Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Hurricane Summer” by Asha Bromfield

Full Title: Hurricane Summer: A Novel
Author: Asha Bromfield
Published: May 4, 2021 by Wednesday Books
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Coming of Age, Contemporary, BIPOC Representation
Edition Details: 400 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC – offered by Wednesday Books, via NetGalley
Rating: {4/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

This book landed on my radar after I saw a couple of ads for it online. One of the ads allowed interested bloggers and readers to sign up for the official blog tour. I applied to participate, because I thought it’d be great to read the book before it came through our local library on my TBR. I received a free e-book ARC via NetGalley for Hurricane Summer after signing up.

Positive Bits

I need to break from my normal pattern here to share the first line that hooked me and drew me in. It comes from the dedication page, and it set the stage of what would be a heartfelt and raw story of family and self-discovery.

For Little Asha,
And all the girls with holes
in their hearts,
the size of their fathers.
You are worthy.
You are resilient.
You are love.
I poured my heart onto
these pages,
With the prayer that it
would give you the courage
To set yourself free.

That said, the second bit that excited me was the word bank included before the first chapter. I don’t think enough people appreciate the ideal placement of a language glossary at the front of a book, particularly in e-book format. As Patois (the dialect of English spoken in Jamaica) plays a constant role in the story, being able to review and get familiar with some of the common phrases before diving into the meat of the story helped immerse me in it. Instead of struggling through unfamiliar words and phrases, I had a rough understanding of the dialect going into the story. My understanding also matched that of Tilla, our main character, so we were left on equal footing with the narrator.

Tilla’s deep love and need for her father gripped me from early in the story and kept me captive in her desperation to be loved back. As the book’s description says, he’s a man who’s traveled to and from his family in Canada to be back home in Jamaica for half of every year. In coming to visit his homeland, she hopes to find out why he never stayed with them for long – she wants to understand that the siren call of Jamaica sounds like, to be so much more powerful than the love of a family. And I think, by the end of the book, Tilla gains that knowledge as well as a clearer image of who her father is as a person. Forgiveness plays a role in various layers throughout Tilla’s summer, and how she chooses to give or abstain from giving forgiveness plays a crucial role in who she grows into by the end of it all. I may not have made the same choices as she did, but each one she made fit who she was at that moment.

Aside from her father, there are a dozen or so characters who play a role in Tilla’s coming of age over the course of this summer in Jamaica. However, my favorite would be her cousin Andre. They were close friends as children, over a decade ago when Tilla’s family all came down to the island to visit. Experiencing their rekindled friendship felt the same as my own relationships after moving around with the military my whole life; there are just some people who you connect with instantly and consistently. Andre is Tilla’s best friend in the way only a cousin can be, and without his involvement I don’t believe her summer would’ve been so alive. He provides the perfect foil to Tilla’s more privileged life in Canada, compared to his life in the countryside of Jamaica – but without judging her for it. Andre plays the part of both her safe haven and the devil on her shoulder that dares her to do something reckless, and I only wish there were more of him to go around.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book should’ve had a trigger warning, but I can see how including it might’ve ruined the plot. Still, sexual violence of any kind is a heavy topic that deserves a head’s up. That said, I will note that the violence isn’t explicitly graphic or used as the only method through which a character can grow as a person. It fit the story, so just be aware as you read that Jamaica isn’t all paradise.

It’s hard to really consider the pieces of the story I didn’t enjoy, because most of those moments are key to the story. Hurricane Summer is about the father-daughter dynamic in the context of an absentee father who’s coming and going to Jamaica constantly throughout Tilla’s life. As someone with their own complicated father-daughter relationship, I think I just get frustrated by someone being either too kind or too harsh to either party in the dynamic – all based on my biased opinion of who is in the wrong, of course. Add in the difficulty of tackling topics like classism and colorism while pointing the blame at the primary culprit (society), and much of what I didn’t like about the story was meant to be unlikeable. Instead, it’s a mirror into how flawed families, communities, and even paradise itself can be.

