s hold list and read this book. It was a fast read for its length, and the story was 100% airtight the entire way. I loved it, and I’m sure you will too. Go get you some.

The Orchardist

The Orchardist

I had seen this book on quite a few “Best Of ______” lists over the past couple of years, and despite not being super pulled in by the description I decided to take a leap and read something new. Amanda Coplin did not disappoint.

I won’t bore you with the plot. You can look up the book’s description via google, and I can tell you that what you’ll find is very accurate. What’s deceptive is that you think you’re reading one story, then two, then three, and then you realize it was all one story after all.

This is a book about how trauma affects us. How past trauma can color our future relationships, how extreme trauma can damage our minds and decision-making abilities, and how the trauma of others, having seemingly nothing to do with us, can affect our lives nonetheless. As I was reading I thought I would see the end of any of the three main character’s storylines, but really there isn’t a happy ending or an ending at all. It’s a book that reminds us, in case we even needed reminding, that life moves on regardless and we need to do the best we can with the hand we are dealt. And boy does “doing your best” mean vastly different things depending on the type and level of trauma involved.

I knew I wasn’t going to get a happy ending and yet I wanted one anyway. Interwoven with the theme of trauma was the necessity of hope. Hope that people will change or be what we want them to be. Hope that there is a future. Hope that things will turn out differently. Despite the mundane ending, I felt good with the message that in trauma there can be hope. Not always, but maybe and sometimes.

The setting is gorgeous and the writing style kept me hooked. You can almost see the light filtering in through the vast orchard, smell the tilled earth and the ripened apricots. You can hear Caroline Middey coming down the trail on her wagon to visit. So even while you are reading things that will make you melancholy, you are surrounded by beauty and love. Always.

If you’re feeling like you’re in the mood for a deep read that will take you places, The Orchardist is it. Light a fire in the fireplace (or at least call up Fireplace for the Home on Netflix), grab a warm drink, and let this book wash over you. You’ll be glad you did.

Godsgrave (Nevernight #2)

Godsgrave

Nevernight (Nevernight #1)

If you’ve been a reader of AAB for a long time, you know that I tend to like a revenge story. Survival and revenge – the strength and intelligence it often requires a main character to have in order to achieve their goals is inspiring and makes for a good read. Nevernight also set up that assassin school/competition vibe a la Hogwarts for magic, which only added more tastes that taste great together.

Godsgrave takes a bit of a turn, which makes sense given the end of Nevernight. The Church is rebuilding its network, and one of the only remaining secret places in the world with a blood walk is, you guessed it, Godsgrave. Mia is assigned to its new watcher, her old trainer Mercurio, and he assigns her to find and kill a marrowborn woman, and intercept the map that she is scheduled to receive. SURPRISE! It’s Ashlinn and they have a good ol’ brawl during which Ashlinn implies that Justice Scaeva, one of the men Mia has sworn to kill to avenge her family, is a patron of the Church an knows about her and everything she’s been up to. She says that Mia has been kept busy to keep her from killing Scaeva because they are bound by honor to keep him alive because money.

We’re left, as Mia is, to figure out if Ashlinn can be trusted, but in the meantime she talks to Mercurio, who basically says that he doesn’t know about it but that logically it makes sense. He agrees to help her extend her search for the map as a ruse for her actually concocting a plan to murder Scaeva in secret so the Church doesn’t know it was her.

Here’s where the story goes a bit off the rails for me. Also spoiler alert, because I’m just gonna list some story details and roll my eyes while a type.

  1. She sells herself to a gladiator collector in an attempt to get entry into the biggest gladiator battle of the season, where if she wins, Scaeva grants her freedom directly as per tradition, and she can slit his throat when he’s close enough. THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLAN WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING.
  2. She is training as a gladiator FOREVER – I’m not going to lie there are like 150 pages that I skimmed because it was just training – cell – escape cell with darkness powers to fuck Ashlinn – cell – training – cell…you get the picture.
  3. SHE HAS SEX WITH ASHLINN – I just…I can’t. SHE MURDERED TRIC AND RUINED YOUR PLANS HOW WHY WHAT?? These kinds of story twists are what remind me that the characters are like 16 and have no fucking common sense. Her shadows Mister Kindly and Eclipse keep telling her she’s being stupid but she won’t listen – again with the teenager bullshit. In Nevernight I kind of forgot how young she was and this book slapped me in the face with it. Good YA, especially YA that Kristoff has repeatedly said is NOT for teenagers, should have characters that can handle their situations as young adults. Don’t give me a 16 year old protagonist that can’t tell her ass from a hole in the ground, especially after a first book that shows her to be cunning and calculating and powerful.

And I’m gonna spoil the ending for you because I don’t want you to get there and be as mad as I was about the dumb ass twist that throws everything off kilter.

