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]

[Fiction Review] “The Boneless Mercies” by April Genevieve Tucholke

Full Title: The Boneless Mercies
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Published: October 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Fiction, YA Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mythology Retold
Edition Details: 352 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: {4/5 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

This book has been on my TBR list for ages, but I kept putting it back in an effort to avoid buying too many new books when my pile of unread books is already unmanageable. And yet, when our local book club asked for suggestions on books to read, I immediately thought of this one. It gave me an excuse to finally buy it!

Positive Bits

This world is harsh but beautiful. The fact that the Mercies and their trade are needed, that people would pay to die at their hands, tells you something about the kind of reality they live in. And yet, each death we witness has its beauty. Even the deaths of “bad” people are done in such a way as to be a mercy killing, so that we walk away with the feeling that death is both a kindness and an inevitability.

I adored the variety of girls involved in the Mercies, particularly when their origins come out during the course of the story. Letting each girl be so different while remaining so close spoke to me, and they felt real compared to a gaggle of photocopy children running wild together. Each girl played an important role toward the finale of the story, all feeding into the plot with their actions. Juniper is my favorite from start to finish, particularly as her story is told.

The end left me both satisfied and a little sad. Without ruining it, I can only say that I had hoped each girl would get to make different choices for their futures after leaving behind the Mercies. More than once, though, we see them at a fork in the road without an obvious path to choose; as we follow them down their choice, we can see all of the potential futures they left behind. The fact that each choice feels like a reasonable one is what makes this book so good!

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book never mentioned that it’s a retelling of Norse mythology or a clever twist on Beowulf. The blurbs mention it, but I honestly skip blurbs on covers out of irritation; I prefer a proper book description rather than snippets of someone’s opinion. Honestly, the mythological tie-ins are a bonus rather than a notch against this book, but they should’ve been part of the marketing.

While it doesn’t bother me, the book does run light on the descriptive imagery. We get an introduction to each person and location with vaguely sketched lines, and then we move on with the plot. For some, that means more space for our imaginations to run amok. But for others, this might be an issue.

There’s a romantic subplot that’s woven throughout the book, only to have no real payout. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was a letdown. If it had been treated as a small detail, the lack of follow through would’ve been just fine. When it’s brought up often enough to feel very important, you kind of need to make something out of it by the ending. Added to that, there’s an almost sapphic energy between the Mercies that’s never explained or explored – another disappointment and, at least in my opinion, a missed opportunity.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Glory. I wanted to touch it. Taste it. I wanted it so deeply I thought my heart would swell up, claw its way out of me, and float away on the wind, cawing like a Sea Witch raven, a prayer caught in its beak.

I’d experienced joy before. Not often, but enough to know what it was, enough to ache for it late at night when I sat quietly beside the fire. Joy was different from peace, though. Peace was slower, calmer, and lasted longer. I hadn’t know this kind of tranquility could exist.

We didn’t speak. There was no need. I felt her heart against mine, and it sang the same sad song.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I will always recommend a good retelling of mythology or folktales! This weaving of magic and Norse-flavored myth is perfect for someone with little familiarity of the base materials.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Hunted by the Sky” by Tanaz Bhathena

Full Title: Hunted by the Sky
Author: Tanaz Bhathena
Published: Upcoming Release Date – June 23, 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Young Adult, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction & Dystopian Romance
Edition Details: 384 pages, Hardcover
Source: {Advance Readers’ Edition}
Rating: {4.5/5 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

The gods of reading took pity on me, and I once again found a book in my Facebook feed. Fierce Reads promoted this novel via ads that allowed viewers to request an advanced readers’ edition. After reading the description, I had to take a chance:

Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.

Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl—Gul—in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance—and discovers a magic he never expected to find.

Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort…a world with secrets deadlier than their own.

Added to that, the book is specifically mentioned that it explores identity, class struggles, and a world inspired by medieval India. I couldn’t resist!

Positive Bits

As someone who enjoys YA, I still find myself frustrated by characters who act a little too immature or naive. Thankfully, Gul and Cavas (the main characters of our story) manage to find that balance between youthful folly and energetic luck.

The chapters pivot between the viewpoints of Gul (female) and Cavas (male), which is one of my favorite methods of telling a multi-POV story. We even get a chapter at the end in the POV of an antagonist who will obviously be around for book 2.

The magic and beings in Ambar are built well, obviously steeped in a familiarity with mythology and a heavy dose of creativity. I admire the way Bhathena sketch out our experience, using a first person POV to allow us to really experience each location ourselves.

I love a good revenge scheme, especially if nothing goes according to plan. I won’t say more, as I’m not willing to share any spoilers, but I enjoyed being wrong about where the story takes us.

