Book Reviews

Book Review: Warchild: Pawn by Ernie Lindsey

Being a mom on a tight budget, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on books, despite my love for them. So, I tend to gravitate both out of need and desire towards Indie titles, which are often much cheaper in electronic format that mainstream titles. This allows me to save for my must reads throughout the year. The self publishing scene can be fraught with pitfalls for readers. Amazon makes it so easy to publish, that some simply throw their book up for the world to see with only cursory editing. I have picked up and put down many titles that sounded promising. “Warchild: Pawn” is proof that there are amazing stories in the mix and that it is worth digging for the jewels.

The premise does not at first seem unique, and in truth, it isn’t. “Warchild” is set in a post-apocalyptic society where the original government, in an attempt to crush the rebellion of its people, turned super humans labeled Kinders loose on society. Years later, these super human are thought to be gone and America is reduced to two governing bodies that maintain a delicate truce. The environment has turned on surviviors. Rain pours from the sky more days than not. If you are unlucky enough to be born on the fringes of the People’s Republic of Virginia food and shelter is scarce. Our protagonist, Caroline Mathers, spends her days scouting the woods around her settlement to protect it from would be looters, and worse, war.

What “Warchild: Pawn” lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in the strength of its protagonist and the overall feel and pacing of the text. The story opens at the very beginning of the action with the dreaded drums of war banging in the distance, and does not stop from there. It is breathlessly quick paced. I did not feel bogged down by exposition or superfluous descriptions. The reader is left to quickly follow the protagonist and her hodgepodge group of lost souls and rebels on their journey, discovering the world right along side the characters.

Caroline was a believable, though I felt she acted a bit older than her given age of fourteen years. She lives in a realistic world of destruction, death, and hardship. Saddled with a mantel of power that does not want and did not ask for, she struggles with what is best for herself, and what is best for the people who now look up to her as their leader. She makes mistakes. She is a child who misses her home. She is confused by the role that has been given to her. She doesn’t understand her past and her role in the future, or even what is happening to her internally and externally. Most of all, she wants to trust, but has difficulty knowing who to put her trust in. As a reader, I could understand the challenges that faced Caroline and the reasons behind her decisions.

At first, I was concerned that there would be an obvious political overtone with government names like Republicons, The People’s Republic of Virginia, and the Democratic Alliance. Thankfully, the story was not overtly political. I am not even sure if the subtle hints I picked up were intentional. It seems that all three societies/groups has dings against them. The Republicons are portrayed as vile disgusting and self absorbed people in the beginning, but redeem themselves somewhat as the story progresses. Caroline’s people, the Republic of Virginia, are incredibly naive. The Capitol, unbelievably, does not do much to protect the people, complacent in the relative safety they have lived in for generations. The Democratic Alliance is blood thirsty and greedy. The story makes a point to show the gray areas through well placed characters ally themselves with Caroline and help her along the way.I felt that, overall, there was a hopeful tone to the interactions and an ingrained message that nothing in politics and history is strictly black and white.

I highly recommend this deeply layered and fast paced post apocalyptic journey to fans of the genre. I can’t wait to read book 2 when I have some extra time.

warchild pawn

Book Review: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This as in no way influenced my opinion.

I am not sure why it has been so difficult for me to write this review, because I truly loved “The Boston Girl”. My local library has a program called My Librarian in which you can fill out a short survey on your reading history and receive either by call, personal visit, or email a personalized list of book suggestions. I linked my blog and Goodreads and listed Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” as one of my favorite historical fiction titles. Alice, the librarian I had chosen, suggested that I check out Diamant’s latest, “The Boston Girl” on NetGalley. I am glad she did. While I don’t think it stands up to magical epic quality of “The Red Tent” (if you enjoy historical fiction and have not read it, I highly recommend it), “The Boston Girl” has a warm personal feeling to it that kept me turning pages until I realized I was close to the end, and felt a sense of loss.