  1. Her brother Jonnen is alive and has been given another name by HIS FATHER JUSTICE SCAEVA because he was basically a baby when everything went down.
  2. She’s told by a fellow gladiator (convenient) that her father was gay and her mom slept around with politicians for influence.
  3. Jonnen is also darkin, AND SO IS JUSTICE SCAEVA and so now her revenge for her parents requires her to kill her real father and she has to deal with that knowledge.

Jesus Christ I cannot with this. There weren’t nearly enough breadcrumbs along the way to lead to this twist. It feels really fucking convenient that she just happens to get put in the same cell as someone who worked with her father during the Kingmaker Rebellion that would know these things. And you can’t let us have one delicious moment, now Mia has to reckon with the reality of who her parents were and how that changes her situation and goals now. It’s too hard a left into a final book of a trilogy and I’m not happy about it.

Honestly for me this wouldn’t change anything. Family is who takes care of you, not who contributed sperm to your egg so you could burst into the world. Justice Scaeva still murdered her parents and stole her brother and brainwashed him – knowing he is her biological father changes nothing.

And Ashlinn better get dealt with. This weird romance thing between them doesn’t make any sense and I still want Ashlinn dead for what she did. I’m hoping Mia has other plans and is just fucking her to keep her thinking she’s close so she can deal with her at the right moment.

I was intrigued, then I was mad, then I was bored but hopeful, then I was shocked and mad that Jay Kristoff thinks he could just throw that many twists into the last 50 pages and no one would be like “WTF Jay, this feels too convenient.” I’m going to finish the trilogy because I bought the gorgeous UK edition and got it signed and it’s just waiting for me to crack open. I just hope that Darkdawn is the finale Mia deserves.

Angry Angel Books: Top 5 Books of 2019

This year saw my reading slow down a bit as I reshaped my personal time to improve my mental health. Despite this, I managed to read about 60 books, several of which were very exciting. This year’s list includes only books that were published this year too, which is different from years past.

Seven Blades

Seven Blades in Black
Seven Blades in Black was the surprise of 2019. I haven’t read anything by Sam Sykes before this or since, but when they announce the sequel I will preorder it so fast your head will spin. Fallen empires and rogue sorcerers and crazy beasts roaming free PLUS an unreliable narrator on a revenge quest a la Arya Stark and her checklist – you can see me drooling about it, right? It’s a long one but I didn’t want to put it down. If you like fantasy and revenge and kingdoms and you haven’t read Sykes, you should definitely pick this one up.

king of scars

King of Scars
I love Leigh Bardugo and she is on this list TWICE. King of Scars focuses in on Nikolai, the pirate (ahem…privateer!) who becomes king of Ravka. He has a past that he wants to keep covered up and powers that even he doesn’t completely understand, and is chasing dark powers that lead to the re-emergence of [SPOILER ALERT!]. It was one of my favorites this year but it isn’t my favorite Bardugo book, mostly because it just seemed like a long way to bring [SPOILER] back into the universe and I found myself losing interest in a lot of places. But it’s still Bardugo so overall it was fantastic.

 

The Wicked KingThe Queen of Nothing

The Wicked King
The Queen of Nothing
How did both of these books come out this year? Why is Holly Black so amazing? They did and she is so if you haven’t read the Folk of the Air trilogy then now is the time because all 3 books are now in the world and they are all complete masterpieces. The Wicked King won the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for Best YA Fantasy (I think The Queen of Nothing came out too late in the year to be in contention).
The Cruel Prince is the first installment.

Ninth House

Review: Ninth House
Leigh Bardugo is on my list TWICE because she is a bad bitch and I love her. Ninth House is a twisted tale full of magic, mystery, and finding identity in the midst of desperation. It showcases how dangerous one woman can be when she has nothing to lose, and how much more dangerous she can become when you give her something to fight for. Winner of the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel, it is definitely a book that deserves your attention.

Red, White, and Royal Blue

Review: Red, White, and Royal Blue
I could not be happier that this book won the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance AND Best Debut Novel. There was nothing wrong with this book. It was everything I needed and brought light and joy into a life that seems to always be tinged with darkness and sadness. It made me believe that happiness is possible. It made me believe in the goodness of people in general. The story is funny and smart and modern and the romance is hot and believable. Do you need a spritz of lightheartedness in your life? You must put this book on your TBR right away.

The Queen of Nothing (Folk of the Air #3)

The Queen of Nothing

The Cruel Prince (FotA #1)
The Wicked King (FotA #2)

There are lots of reasons I put down a book. Chief among these are uninteresting characters, slow-moving story, and predictable plot/twists. If my mind begins saying “I don’t care” or “I’m bored” or “Ugh, I already know what’s going to happen” then that’s the clock ticking on a did not finish work. I can usually live with one of these if the others are up to snuff. Characters I don’t care about don’t matter as much if the story is the focus, for example. It is very rare that I open a book and find myself on a fast train to everything I ever wanted with no compromises. Holly Black has brought me three such trains, and I have gladly ridden them to the end of the line, my head hanging out the window of my sleeper car like a dog on its way to the park.

