Friday, November 17, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: The Speaker by Traci Chee

Last year, I covered Traci Chee's The Reader, the first title in her Sea of Ink and Gold series. Today I am happy to cover the follow-up, The Speaker. I may not be much of a fantasy reader, but something about this series appeals to me, and I am excited to see how the story continues.

The Situation: Sefia and Archer have managed to escape the Guard and are now back out on their own, though they are being expertly chased. It is not only them that they Guard wants, but the Book as well. In a world where no one reads or writes anymore, words are powerful  and stories can be used as weapons. Fortunately, Sefia is able to use the ability she inherited from her parents to keep herself and Archer safe, while he can use what he learned while in captivity to fight almost any battle he comes across. Together, they make it their mission to free as many other boys as they can from the dreadful Impressors: men and women who have made a job out of capturing young boys in an attempt to find the one who will bring about the Red War. With Sefia's power and Archer's skill, it seems they cannot lose, and their worst enemy may be themselves.

The Problem: If Archer's time in captivity taught him how to fight, it also taught him to want to fight. The only thing that seems to help silence the nightmares and the ever-present tension and thirst for revenge he always feels as a current running inside of him, is being able to punch, kick, stab, and shoot, anything that causes hurt and pain. Freeing captured boys helps Archer feel better about what he has become, but as he gains followers, and the team becomes a well-known gang to be feared, he fears he is becoming exactly what the Impressors are looking for. Sefia feels the same, but she would do anything to stay near him, though she is already afraid she may be losing the boy she loves. Add in the fact that the Guard is still after them; the Book continues to be cryptic and withholding when telling its secrets; and that there is a much bigger plot with control over all of Kelanna as its goal; and it seems that Sefia and Archer's story is far from over. But will it end with both of them alive? Will it end with them together?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fantasy book set in the fictional world of Kelanna. In this sequel, Archer and Sefia travel mostly in the land of Deliene, though they do find themselves in Oxscini for a time. Sefia is once again the primary protagonist, but there is almost an equal amount of attention given to Archer and his thoughts as he attempts to fight his guilt and blood lust. Readers do get to see the return of Captain Cannek Reed and the rest of the crew on the Current of Faith, as well as the members of the Guard who continue to hunt down Sefia and attempt to bring their time of reign to pass. Everyone in this story is ultimately attempting to change their own fate, while seeming to simultaneously run right into it. The Book that Sefia has in her possession holds all of the answers, but consulting it is tricky. It seems to reveal only what it wants to, and you have to be able to ask the right questions. Sefia and Archer want to be able to live their lives, but fear they have a bigger part to play in everything - parts that may separate them, even kill them. The Guards want ultimate power over all of Kelanna, but will they be able avoid killing each other off before their plan comes to fruition? It is all written in the Book, and they all agree that what is written will come to pass. But they either don't trust it, or they don't want to wait, as everyone is still fighting for or against their own destinies.

My Verdict: While I do have the same issue with this one as I did with the first book, in that sometimes there are just too many characters doing too may things for me to keep track, I will say that the confusion was much less, and I was better able to almost let go of all of the details and just enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is, though granted, the map of Kelanna at the beginning of the book does help. Sefia and Archer's adventure alone would probably be enough to fill an entire series. But Chee does not stop there as she always goes back to what the Guard is up to, as well as Captain Reed and his crew. It is evident that the story is working up to something big, and The Speaker does well to build up the excitement for what is to come in the next book. It contains exactly what every fantasy book should contain: magic, fighting, conspiracy, intrigue, adventure, travel, and an ending that opens the door to incredible possibilities. The only thing missing is some sort of monster, but who knows? That may be coming in the next book. And naturally, I love that this is a world that emphasizes the power of books and words and how easily we can take them both for granted. 

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Archer manages to cut off one of Serakeen's hands in the middle of a fight.  

Favorite Character: The more I learn about Captain Reed and his story, the more I like him and want to see more of him.

Favorite Quote: "You don't get to be a slave-owner and a hero." - Captain Cannek Reed

Recommended Reading: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor may be a good adventure for many young fantasy readers, though I really enjoyed The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.     

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Goodreads Choice Awards 2017 Final Round

Oh man, here we are. The final round of the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards. I am both excited and scared to find out if my favorites did or did not make it into the top ten of their categories. Every year seems to contain at least one surprise for me. So might as well end the torture and dive right in.