Less Enjoyable Bits

Some of the side characters should’ve been given more depth, in my opinion. The story isn’t made less by their flatness, but I think it could’ve been made even richer if we saw more of those people.

For example, the three main people Gul interacts with from the Sisters of the Golden Lotus are slightly 3-D, but I found myself disappointed to not get more out of their backstories and actions. We get bits and pieces, enough for their presence to make sense and be important, but we don’t get a full picture of their character.

I also wish more characters were given depth, largely because that tends to leave you wondering who is important to the plot. It’s not essential, but I prefer a little less lead-by-the-hand reading. When there are multiple fleshed out characters, you end up guessing (and sometimes being wrong about) who will play a key role in the story. When only a handful of specific people get full descriptions, you know they’re the important players and all of the guess work is lost. (Again, that’s a personal preference.)

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

* Without spoiling the plot, but giving you a taste of the mood…

“You have to eat sometime, princess.”

I look up from the plate full of lotus sabzi, dal, and rice and into Amira’s dark eyes.

“No one cares, do they?” I ask. “About girls like us.”

Something shifts in her gaze, something I don’t quite understand. “Eat,” she says again before leaving the room.

I don’t.

One kindness for another, the mammoth tells me as I cling to it. You did not let me die in the market; I will not let you fall.

Do not judge yourself too harshly, Savak-putri Gulnaz. Subodh’s voice feels like a gentle breeze in my mind. I am older than you are and have made mistakes that are even bigger. There are always ways to make amends. 

Is it worth the coin?

Yes! I recommend this book if you like big worlds based on various real world cultures (other than European). I’ll be keeping an eye out for book 2.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Full Title: Sadie
Author: Courtney Summers
Published: Upcoming Release Date – September 4, 2018 by Wednesday Books
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense
Edition Details: 320 pages, hardcover
Source: {Advance Readers’ Edition}
Rating: {4.5/5 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 actually ran across this book in my Facebook feed, as an ad that asked interested readers to sign up for a copy. Mind you, I assumed it’d be a drawing for a handful of lucky people. Instead, I got an email telling me to be ready for my copy to arrive in the mail!

That said, I will point out that I didn’t request a copy just because I wanted a free book. I was intrigued by the first lines I read about Sadie:

I’m going to kill a man.

I’m going to steal the light from his eyes.

I want to watch it go out.

You aren’t supposed to answer violence with more violence but sometimes I think violence is the only answer.

Positive Bits

As someone who normally reads romance and fantasy novels, I wasn’t sure a thriller (YA or not) would be up my alley. I was wrong! The pace and storyline are set in such a way that I think almost anyone could enjoy it. After all, my main complaint against thrillers and true crime stories is usually related to an overabundance of graphic detail; Summers managed to avoid that without minimizing the core crimes at play in this plot.

I’m a sucker for interesting new ways to tell a story. In Sadie this plays out in a pattern of interwoven podcast scripts and chapters in Sadie’s perspective (written in first person). It kept me tied up in the story without having to give me too many nitty gritty details all at once. It actually reminded me of episodes from true crime shows, where the narrator gets you interested and then they reenact different sections of their story as the episode plays out.

I’ll be honest. This book is the kind of story that I personally end up hate-reading. Like, I absolutely despised what was happening, but I had to know how things turned out. I love a story that’s strong enough to drag you in against your will and make you stay.

Less Enjoyable Bits

There were times I was a little frustrated with the limitations of a Sadie POV scene, because it would end abruptly and not pick up at the same point the next time we rejoined her. Most of the switches were spaced in acceptable moments of flux, like getting back on the road or getting a new piece of information. But one or two just seemed to leave the reader hanging for no good reason.

I’m trying not to give any spoilers, so I’ll just say this. Even a well-written story about a bad man doing bad things to people involves a bad man doing bad things to people. It turns your stomach, as it should. Nothing was graphic, but as a reader less accustomed to thrillers and their bookish kin, parts of the story made me uncomfortable in a way I’m not used to experiencing.

My last note? I like my stories to end with every single string of plot tied into a tidy knot. But that’s a personal preference.

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

* Without spoiling the plot, but giving you a taste of the mood…

Girls go missing all the time.

Restless teenage girls, reckless teenage girls. Teenage girls and their inevitable drama.

West McCray [Studio]:

I spent the weekend with my daughter and she could tell something was wrong. I didn’t want to let her out of my sight, but at the same time, I almost couldn’t bear to look at her.

But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart.

It can drive us.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you’re into thrillers and crime shows. I wouldn’t read this book again, at least not the same way I read and reread my favorite romance stories. But I’m definitely recommending this book to my wife, whose growing collection of true crime novels could use a new addition.

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!!