Too many analogies? Who cares, these books are amazing.

Jude is in exile after the crazy events that concluded The Wicked King. She is the High Queen of Elfhame and is stuck in an apartment complex with her half-sister Vivi and her brother Oak, who is in the line of succession. Her twin sister Taryn shows up at her door, begging her to go to an inquest to lie on her behalf because she has murdered her new husband Locke and is forced to stand trial. Jude agrees and returns to Elfhame where her foster father Madoc is making a play for the throne and her husband Cardan is fighting to keep the kingdom intact.

I am in absolute awe of Black’s ability to have so many characters in play all at once and have you care about all of them. I have no trouble keeping track of who is who and where they are from and where their allegiances lie (although that last one can be troublesome). She’s also a champion of intrigue – you will read a mile a minute just to find out what happens next, and then you’ll have more questions than answers but just enough answers to make you feel like continuing is justified because WHAT HAPPENS NEXT GODDAMN.

The ending (which lasts about 50 pages) is too good to give away here, even under a spoiler warning. It’s a lesson in power, relationships, what’s worth giving away, and what’s worth sacrificing. It makes you question whether change or the status quo is more valuable. You’ll ponder the true meaning of trust and love. On the surface this trilogy is a beautiful fantasy story about magic and elves and how humanity interacts with that. Deep down this trilogy is a story about the roots of cruelty, love, and how we can overcome even the darkest expectations that others have for us to carve out a life that we can be proud of.

I love this trilogy, and you will too. Please go get you some.

 

The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising #1)

The Guinevere Deception

Kiersten White’s writing is one of my favorite things. Her feminist retellings of old tales and historical figures are enjoyable and instructive. I still owe whoever suggested And I Darken to me an Edible Arrangement. So when I saw the retelling of Arthurian legend in her hands, I preordered immediately.

I have read some of the other reviews that have been published, and I believe that the criticism is well founded, but perhaps too harsh. The story is slow going, and even at the end we don’t know who “Guinevere” is or where she came from, or why two of the most dangerous magical beings (the Dark Queen and the Lady of the Lake) want to get at her and the third most dangerous (Merlin) kept her in seclusion, training her until the time was right. The real Guinevere died and Merlin, who has been exiled from Camelot, put this new girl in her place to marry Arthur and defend him from magical enemies in Merlin’s stead.

We interact with a limited number of characters and while the pace of the book is to be expected given how many people we have to meet and the world-building that has to occur to match our ideas of Camelot with White’s, the action is low-key until the very last 30 pages. Most of it is Guinevere sneaking around the castle dropping knots all over the place because that’s the magic that she knows: different knots for different spells. We see a small romance bloom between her and Arthur, and whispers of a forbidden romance with Arthur’s cousin Mordred, but nothing gets too serious. Lancelot appears as well, but I’ll let you discover that underwhelming twist for yourself. I enjoyed her friendship with her lady’s maid as well as a knight’s sister, Dindrane. The final twist that spurs the fast-paced conclusion and cliffhanger is also painfully obvious, so much so that I actually groaned out loud. Overall the story is well-written, but lacks in the suspense you might expect from a story with hidden identities and magic.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that this book is targeted at a much younger audience than even And I Darken or her retelling of Frankenstein. All of the twists were SO OBVIOUS and the writing seemed to flirt with the edges of middle grade in its simplicity. Arthur is 18 and Guinevere is 16: can an angry angel get a story like this but with the girl at the age of consent at least? That’s what made me feel like this was for a younger crowd, because I know full well that YA can stretch into the late teens, early twenties. Even Sarah J. Maas has her heroines at 18 years old, but to be fair there is so much sex in her books that she would have to make it that way. It was not uncommon for young women to marry that young in these times, so I guess I won’t hold this one against White too much.

I found The Guinevere Deception compelling in the same way that The Song of Achilles and Circe were compelling; it was a good story that didn’t ask a lot of my imagination. I didn’t have to stretch my belief too far because I was already familiar with the story. The new elements added to the Arthurian legend were interesting enough for me to want to know what happens next. I am worried because the second book of any trilogy is usually the red-headed step-child, and with this first installment so slow to bloom, the second book will need to be much more exciting to carry me through to the trilogy’s finale.

It’s Kiersten White, so it’s good, but don’t expect the excitement and fire that we have found in prior books. Bring your patience, perseverance, and fresh expectations so that this will be an enjoyable, if slow, fantasy read.