Thankfully all seems well in the Best Fiction, Best Mystery & Thriller, and Best Historical Fiction categories. All of the DSNs that were nominated in each are hanging strong. It is in the Best Science Fiction category that we first run into trouble. Looks like Mur Lafferty's Six Wakes, which was a write-in vote added in at the second round, did not quite make it into the top ten, which means I am back to voting for American War by Omar El Akkad.

Things return to normal for Best Horror, but another write-in, this time for Best Nonfiction, failed to make it into the final round. The exit of Brené Brown's Braving the Wilderness from the competition means I do not have anything to vote for in this category. Granted, I cannot say I am surprised, but I still like for the books I cover to at least make it through to the end.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore continues to hold its own in Best History & Biography, and the same can be said for both picks in Best Graphic Novels & Comics, and the three picks in Best Debut Goodreads Author.

And then we come to my favorite category, the one I seem to take the most personally for some reason. Of the seven DSN YA fiction books that were nominated for Best Young Adult Fiction, only five made it into the final round. Given, that is pretty amazing, that half of the finalist for one category were featured on this blog. Even so, I am sad to see Jeff Zentner's Goodbye Days did not make the cut, along with Robin Roe's A List of Cages. Whew! This is a tough category, every year.

The Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction category remains the same for both DSN books that were nominated, which ultimately means that of the 22 books originally nominated (including the write-ins) for an award that were also featured on this blog (or at least, there is a solid plan to feature them), 18 of them have made it into the final round, and I think that is awesome. Really, this all only serves to make me super curious about the nominees I did not read that people seem to love. It would be nearly impossible for me to read every book that is nominated, or even just the ones that make it to the final round. But I always have a blast trying to read and write about as many as I can. And if I end up discovering new ones after the fact, I just consider it a bonus.      

This final round of voting does not end until Monday, November 27th, so you have a full two weeks to make your voices heard. The winners will be announced on Tuesday, December 5th, and will receive their crown as readers' favorite books of 2017.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Historical Fiction: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This may be my last attempt at historical fiction for 2017, and of course, it deals with World War II. Not only that, but it also deals with World War I, because it seems no matter what I do I am bound to pick up a book that has to deal with at least one of them. With Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, an unlikely trio travels through Europe searching for answers they may not be ready to find.

The Situation: It is 1947 and Charlotte "Charlie" St. Clair has just burst into the home of Eve Gardiner. All Charlie wants is answers regarding her cousin Rose, whom she has not seen for many years and fears may be lost to her forever due to WWII. She decides Eve may be a good place to start since the woman used to work at a bureau that helped locate refugees. Unfortunately for both women, Eve is as ornery and drunk as Charlie is determined and persistent. Add Scotsman Finn Kilgore as Eve's personal assistant/driver/minder, and the three of them take off on a journey that has as little chance of success as Eve does of staying sober every night. Charlie is more than willing to defy her mother if it means finding Rose. Mrs. St. Clair only wants her daughter to take care of her "little problem" (i.e. she's pregnant), return to America, and marry someone respectable. But Charlie wants more out of life, and unbeknownst to both her and Finn, Eve wants more out of their search than to simply find Rose.

The Problem: Eve has her demons, that much is clear. If she is not drunk, she is hungover and looking forward to getting drunk. And when she cannot sleep, anyone who enters her room is met with a gun leveled at their face. While Charlie searches for a cousin who may have been part of the Resistance in WWII, Eve relives her life as a spy in WWI. It may have been something she signed up to do, even something that allowed her to end up a decorated war hero, but it is also what has given her the demons she currently lives with. With lies, betrayal, and experiences that give her dreams and memories she will never forget, Eve's life as a spy has yet to let her go, even 30 years later. And when Charlie barges into her home with a name she has not heard in decades, Eve decides it is time for some closure, and also a little bit of revenge.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fiction novel set both during WWI and just after WWII. Charlie searches for her cousin Rose in the year 1947, while the woman she hired relives her life in 1915, when she served as a spy against the Nazis in a small town in France. It is in Lille that Eve will end up employed as a waitress at a restaurant known to be frequented by German officials. As they enjoy the food they horde only for themselves, Eve discreetly listens to their conversation and passes useful information to her superiors, one of which being the head of the spy ring with which she is currently employed. Along with Eve, there is Lili, the head of the Alice Network, and her Lieutenant, Violette. All three women are based on real people, but the story is still fiction. There was a ring of female spies who were able to collect and pass on important information while pretending to be completely different people. In the novel, Eve pretends to be a young girl named Marguerite, and she does her best to pretend that she does not speak and understand either English or German, but only French. While living a lie for the war effort, Eve manages to make friends with her fellow spies, making what happens later that much harder to swallow. Even with moments of glorious victory, the defeats still manage to nearly destroy all three women, and turn Eve into the bitter and hateful woman she has become once Charlie finds her. But with Charlie's search, Eve seems to have a renewed purpose, even if it is focused solely on revenge.

