Adult

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: 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.

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

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

Book Review: The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

I was given a copy of this novel for free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

First, let’s publicly announce the winners of the giveaway. Each winner will receive a copy of “The Younger Gods”

Benni from Benni’s Bookbiters

and

Olivia from Olivia’s Catastrophe

I hate pilots of new television series. They are often enjoyable, and often interesting, but I always feel like the spark that gives characters a life of their own separate from the actor is missing. I feel like I can’t truly immerse myself into the story and enjoy it until I have had the chance to get to know the characters and the world a bit better. Books usually escape this criticism, but not always. It took me three books to get into “The Dresden Files”. I was interested enough to keep reading the series, but until book three, I didn’t have that “Gotta turn this page right now and find out what happens next” feeling. I think it is going to be the same for “The Younger Gods”. There is not getting around saying it, this was a fun read. Really fun. I just feel like I need a bit more time to form a deep and lasting relationship with Michael R. Underwood’s new series. I want a little more character development and a little more world building before becoming fully vested. We are friends, but not yet BFFs.

“The Younger Gods” strength is in its protagonist. Jacob Greene is awkward and lovable. His formal way of speaking, huge heart, and general naivete about the modern world endeared me to him in a way I can’t really explain. It was as if he embodied the awkwardness many of us nerdy folks, no matter what we geek out over, feel in the face of a “normal” society. Granted, I doubt anyone reading this blog was sequestered from society and home schooled by an intelligent and frighteningly evil family of cultists, but there are very few people, especially in the Geekdom who have never felt like an outsider looking in. I could understand Jacob and his motivation as his voice carried me through the story. He grew as each page progressed. Beside him, the extremely diverse (both culturally and personality-wise) cast of characters felt a little thin, and the antagonist was a cookie cutter evil baddie. This is the first book in a series, so I have no doubt that Jacob’s friends and companions will grow into themselves and the story as time goes on.

This adventure is your traditional black and white good vs. evil romp through New York City with a surprising twist at the end. Once the story revs up, it is nonstop action until the last page. There is not a lot of time to breath in “The Younger Gods”. Think action movies and think Dresden Files (and if you have never laid hands on Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files”, get thee to a library!) and you will understand what I am talking about. It is one fiery, tooth and claw gnashing, sword wielding, magic slinging battle after another in a quest to save the world before time runs out. The plot’s urgency can definitely be felt in the pacing of the book. On the other side of the coin, the nonstop action may have come at the cost of character building, creating the lack of attachment I mentioned above.

Underwood is a true geek and a student of mythology. Both are clearly illustrated in his work as the cast meets up with a variety of mythical creatures from different cultural backgrounds. He is passionate. And, while I am not really interested in reading his other series Geekomancy because I prefer my urban fantasy a little less full of pop culture, I look forward to the next installment of “The Younger Gods” and other books by Michael R. Underwood. If you are a geek/nerd like me and enjoy action packed adventures specifically tailored to an urban fantasy, mythology loving (dare I say Dungeons and Dragons playing?) crowd, you probably want to give this one a try.

The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

Book Review: The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta

I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I have been holding on to this review for several days because I am having difficulty finding the words to properly express my feelings towards “The Winter Boy”. The story embodies so many things. It is a coming of age tale. It is post apocalyptic. It is fantasy. It is not romantic, but it is full of love. It is somehow both a story of political intrigue and personal conflict. It is sensual, beautiful, and emotional. It is an empowering story of female strength and loyalty. It is far more than should be able to fit between two covers and a few hundred pages. “The Winter Boy” could have easily become tangled with so many threads running throughout, but Sally Wiener Grotta’s expert wordcraft instead created a wonderfully intricate tapestry for the reader to explore. Very few stories have had this sort of affect on me, and among them are “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant.

The word Allesha, used to describe the widowed mentors and peacekeepers of this world, means “Every Woman”. To the boys she mentors, she is teacher, lover, and friend. She is their entire world… for one season. She fulfills all roles a woman can fulfill. The name is more than a name, it is a metaphor, because “The Winter Boy” is everyone’s story. The Valley of the Alleshi could exist in any part of the world. It is a culture that could have sprung from any people. The unnamed cataclysms that destroyed the advanced societies from the “before times” and the times of chaos and war that followed before the Alleshi secured peace could have happened to any society in our past or our future. There is more diversity found within the pages of “The Winter Boy” than in many fantasy series.

It is not the diversity or portability of the story that is its true strength. That lies in the relationships. There are many types. Teacher and student, lover, wife, parent, and friend. All are strong and authentic, even in moments of danger or betrayal. Grotta writes beautiful female friendships, something that is difficult to find in the worlds of fantasy. The characters interact as real human beings, right down to struggling with prejudice and a sense of fear for “The Other” or “The Outsider”.

“The Winter Boy” is an amazing character driven story with excellent world building and plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. I highly recommend it. It has not even been released yet, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on the next installment.

Note: For sensitive readers, there are a few detailed sex scenes scattered throughout the book.

the winter boy

Book Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy 3)

Please be warned that this review contains spoilers for the first and second books in the “All Souls Trilogy”. It would be impossible to review without spoiling them, but I will try to keep it to a minimum.

It took me a while to get to this book because of my Galleys, but the time has come for my adventures with Diana and Matthew DeClaremont to end, and I am saddened by that fact. It has been such an amazing journey from Diana’s discovery of Ashmole 782 in a “Discovery of Witches”, to Diana and Matthew’s romp through the 16th century in “Shadow of Night”, and finally their action packed return to the modern word in “The Book of Life”. This series had me at “Oh look, such a pretty cover!” I mourn its end.

The conclusion to the “All Souls Trilogy” is non-stop action. Nothing is ever easy for the witch and vampire couple and when they return to modern times, they have very little time to rest. First, Diana must face the loss of one she holds dear, as well as the loss of her freedom and coven in the 16th century. Then Matthew must deal with the deadly politics of his family. All of this while Diana goes through a highly unprecedented pregnancy. But, it doesn’t end there. The search for Ashmole 782 is still on, and the congregation is still on thier tale.

Our favorite cast of characters returns in the final installment. Ysabelle, Gallowglass, Diana’s aunts, and Marcus are key players. We are also introduced to a few new faces that serve to enrich the story rather than confuse. Deborah Harkness has a way of writing her character’s interactions in such a believable way that I am drawn into their world and can understand their feelings and interactions. There were moments in the story where my heart ached for the people I had come to love.

Deborah Harkness never wavered in her telling of the story. Diana’s strength and resolve remain a fixture. Her scientific and academic approach to the existence of creatures in the modern world continues and we are even offered a few revelations by the end of the series. Intrigue abounds, and I can promise that I was never bored. “The Book of Life” is everything its predecessors were, and more. If you enjoyed the first two books, you definitely don’t want to miss this one! I hope Deborah Harkness shares more of her stories with the world, because I can easily see her becoming one of my favorite authors.

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