The same could be said for the family dynamics at large, from cousins to aunts and uncles to the community itself. I both understood and disliked them for being inherently human and flawed. That’s the point, though. By the end of any good story, we find ourselves more aware of the humanity in both the heroes and the villains. The author did this amazingly well, leaving us as wrung out and changed as an island battered by a hurricane.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Your skin is dark and magical. And every time you get darker, it’s just proof that the sun is wrapping itself around you. Hugging you. Tight. Every ray of sun that darkens your skin is proof that you’re soaking up all of God’s light. – 43%

“Only God know di heart weh ah beat from yuh chest. Yuh understand?” he whispers. “Yuh haffi decide who you are before di world does. Don’t mek nobody decide fi yuh. Only you decide dat. You and God.” – 86%

This summer you have traveled a sea I will never have knowledge of. Your heart has fought battles that I will never, ever know. But if there is one thing I knew for sure when I sent you on the plane, I knew that you would be victorious, Tilla. Because you are our child. I know what you are made of, and you are so strong. – 94%

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – Asha Bromfield did an amazing job capturing the pain and paradise of growing into a woman, as well as learning about where you come from and who you want to be. Her heart is on these pages, and you’ll cry at least once before you reach the end.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Amelia Unabridged” by Ashley Schumacher

Full Title: Amelia Unabridged
Author: Ashley Schumacher
Published: February 16, 2021 by Wednesday Books
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, Books About Books
Edition Details: 304 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Rating: {5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I thought this book looked pretty while scrolling through NetGalley for my next set of ARC requests, and then I saw that it was published by Wednesday Books. So far, the books I’ve read from that publisher happen to be very poignant in their themes and the authors’ voices. Added to that, this is a book about books (or more specifically, a book about the author of some books). I’m a nerd for that!

Positive Bits

This is clearly a book about grief. The description tells us that Amelia’s best friend dies after an argument, leaving her hurt and lost. Grief is a deeply personal thing, but I think the author does an amazing job at showing us Amelia’s grief rather than telling us she’s grieving. To put that into perspective, I teared up within the first few chapters of the book and continued to ache and cry with Amelia throughout her story. When you look at the quotes I chose to share below, you can see pieces of how we’re handed the hurt of loss and being lost.

If we didn’t follow Amelia through her journey to find healing, the grief might’ve made this story unpalatable. Instead, we get to watch her rediscover herself without her best friend or the future they thought they had planned out together. The author wove healing into Amelia’s life without skipping the way grief returns unexpectedly, again and again. It was amazingly real (and better for it).

I happen to enjoy realistic stories, particularly when there’s romance and family involved. The way Amelia’s relationship exists with her own family, her best friend’s parents, and those she meets in her travels are all authentically flawed. People are allowed to fail. Some are even given opportunities to grow beyond their failings, only to fall short of personal growth. Maybe that’s not for everyone, but I appreciate the honest approach to relationship dynamics, especially as someone with similarly complicated relationships.

Less Enjoyable Bits

While I enjoyed the imagery and weight given to Amelia’s grief, I imagine this book will be a difficult read for anyone who’s recently experienced their own loss. Consider this your fair warning.

The characters are all very dynamic, whether they’re part of the main cast or not. However, the locations we visit with Amelia might as well be Anywhere, America. I had issues with remembering whether the nearby body of water was a lake, river, or ocean. I couldn’t remember the layout of a repeatedly visited building, other than one or two small details that I found quirky. Setting didn’t play a huge role in Amelia’s story, even when it might’ve had the need to do so.

While it was written in an entertaining style, I didn’t enjoy the epilogue. It felt rushed and unnecessary to the story itself. Then again, I generally expect a realistic story like this to end in a similar vein. Life doesn’t give us epilogues, because the story doesn’t end until we’re dead.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

While some kids waited for their letter to be delivered by owl or for their closet to one day reveal a magical land with talking animals and stone tables, I’d waited for the other shoe to drop. Because if there’s one thing I learned from books, it’s that life is fair and unfair, just and unjust.

I imagine whales swimming in the air between the trees, the forests of Orman rising up with their dark branches to mingle into the Michigan landscape. I pretend I am not real; Wally and Alex are not real. The world is one giant story and I’m only a figment of some author’s imagination, a discarded character that never made it onto a page. Strangely, it makes me feel a bit better.

I am different, but like the stories, I will hold up to more readings, even if those readings are drastically changed in my after.