My Verdict: As much as I gripe about wanting to stay away from books that deal with WWII (and WWI for that matter), there is a reason that I keep picking them up...I mean, there just has to be...because it just keeps happening. In the case of The Alice Network, it is probably close to the same reason I picked up both The Nightingale and The Lilac Girls. Some part of me wants to know more about what women did during that time. In The Alice Network, Quinn tells an emotional, suspenseful, often terrifying, but ultimately incredible story of one woman's experiences as a spy, and how those experiences shaped the rest of the her life. Eve and Charlie may not have made choices that someone else would make, but it was up to them how they would deal with the war, and they leaned into their choices as resolutely as they could. I often found myself eagerly turning the page while also shaking my head like I would at a modern horror film after someone suggests that the group should split up, or head upstairs, or run into the forest. The point is made several times throughout the book that war chews people up, never ends quickly, and is always happening in some part of the world, and the stories we find here are an example of how true that is, even if it is through a work of fiction.

Favorite Moment: When Charlie defies her mother for the second time and decides to finish what she has started.

Favorite Character: Eve is tough, but she is tough to a fault. She is the kind of tough and stubborn that often leads to her snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, you would rather have her on your side than against you.

Recommended Reading: I have already mentioned The Nightingale and The Lilac Girls, but Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is also worth checking out. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Goodreads Choice Awards 2017 Semifinal Round

Today the semifinal round of voting for the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards opens to the public. Readers have until Sunday, November 12th to vote in this second round, with the final round of voting scheduled to open up next Tuesday the 14th.

This is the round where five more books have been added for consideration to each category. Goodreads has taken into account the write-in votes, and have added the most popular ones to be a part of the running. For one category, this will make my decision even harder, while in another, it simply means I will actually have a book to vote for. 

I am incredibly thrilled that Mur Lafferty's Six Wakes has made it into the Best Science Fiction category, and it will consequently take my vote away from Omar El Akkad's American War, which is still a fantastic book. Six Wakes was the perfect combination of science fiction and murder mystery, with six crew members waking up in outer space after their previous bodies were apparently brutally murdered. But they are the only six people on board the ship. Who committed the horrifying act?

A new addition to the Best Nonfiction category ends up being another case where I will be voting for a book only because it is the only one that I have read out of all of the nominations. Brené Brown's Braving the Wilderness is not a bad book. In fact, there is a lot of good stuff in there, as Brown once again discusses vulnerability, along with the importance of learning to stand up for yourself, even if it means you stand alone. The book just comes off as a bit rushed, almost unfinished. It clocks in at under 200 pages, and does not contain the same amount of Brown's insightful truth that her readers have become accustomed to. But as I said, there is good stuff in there, so it gets my vote. 

All nominees I wrote about previously are still an option of course, and will remain so until Sunday, where the list in each category will be cut in half so you can make your final decisions. It is important to vote now to make sure your favorites make it into the finals. And of course, it is important to vote in the finals so your favorites can win the ultimate prize.

It will be exciting to see who comes out on top.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Readers have been asking questions like "Should I read Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, or Dear Martin by Nic Stone?" And the answer is yes. There is no need to choose between the two. Just go for both and end up twice as blessed.