That personal feeling comes from Diamant’s choice in narrative voice. She cleverly places you in the position of a beloved and successful granddaughter who has just asked her grandmother to tell her how she became the woman she is for a school project. The narrator speaks to you with a voice filled with awe for the opportunities available to modern women as well as love and respect for her granddaughter. This is a coming of age story told from the point of view of an old woman who has had time to reflect on what truly brought her to womanhood. It is a deeply personal tale of the struggles of being a first generation American girl at the height of the suffragist movement. The themes of depression, love, loss, guilt, familial conflict, and hope are woven in, creating the tapestry of a true woman. Strong female friendships come and go, as they do in life, and Diamant tells it all in such a way that I almost felt like I could click on my browser and look up the protagonist’s biography.

Characters are only a part of the picture in any good novel. To me, they are the most important part, and I can ignore some lazy world building if I need to. With “The Boston Girl” I did not have to. The time period is painstakingly researched. Diamant did not go overboard on period slang, or descriptions of period pieces. Instead she chose to leave everything as natural and authentic as possible. I never once felt that the author was trying to make me believe the story took place in the 20s, and so I didn’t have to contend with accidental anachronisms.

Overall, a wonderful story, and one I would recommend, as I do with “The Red Tent” to anyone who would like to read a story about strong women, and strong female friendships.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant Cover

Book Review: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

I had the honor of attending the release party for “The Cure for Dreaming” at Powell’s a few weeks ago. You can read about it here. When I saw this book cropping up on so many of the blogs I follow, I knew I had to look deeper into it. As I read more, I realized that this book was pretty much written for me. Women’s rights? Check! Victorian Era? Got it! The setting is in Portland, it involves Gothic elements, and the supernatural crops up? Check, check, aaaand check! There is also no denying that it has a beautiful cover. It is much prettier in person with a semi-metallic tone to it. There was no doubt in my mind that I would own this book. It was great to meet Cat Winters and have it signed. This was the first of her writing I have read, and it was wonderful introduction.

The most appealing aspect is the message– Even if you feel like you have no voice, you can still make a stand. You can make a difference. You are allowed to follow your dreams and they cannot be taken from you. What a wonderful message to send to our young people who can feel marginalized by the flood of dissenting voices and differing opinions that saturate the media. Like the 1900s where this is set, we are in the midst of rapid social, economic, and technological change and there are vocal extremists on all sides of the equation. “The Cure for Dreaming” is a story where teenagers can easily relate to the feelings and emotions of Olivia and her desire to speak out and bring forth social change without a contemporary setting. The themes of social equality, bullying, and emotional abuse are also contained between the covers, making the cure for dreaming quite a deep story for its relatively short length.

What sets “The Cure for Dreaming” apart from other historical novels with similar themes is the incorporation of paranormal elements as well as imagery from Dracula. I enjoy two types of vampires. The first are the sort of wolf-like predators found in Deborah Harkness’ “All Souls Trilogy”. Noble, long lived, yet unable to escape from the predatory instincts within them. The second, and most beloved, are Bram Stoker vampires. Use elements and imagery from Dracula, or talk about Vlad Tepas and Erzebet Bathory and I am hooked. Olivia’s visions after hypnosis are laced with imagery from her favorite novel, Dracula. These elements enhance the Gothic feel of the novel and gives readers a slightly different take on a historical novel. If you are a fan of the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen, there are pieces here you will love. My only real complaint is that sometimes the language felt a bit anachronistic, but this is definitely coming from someone who really enjoys Victorian literature and Steampunk.

I recommend this to a wide audience. There are strong male and female characters. The themes will appeal to many young adults, and older adults. If you are a fan of creepy novels, or paranormal, I definitely suggest you pick this one up.

If you have read it, what did you think?

the cure for dreaming by cat winters

Book Review: Burden of Breath by Ann Minnett

If you read my review for “A Sudden Light” by Garth Stein you will remember that I had trouble with the characters. While I enjoyed the story, most of the characters drove me up the wall. “Burden of Breath” by Ann Minnett is another one of those stories. For this book, it is important to throw the themes up right here in the beginning of the review, because these are harsh themes to deal with. This is a story about recovering from sexual and metal child abuse told both from the point of view of the abuser who is trying to redeem herself, and the abused who is forced to live with the scars, literally and figuratively. On a scale from 0 to “Push” by Sapphire (The movie was titled “Precious”), it is not nearly as graphic and horrifying, but that is like comparing the bite of a rabid wolf to the bite of an angry shark. This story is hangs on you like a weighted blanket and it is hard to get rid of.

