Book Reviews

Book Review: Nest by Nancy Ehrlich

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

This isn’t a book review, per say, as I was not able to finish the story, but I could not think of a better category to place my commentary. Why would I post about a book I did not finish? Because I think it has the makings of a classic and I want as many people to know about it as I can. It might sound strange, but there is an explanation. Tagging a book as “Did Not Finish”, especially an advanced reader copy, tends to have a negative connotation, and in nearly all cases that is true. In this case, perhaps instead of saying “Did Not Finish,” I should say “This was not the season for this book.” Nancy Ehrlich has written a beautiful and emotional middle grade novel that deals with the theme of coming of age in the shadow of illness and depression. It is so powerfully emotional that I could not finish, because as I read, I began to draw parallels between the protagonist, Chirp’s, story, and my own.

When I was 12 going on 13 the grandparents who raised me took my sister and I to the Northern California coast just a few weeks before summer’s end. I would be entering the 7th grade. Middle school. It seemed so exciting back then. It was morning when my grandmother fell ill. We were in a hotel room only a short walk away from Pismo Beach, a beautiful and rocky shore with sand crabs that pinched when you unknowingly sat on their nests. The past few days had been wonderful, building sand castles, swimming the day away, watching as my grandmother’s teacup poodle, Dolly, chased the receding waves and then ran away when they inevitably came back. Sure, we got kicked out of our first hotel because Dolly was technically not welcome, but that was not enough to ruin our day. We found a room where she was, and continued on our merry little way. We were due to go home in another day, but instead my grandmother woke up screaming and dry heaving into the ice bucket.

It happened quickly. The memory is just flashes. The sounds of sirens and waves mixing. Stuffy hotel room. Cool ocean breezes that smelled of seaweed and sand. The heat of the summer sun on the concrete outside the emergency room. Red lights flashing. Patients in and out. Feet wrapped in stiff white sheets. My sister and I wondering if everything would be all right– hungry, tired, and afraid to ask for anything for ourselves. Then came the diagnosis; a burst aneurysm. Prognosis? Not good.

I would lose my grandmother nearly six months later. That day was the last day we would see her eyes and hear her voice. She had an operation. It was successful in that they repaired the burst blood vessel, but the bleeding had already done its damage. On my first day of middle school, she was in a hospital an hour and a half from my home, stuck in a coma she would never come out of. I started out awkward, sad, and somewhat broken. But there was joy, too.

“Nest” captures the fear, joy, and awkwardness of 12 year old Chirp whose summer ends much like mine did. Erhlich captures the fear and sadness so well. She captures the beauty of every day life and the resilience of children who must go on with their life, despite everything they know falling down around them. She understands how those in pain reach out to other aching souls for comfort, friendship, and camaraderie. I could sympathize so well that my heart was heavy while reading, and I needed to put the book down.

I will one day return to “Nest”. Maybe when my son is older and he starts to learn the sad truth that illness exists and that bad things happen to good people. Perhaps when he is 12-years-old, all arms and legs, and squeaky voice. When he needs to know that no matter what, life goes on, and it is beautiful. I know it is odd to recommend a book you have not finished. Almost as odd as it is to put down a book you find so well written because you simply can’t finish, but I truly feel that “Nest” should be in every middle school and high school library. Go ahead and give it a try. I think it is worth it.

nest_esther_ehrlich

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.

the_book_of_life_deborah_harkness

Book Review: A Myth to the Night by Cora Choi

I received a copy of the entire novel (it was released in parts) for free in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion.

I have had incredible luck with my ARCs. Until now, I have enjoyed every one of them. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and I find myself writing my first negative review for this blog. Thank goodness there doesn’t seem to be a streak going on, as I am quite enjoying my next novel “The Younger Gods” by Michael R. Underwood.

Sometimes it feels like when authors choose to write a young adult book, they underestimate their readers. They simplify the language. They remove the details of their world. They keep descriptions to a minimum and let dialogue carry the story. They forget that children and teenagers are a lot more intelligent than adults give them credit for, and that a good young adult book is simply a book with young characters. I feel like “A Myth to the Night” falls into this trap.

Unfortunately, I could not finish it. The lovely cover drew me in, as did the synopsis. It opened with such promise, but about 20% in I decided I could read no more. This is a little fairy tale that needed more. It needed more world building. It needed more character development. It needed more editing. I wanted to love this story, I wanted to be drawn into it, but it just left me hanging.

A good fantasy novel is dependent on its world. The world in “A Myth to the Night” made no sense. I was treated to a society complete with cars, the internet, movies, television, and popular actors and actresses (names we have come to know and love). Yet, the government, run by a vicious ruling faction “The Order of the Shrike”, and history of the world did not resemble our own. If it was an alternate reality version of our world, where did it split? How did the factions come to be? Why did they hate each other? How can a ruling faction who lacks imagination (since they do not believe in telling stories of bravery) invent our modern technologies? How can they have movies and television without storytelling and mythology? None of these questions were answered and it just left me feeling muddled and confused. I crave information when I am learning a new fantasy world. I need to know how it works so I can imagine the characters living in it. Throw some one dimensional characters speaking in forced dialogue and some poorly edited text into this world and it creates a perfect storm of “I don’t care” and “I am totally done with this”.

 a myth to the night cora choi

Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

I received a copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion.

I would not like the narrator if I met him in person. He is self righteous, bitter , and jaded. He constantly makes jabs about modern society, revering the good old days of the 90s, before cell phones and digital libraries. There were points in which he was on a soapbox, and I desperately wanted him to step down and continue with the story. The truth is, I would not like half of the characters in this crazy story. And yet, I loved this book. I have never enjoyed a book so much when I disliked the characters so immensely. I almost gave up, but I didn’t. Garth Stein must have a gift, because even as the characters’ actions put me on edge, I kept reading. I wanted to know. No… I needed to know the secrets locked away in Riddel house. “A Sudden Light” is less of a ghost story than it is a portrait of a horribly broken and dysfunctional family, and the secret lies within the haunting. It is a coming of age story that resembles a train wreck. And. like I would continue to stare in horror as a train jumped its tracks and crashed, I could not take my eyes off the words on my screen.

There isn’t much I can say about this story without giving away the secrets within, so I will leave you with some impressions. My heart ached for these family members who hurt, lashed out, manipulated, and belittled one another even as those same interactions goaded me into anger. You can understand, as the story unfolds, what brought them to this point in their lives. Trust me, I felt like I needed counselling by the time I has swiped past the final page. The setting, so beautiful, and so depressing was a perfect fit for this tale.

Those who are looking for a straight forward haunted house story might be disappointed. “A Sudden Light” is character driven and full of lengthy poetic prose that call up the works of authors long dead. It contain powerful messages about love, duty, and conservation. What does a promise mean to the living? What does it mean to the dead? Is there a such thing as a truly happy ending?

“A Sudden Light” toes the line between young adult and adult books with a 34 year old narrator looking back on his fourteenth year, a time full of turbulence and change. I have no doubt that it will appeal to both audiences. It is also LGBTQ friendly. It is rare to find a young adult book that has a realistic and authentic gay relationship. I thought that Garth Stein handled it as he would any heterosexual relationship. It added to my enjoyment not to read a caricature of a gay couple as I have in other books. If you are a fan of character driven dramas, I would suggest you give this one a try, even if you don’t normally read ghost stories.

a sudden light garth stein

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