The Situation: Justyce McAllister is an A+ student, captain of the debate team at Braselton Prep, and pretty much set to attend Yale next fall. But all future plans take second place in his mind once he is wrongfully arrested for a crime that never even happened. Although Justyce is released, he cannot get over the incident and the way he was treated, all because he is a young black man who was trying to help out a friend, and a cop got the wrong idea. It does not help that some of his classmates believe that racial equality has been achieved in America, and that black people are too sensitive. It also does not help that Justyce's best friend, Manny, is never willing to stand up to his white friends when it comes to their wrong attitudes about race. Justyce decides to write letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, whose teachings he studied in school. If there is anyone who would understand what he is going through, it would be the leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Problem: If Justyce has his ignorant classmates on one side of him - always making inappropriate jokes, comments, and assertions - he also has the people from his old neighborhood, calling him "smarty-pants" and saying that he will return to the hood once he realizes the white people he goes to school with will never accept him. Justyce feels pressed in on all sides, but there is one saving grace. His debate partner Sarah-Jane is never shy about speaking her mind and standing up for Justyce. He would love nothing more than to date her, but his mother would never approve of him being with a white girl. There is also Manny, who may have grown up with more privilege than Justyce, but is still a young black man living in Atlanta, and attending a prep school. Unfortunately, this is all an off-duty cop sees when the two of them are driving around together. Justyce began writing to Dr. King in an attempt to be more like him, but now he wonders what good it will actually do, and will it be enough to save him.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in modern day Atlanta. Justyce is in his senior year of high school when the book begins, and it ends shortly after he goes off to college. In that year he will have many of the usual teenage experiences that can be found in most movies, books, or TV shows. But his experiences take darker turns simply because he is a young black man. Most of the book is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, but in between some chapters are Justyce's letters to Dr. King. Also, some of the storytelling in certain chapters reads more like a play. When there is heavy dialogue, or a rapid exchange between characters (such as a heated discussion in Justyce's Societal Evolution class, or a cross-examination by a defense attorney), Stone does away with the quotation marks and the need to you use "says" or "explains" or "asks," etc. The effect is a definite sense of the tension and discomfort that these types of conversations can create. The primary theme is of course race, and more specifically how young black men are treated in this country. What Justyce tries to do is to go back to the teachings of Dr. King and see how they can be applied today.

My Verdict: If you are all about comfort, and keeping things light, and not having difficult conversations that allow for confronting hard truths or the way you think, then this book is not going to be for you. But it should be. Really, it is for everyone, but many will intentionally avoid it because of what is written on the book jacket. Stone pulls no punches and gets to the heart of the subject right away. Once Justyce is wrongfully arrested, the book does not let up. The challenges that the main character faces are many, and they do not all come from the police. In fact, most of them don't, as his main antagonist sits with him in his classroom. The amount of judgment, and criticism, and general negativity he has to endure seems relentless, and to him it certainly feels that way too. But in this, the point certainly makes it across to the reader that this is an issue that needs to be faced, and talked about, and dealt with, and books like this can certainly play an important role in that discussion.  

Favorite Moment: When Jared, one of Justyce's classmates, unwittingly exposes to the entire class, and possibly himself, just how deep his own prejudices go...even though everyone pretty much already knew.

Favorite Character: Manny is not perfect, but he is the kind of friend Justyce needs. He is willing to call his friend out on his nonsense (especially when it comes to a certain ex-girlfriend), and ends up coming to terms with his own issues.

Recommended Reading: Of course I am going to say The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, but I also recommend Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Goodreads Choice Awards 2017

So, Goodreads surprised at least me today by starting their 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards before November officially starts. But you know what? That just means the fun will begin a little earlier this year.

Voting has officially begun, so you can go ahead and start making your opinions known by supporting your favorite books of the year. These awards are decided completely by readers, which makes it the only book award of its kind.

As usual, I must start with the Best Fiction category, which for me ends up being tricky because while two DSN books made the cut, neither of their posts has gone up yet. I have read Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and can absolutely attest to how good it is, so it will be getting my vote. It is a story of two refugees whose adventure takes magical turns as they enter through doors that take them to different locations around the world. Unfortunately, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is still in my perpetually growing "to read" queue and will have a post in early January. I am sure it is fantastic, but voting for a book I have not actually read feels incredibly wrong. 

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins will get my vote for Best Mystery & Thriller, but only because it is the only one of the nominated books that I have read. It is not a bad book, it just is not as good as it could be. Also, it seems to suffer from readers remembering just how good The Girl on the Train was. Usually I do not have any books to vote for in this category, so getting even just one is a good showing for me.

Finding historical fiction that I actually wanted to read was a bit of struggle for me this year. Even so, I managed to pick two novels that have shown up in the Best Historical Fiction category. Lisa See's The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane explores the deeply revered tradition of tea making in China, but my vote will actually be going to The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Sure, it is another women in World War II book, but it is a good one. However, I can see fierce competition coming from both Moonglow by Michael Chabon and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. 