Without summarizing too much, Hannah Dyer receives the news that her manipulative, controlling, sexually and mentally abusive mother has died. Not of suicide as Hannah would have expected, but a natural heart attack. Her mother, true to her nature, has arranged everything. Her entire funeral planned, and Hannah, who has carved out a very lonely life for herself feels the chains latching themselves around her once more, especially when she discovers that her mother has adopted another child, and she is expected to care for it.

This is where the story gets truly interested, and where it kept me turning the pages despite my feelings of anger and frustration both at the abuse that is described, and the characters being so disagreeable to me. When Hannah arrives at her mother’s home, she is confronted with people who have a completely different view of her mother. People who love her mother, and see her as an angry, bitter, woman filled with unnecessary hatred, who barely has her own life together. The dichotomy between what she knows of the woman they revere, and her mother’s public appearance creates an engrossing story. The problem I have is that Hannah is angry, bitter, and filled with hate. She is so wrapped up in herself that she pushes everyone who is trying to help her away and places her young charge in danger because she is so blind to anything but her hatred. I understand it, but it was incredibly difficult to read.

And the other part of this story, her mother’s point of view… even worse. I could not sympathize with the flashback scenes of her mother’s feelings, her mother’s actions, and her mother’s hurt at Hannah’s rejection and her desire to make things better. Even more frustrating was that even after learning about what her mother did to her, other characters still defended or accepted the woman they had known, marginalizing Hannah’s feelings.

I don’t think these were bad choices on behalf of the author, either. It is, sadly, a realistic view, and it is very well written. This an amazing piece for a debut novel. What I, personally and emotionally, was hoping for was for Hannah to break the mold, to come out on top, but her scars were simply too deep. I wanted a hopeful story, and what I got was a dark glimpse into the human psyche and a realistic view of the cycle of abuse. A story that shows that sometimes you fight becoming the monster you fear and one day look into the mirror to see that you have become, at least in part, that monster.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading “Burden of Breath”. I just want those who are sensitive to be prepared. It is not an easy story to digest, and that is why it lost stars. I felt the need to finish, but emotionally could not enjoy it.

burden of breath minnett

 

P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for “The Human Forged” by Anthony Melchiorri

Book Review: The Red Magician by Lisa Stein

I must admit to having read more Holocaust fiction than can be considered healthy. I have a morbid fascination with frightening level of darkness that human beings can allow themselves to participate in. Nearly every major nation involved in WWII completed atrocities that today would be considered highly unethical. They did it for science. They did it out of fear. They did it because everyone who was not there ally had become “the other” and therefore, less than human. The psychology of it is both incredibly scary, and extremely interesting. When I read a Holocaust novel, or any WWII novel, I am looking for an exploration of the elements that could turn normal, loving, people into monsters. I am looking to understand the feelings of the victims. I am looking for a window into one of humanity’s most terrifying times. Stories like Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and Tatiana de Rosnay’s “Sarah’s Key” are beautiful and heart wrenching examples of amazing Holocaust fiction. You understand the characters, and through them, you understand the true effects of the Holocaust. You understand the nightmare the characters lived. Next to such deep, emotional, and character driven stories Lisa Stein’s “The Red Magician” pales in comparison.

I do not want to say “The Red Magician” was bad. It wasn’t. The National Book Award sticker affixed to the cover is a testament to its technical flawlessness and uniqueness. The magical realism aspects were a fascinating glimpse into Jewish mysticism. Thematically, the story is rich. The characters embodied the belief that many Jewish communities held that surely the German government was not exterminating the entire Jewish population of Eastern Europe. It was unthinkable in the modern age. And, if they were, other countries would certainly step up and stop them before their reach extended too far beyond their borders. Many communities believed everything would be fine, despite the warnings they received. It also digs deeply into the desire to keep fighting, and survivor’s guilt.

