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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.

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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 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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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

Book Review: The Stone of Valhalla by Mikey Brooks

This book was received free from NetGalley in Exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I had what many would consider a turbulent childhood. In the darkest times I turned to books as a way to escape the very real stresses of my life. I often wondered, as it is evident in our literature many have, what it would be like to be pulled from my world into another. There is an entire sub-genre of fantasy books that involve such an idea, and it goes back decades. Faced with what must have felt like a lifetime more of abuse and neglect at the hands of his aunt and uncle, Harry Potter receives a letter from Hogwarts inviting him to the secret life of witches and wizards. In the heart of World War II, three children are ripped from their homes and forced to stay with their mysterious uncle. Tucked away in his house is a wardrobe that holds within a portal to the magical world of Narnia. Adventuresome Alice is being forced into a life on conformity she doesn’t want, and finds herself falling down a rabbit hole to Wonderland. During times of emotional or physical trial, whether it be large or small, these children are taken into another world where they learn about themselves, grow in maturity, and return to the real world more able to face life’s challenges than before. ‘The Stone of Valhalla’ is one such book. It is not spectacularly well written, nor is it groundbreaking, or even original, but I enjoyed it. ‘The Stone of Valhalla’ is an entertaining bit of escapism with some decent lessons for middle grade and young adult readers.

I think it is important to note here than I don’t feel that every book needs to be a show stopper. There are some amazingly well reviewed classics that I cannot stand, and there are some generic genre pieces that I sped through from start to finish and found myself wishing for more. This was one of those. What made me like it so much? I honestly could not tell you. I had a difficult time starting this review, because I could not figure out why I had rated this a four when other, more original stories, ranked a three. Ultimately, it comes down to a combination of factors, but mostly characters, setting, and message.

In ‘The Stone of Valhalla’, you find a veritable smorgasbord of fantasy classics. There is a young boy named Aaron who is slightly nerdy, and desperate to find out where he fits into this world. He is willing to do almost anything to fit into a group. He will undoubtedly appeal to the nerdy young folks out there who long to feel like they belong somewhere besides the pages of a book. Accompanying him on his adventures is a life loving orphan boy, a wise and grumpy old wizard with a chip on his shoulder, a sharp tongued old witch, and a gorgeous, kind hearted young witch in training. Each character is well developed and grows along with the story, with a few twists and turns along the way. Their interactions, for the most part, are beautiful from stories of ancient dragons being told around the fire, to dealing with broken hearts, to forgiveness for wrongs small and large. I was connected to them and found myself cheering them on as they moved through their adventure, and mourning with them when, inevitably, they were caused pain. Through their eyes, a young reader can learn lessons about love, loss, forgiveness, and the slippery nature of good and evil.

Aaron in particular goes through some amazing character development. If we think about the sub genre, one of the defining characteristics of it is that the protagonists learns about his/herself as he/she makes way from the beginning to, the end. At first I was confused because Aaron’s actions and thoughts seemed to be those of a younger character than 13. It is hard to say if it was intentional because I do not have a window into the author’s thought process, but intentional or not, it was artful. By the end of the book, he has matured quite a bit in a believable way.

The setting is equally classic and just as fun. Aaron is transported to a medieval fantasy world complete with competing factions, magic, witch burning, imps, goblin kings, and more. The reader gets to see much of this world as the characters travel through it adventurer style. D&D players and other gamers will recognize the setup, like I did, as the party faces random encounters along the way that ultimately lead them to a boss battle. There are some twists and turns in the road, some predictable, and others utterly surprising.

This story sang to the game loving, fantasy reading, nerd girl inside of me. It was a quick read, being targeted at middle grade readers. There were, alas, some elements I could have lived without. First, in the beginning of the story, the female characters are downright rude to the male characters. There is a bit of background story that explains why the witch and wizard have their magic knickers in a twist while dealing with each other, but I am growing tired of seeing so many sniping women and girls in middle grade and young adult fiction. Female characters can be strong without being abrasive or rude. It sends the wrong message. It is not all right for men to treat women that way, but it is all right for women to treat men terribly. I would love to see writers of fiction for young people change it up a bit.  In the same vein of broken records, I could have done without the love triangle. I feel like the story had enough conflict and emotion already without adding a triangle to the mix. It added nothing. How many must we suffer through before this fad finally dies out?

Problems aside, I think Stone of Valhalla will appeal to the demographic it was written for. It is a fun story with great character development. I look forward to checking out more of Mikey Brooks’ writing.

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Book Review – Tickle Monster by Josie Bissett

 

Tickle Monster by Josie Bissette

Edited and virtually rewritten after I read what I’d posted at 11 last night. I should sleep on posts I write that late.

My son is not very ticklish, but he loves to be tickled. When our searching fingers find just the right spot his eyes light up and he rewards us with a big belly laugh and little snorting giggles. If it even looks like you are about to play tickle monster with him, your arm held high and your hand in the shape of a claw, he gives a big, squinty-eyed, toothy grin. As you can imagine, a book with the very title “Tickle Monster” was a very welcome sight to a couple of tired, bedraggled, and loving parents.

Tickle Monster by Josie Bissett

We found our copy at the local Goodwill outlet after the family in front of us in line abandoned it at the register. My husband swore he had seen it somewhere before. Likely at one of our many outings to Powell’s. I was surprised after inspecting the cover and pages that it was in such amazing condition. Sadly, most children’s books in the Bins (a friendly neighborhood name for Goodwill Outlets) are chewed up, stained, and torn. My husband, a big kid himself in many ways, wanted it. I was not going to argue.

“Tickle Monster” is an endearing children’s science fiction picture book with whimsical art by Kevan J. Atteberry and zany typography. Tickle Monster from the planet Tickle could not be any cuter with his big eyes and colorful striped tail and horns. His only mission in life is to bring the precious sound of children’s laughter to the universe.

Tickle Monster Inside Peak

This is not a book you can simply read to your child. To get the full effect, you must tickle as well. If you are unpracticed in the art of tickling (gasp), don’t worry! Tickle Monster will guide your fingers. Though the story has some rhyming quirks that break the sing song quality of the prose, the rhyme scheme, however flawed, is not the point of the story. The glory of this picture book is that it sets the perfect stage for quality bonding time. It encourages parents, older siblings, and other loving adults to participate in interactive and imaginative play with the backdrop of a fun science fiction setting.

If the little one in your life runs screaming and bursts into tears at the thought of being tickled, you might want to leave this one on the shelf. It would not be my first choice as a book to teach reading since the author makes up many words to bolster the silliness of the story. I would not choose it for teaching rhymes either, unless I want to compare instances where the rhyming works against instances where it does not. If you are a lower grades teacher, it could be a fun and playful way to work on body parts like tummy, neck, feet, and toes. The interactive elements would just need to be modified to remove physical contact. “Tickle Monster”, at its core, is best suited for parents and other caretakers with their little charges as a way to play together and bond. Word on the street has it that you can buy Tickle Monster gloves to enhance your story time, too. How fun!
Tickle Monster Inside Peak 2

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