There are a hundred thousand ways to tell a story. Medical students help people live longer and continue their own stories. Engineering majors tell a story of technology that goes back to caveman with rocks and sticks. Marine biologists piece together shreds of plot until they know where whales sleep at night and where fish live in coral reefs. Everything is a story, not just writing. You need to find the story that means something to you, a story you like telling.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – this story will make you ache to your bones and then soothe the hurt.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Lore” by Alexandra Bracken

Full Title: Lore
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Published: January 2021 by Disney Hyperion
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Greek Mythology, Roman Mythology, Contemporary Fantasy
Edition Details: 576 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Rating: {5/5 stars}

This review is spoiler free. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I’m a sucker for anything involving a revised version of mythology, particularly Greek mythology. So when I saw this book on NetGalley while browsing for advanced copies to request, I couldn’t resist. The idea that some of the gods were being punished with a hunt in mortal bodies sounded gritty and exciting!

Positive Bits

The slow feed of information on the Agon and the people within it was done well. There weren’t a bunch of info dumps to slug through while reading; instead, the details were woven into the story and explained as needed within the context of the story. It helped that one of the main characters isn’t part of the Agon’s world, so we gain lots of explanations via his questions to the other characters.

I enjoyed Athena’s role in the story. As the goddess of strategy and reason, her choices made sense the way you’d expect a deity to consider choices (as opposed to a mortal person). The other gods were interesting in their own ways, but she held a unique place in Lore’s adventure.

An overall theme of being raised within a culture and wanting to leave it played well into the plot, from start to finish. It echoed a familiar thread seen in people who leave certain churches or political factions for their own well-being, and thus it really hit home how lost Lore felt and how hard the entire experience was for her.

Less Enjoyable Bits

Maybe it was just me, but I was left confused several times in the beginning. While the book is written in third person following Lore’s point of view the entire time, there are moments when the scene slips out of focus. I think part of that had to do with reading too fast in sections that included explanations of this Agon event and the world-within-our-world in which it occurs.

Some plot points disappointed me, largely due to the letdowns between culture and choices made by various side characters. If you live in a culture were honor and glory are key to everything, I don’t understand how betrayal of your people fits into that picture. Ever. So sometimes I was left scratching my head and wondering how choices made sense.

I had envisioned a different ending (or two, or three). There’s nothing wrong with the ending that we got, but I personally hoped for more. And without spoiling anything, I had hoped that the person with Poseidon’s power would be more involved in the story. They were mentioned enough to seem important, but then they came and went from the actual plot with little fanfare.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Fear is a foreign land I shall never visit and a language that will never cross my tongue. [ebook – 33%]

Monsters lived in the shadows. To hunt them, you couldn’t be afraid to follow. And the only way to destroy them was to have the sharper teeth and the darker heart. [ebook – 58%]

I was born knowing how to do three things – how to breathe, how to dream, and how to love you. [ebook – 83%]

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – This book is an action-packed reimaging of the Greek gods, and I think it’s worth a read. I can’t help but wonder if the author will release any similar myth-based stories in the future, because I’d grab them too!

Posted in [fiction reviews]

Book Review: “Hush Hush”

Hush Hush on Amazon.com

I’ve decided to review the books I read here. I have eclectic tastes, but I lean mostly toward the supernatural and romance genres. I don’t discriminate against books because of their target audience (teen books, for example). And if you like any of the books I’ve listed as owned and read on my Shelfari.com page, you’ll know that my taste reflects in my review. So here goes.

I read Hush Hush thanks to an advanced proof sent to our Hastings. The cover caught my eye, so I decided “what the heck” and tried it out.

First of all, let me say that I don’t usually like first-person stories, but this one was great. I didn’t really realize it was first-person; the plot was awesome enough to distract me from that. The characters were well developed, along with the introduction of the supernatural factor: angels.

The book entails a fallen angel’s actions and a high school girl’s feelings. It’s not just some corny romance (though there is some romance here and there), but instead a look at how a person can change even after a lifetime or two, or three, spent committing wrongs. It’s also about a struggle between doing what’s best for yourself and what’s better for those around you.

Without ruining the plot, I can’t say much else. But it’s a worth-while read. It officially comes out sometime this year, October 13th. Go read it!!