Fiction

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: 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: 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 Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

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

Murder, political intrigue, science, mathematics, airships, and time machines. “The Time Roads” by Beth Bernobich is a smorgasbord of delicious steampunk and mystery elements. When I switched on my Galley of “The Time Roads”, I was not expecting a political thriller. Truthfully, I expected yet another steampunk story where the plot and characters are second to the quest to add as many fantastical elements to the world as possible. The mention of mathematics in the summary goaded me into requesting the novel, and I am glad I did. What I found was a mature and nuanced tale set in a believable alternate story.

The story opens and closes in the first person point of view of Aine, queen of Erie, in an alternative history where Ireland, not England, is head of the great western empire at the turn of the century. There is no East India Company here, but there are plots. Aine is not safe from those who wish to take or change her empire, all complicated by the work of mathmeticians and scientists that are striving to conquer time itself. In the beginning, Aine is young and scared. The books starts off feeling like it could belong to the new adult scene, but as the pages turn, the story evolves. The reader grows with Aine. I found myself wrapped up in her story. I wanted to follow her to the end.

As Aine and the other main characters, Siomon and Aidrean, delve into and face the consequences of time travel, we switch into the third person point of view. Each of the four intertwined stories , each with a different character behind the lens felt a bit disjointed at first. The switch between them was disconcerting and confusing. Rather than being put off by it, I was drawn in even more. Time travel is full of, to quote The Doctor, “Wibbley Wobbly Timey Wimey,” stuff. It is enough to make your head spin. The characters were confused by the twists and turns of the Time Roads. They were lost without a map, remembering events that didn’t seem to have happened, and seeing shadows of other timelines. I felt like my confusion mirrored theirs. I was a part of their world, facing it right alongside them.

I can see the separate points of view and stories within the story confusing some readers and putting them off of the story. Not many books attempt to confound the traditional linear structure of a story. It can be trying for those who are unaccustomed to it. The mathematical theorems might also confuse. I was lucky enough to have a math professor who had taught English previously regale us with stories of Pythagoras and other famous mathematicians. That knowledge definitely enhanced my reading experience.

This title is an excellent choice for adult steampunk fans who are looking for something a bit more mature than the usual offerings. I also recommend it for alternate history and murder mystery fans who may not have yet attempted steampunk before. I have not read anything quite like it before, and I think it will appeal to many different readers. Please let me know what you think if you decide to pick this title up!

The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

Book Review: The Mystery of Dragon Bridge by Ann Howard

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. That has not in any way influenced my opinion.

I was asked to review “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” by a good friend of mine, and son of the author. We were sharing a meal of homemade and thoroughly Americanized bibimbap and chatting the night away while my son played around us when he asked, sheepishly, if I reviewed children’s books. I happily said yes and a couple of weeks later had my copy in hand, knowing how incredibly awkward things could get should I not enjoy the book. Thankfully, we were spared the discomfort because I found everything about “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” to be utterly charming from the author’s authentic voice to the brilliantly detailed illustrations that graced the pages. “The Mystery of Dragon” bridge is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to write and illustrate a children’s book and Ann Howard’s passion and dedication shows through on every page.

Illustrations are the heart of a good children’s book. Kids are visual creatures and fickle beasts. They lack the vocabulary and attention spans needed to digest massive blocks of text until they are well into their school years. The first thing I noticed about “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” were the striking paintings within, sometimes taking up an entire two page spread. The illustrations, reminiscent of old Chinese paintings, are colorful and imaginative, setting a perfect stage for the story.

The prose flow over the pages in a style that reminds me of oral storytelling. I can imagine myself hearing the tale from an elder in front of the fire, surrounded by eagerly listening children. It has the quality of a story passed down through generation after generation.

The entire story is steeped in the richness of Chinese culture. With simplified Chinese text right alongside the English text, it is a perfect fit for bilingual families and classrooms. It also invites a conversation about cultural diversity and identification in a classroom of students who do not speak Chinese. “The Mystery of Dragon Bridge” touches on and opens up the discussion to issues of environmental responsibility, community, and the importance of keeping promises and traditions. It is a great story to practice reading with, and would be a good addition to both classrooms and home libraries.

I would recommend this book for older readers if they are reading solo, perhaps second grade and above as there are several pages that only have text. I tried to read it to my three-year-old nephew and my one-year old son. The former was not very interested, and the latter attempted to eat the book when we reached a page with no pictures. My five-year-old nephew would definitely have been interested as he could interact with the mystery and take guesses as to where the bridge had gone.

My friend tells me that his mother will eventually tour in our neck of the woods (Powell’s Books). I have not met her yet, but I am eager to. It is wonderful to know that a mother has followed her dreams and created something so stunning. I look forward to collecting future books for my son to read.

The Mystery of Dragon Bridge by Ann Howard

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