Unfortunately, that is as deep as things got. The characters were incredibly underdeveloped. Strong relationships were created with little build up. A few pages of conversation, and suddenly the main character is in love. A handful of interactions, and another character is willing to take responsibility for another’s life. A page or two of confrontation, and life long enemies are created. I couldn’t convince myself that these relationships were real, or important, and therefore could not connect to the characters.

I remember reading “Bartleby the Scrivener” in high school. At a specific point in Melville’s famous story Bartleby apparently decides that he will no longer do anything. He would “prefer not to” review a document in his office. He would “prefer not to” leave the office. He would “prefer not to” defend himself in a court of law. He would “prefer not to” do anything at all, even eat. To this day, remembering the story fills me with a rage I cannot explain. It bothers me that Bartleby does not care if he lives or dies. He does not value his life, and no one stirs him to care. It bothers me, which is probably more telling of my mental state than anything else. There is a point in “The Red Magician” where the protagonist gives up as well, and I felt that frustration and rage again as her character refused to listen to those around her, including the person she was supposed to have loved. Perhaps if I felt more connected to her as a character I would understand how the horrors she witnessed throughout the Holocaust would have brought her to a passive point where she neither sought death, nor continued to live, but I could not. I almost gave up reading at that point, but persevered.

“The Red Magician” is definitely a different view of the holocaust, and it stirred me emotionally, though not in the way I am accustomed to stories from this time period moving me. I would recommend it to fans of magical realism and fans of WWII historical fiction. I believe, in this case, my lack of enjoyment was mostly emotionally and not intellectually driven. This story is a unique view that I think would be a great way to spark a conversation among middle grade and young adult readers while keeping them interested with a magical and almost fantastical setting.

If you have read it, what did you think?

redmagician

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Castaway on Mars, how is that going to work? Pretty well, actually. I knew “The Martian” was highly acclaimed. I knew it was considered one of the best Indie books to come out in the last five years (it was originally self published before being picked up by its current publisher), and it was on a Goodreads list of top reads for 2014. Still, it took me several months from when I added it to my ‘To Read’ list to the time I actually picked it up. Perhaps the summary didn’t sound as exciting as the other books in my virtual pile. Perhaps I was worried about how well I would like a book that contained one voice. I don’t really know why I put it off, but I am glad I finally read it.

It takes a gifted author to keep the reader entertained when a story is absent of any other voice, as “The Martian” is for a large chunk of the book. Eventually the point of view changes and you get a glimpse into what his crew, NASA, and even the world is thinking as astronaut Mark Watney fights for survival on the red planet. Mark’s voice is so incredibly entertaining that even when he was rattling off paragraphs of heavy scientific explanations, I could not help but keep reading. He has an unrelenting sense of hope and an ability to laugh at himself and his horrifying situation that makes him feel like a real person. His resourcefulness actually feels like a product of his intelligence as a well education botanist and electrical engineer, and not some magical deus ex machina contrived to get him from point A to point B. Because he felt so real, I was fully invested in the story, feeling both fear and relief as obstacles were met and overcome.

The narrative changes quite a few times from Mark Watney’s logs on Mars, to the inner offices of NASA, to NASA worker bees, and even small expository asides that explain how Mark Watney became the first man left behind on Mars (with so many other firsts to come), and what people are willing to do to get his feet back on terra firma. I could have kept reading Mark’s narrative and not been upset, but I truly appreciated the fullness of story that the introduction of supporting characters brought.

If you are looking for a smooth and easy read in the hard science fiction genre, I would definitely recommend this. “The Martian” illustrates the strength of the human spirit and shows us how one person’s life can bring a world of people together, how one man’s struggle can cause millions to hold their breaths and send their prayers and well wishes into the sky. In some ways, the hopeful tone reminded me that most people are in fact good people and that our strength as human beings is in our creativity, our spirit, and our ability to love. It is hard to believe that this is Andy Weir’s debut novel and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Note: I read the self published version of this book. There are differences, though not too many from what I understand.

the martian by andy weir

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