Best Science Fiction is another category I tend to be hit or miss on, but this time I managed to pick American War by Omar El Akkad and Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. One is a story of the U.S. after its second civil war, while the other takes place in a sort of post apocalyptic Europe where a giant bear terrorizes everyone (no, really). Although I did not place it under the science fiction heading when I wrote about it, I will go with American War on this one.  

I am pleased to see Dot Hutchison's The Roses of May in the Best Horror category, a sequel to The Butterfly Garden, which was nominated last year. Once again Hutchison has created a mysterious and terrible serial killer that puts its victims in seemingly impossible situations. Her ability to create realistic, but strong heroines is one of the many reasons I have become a faithful follower of her work. I have high hopes for this one, but with Stephen and Owen King's Sleeping Beauties also nominated, I have to admit that chances of a win for Hutchison are slim.

There will be a write-in vote for Jenny Lawson's You Are Here for the Best Memoir & Autobiography category. Part self-help, part graphic novel, and part adult coloring book, Lawson provides coloring pages that she herself created and used in the past when she was feeling particularly out of control or lost. It makes for a fantastic travel companion.

And for what is possibly the first DSN to make it into the Best History & Biography category ever, I pick The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. It is the story of the women who worked as dial painters during World War I, using radium to do so. Today we can all immediately realize the problem with this, but at the time, radium was still being billed as a wonder substance that was even safe enough to ingest. Yeah, awful.  

Choosing for Best Graphic Novel is tough because I have to choose between Sarah Andersen's Big Mushy Happy Lump, and Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer. Andersen's second collection of comics once again explores life for the modern book-nerd animator as she hilariously attempts to ward off procrastination, self-doubt, body-image issues, and unwanted body hair. Wires and Nerve is the first entry into a new graphic novel series that follows the events of The Lunar Chronicles. I actually think I will go with Andersen on this one, though both have the potential of making a decent showing.

The Best Debut Goodreads Author category is always fun, and this year proves to be no different with El Akkad's American War making its second showing in the nominations, and it is joined by Caraval by Stephanie Garber - the story of a young woman attempting to navigate a dangerous game in order to find her sister - as well as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - the story of a young unarmed black man killed by a police officer and the tense aftermath that follows. For me, and I imagine for many actually, it is no contest. Thomas gets my vote and I pretty much expect it to win, though I could be proven wrong.

And of course, my favorite category ends up having the most DSN books nominated. Best Young Adult Fiction has a record seven books nominated, with Thomas' The Hate U Give leading the way. The first to join it is Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. In his latest novel, Green explores mental health in today's youth as his protagonist almost constantly fights the urge dress and redress a wound she herself recreates so as to avoid infection. And then there is Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, a book that follows Carver Briggs as he attempts to live his life without his three best friends after they were tragically killed in a texting and driving accident. Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi is such an utter delight that it makes me wish I could vote for two books. Rishi is a boy who cannot wait to meet someone, get married, and start a family, all of which are things that Dimple would rather stay away from. So when these two must work together at a camp for students interested in coding, it is a near constant push and pull as they attempt to make it through the summer. YA queen (at least to me) Sarah Dessen also makes a showing with her latest, Once and for All. Louna Barrett knows from working for her mother's wedding planner business that happily ever after is hard to come by, and she is no less skeptical when distracted and unreliable Ambrose attempts to change her mind. A List of Cages by Robin Roe is a bit of a heart breaker, but it is worth braving Julian's troubled life at home and Adam's ADHD to experience this one. And finally, there is One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus, which I actually do not have a post for, but one will be coming in early December. After high school student Simon dies mysteriously during detention, the primary suspects are the four other students that were in the room. But nothing is as its seems, and everyone has a secret that Simon was ready to expose.

Oh goodness, so many choices that I had to start a new paragraph. I may have already voted for it in the Best Debut Goodreads Author category, but even so, I will once again go with Thomas' The Hate U Give. It is just that good.    

Garber's Caraval shows up again in the Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction category and is joined by Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer. While I had to make the difficult decision to not continue with the series, I will still vote for the latter as it is incredibly imaginative and unique. Lazlo Strange gets the amazing opportunity to travel to the city of Weep as part of a team attempting to save it. But it turns out that while he knows a lot more than people realize, he actually knows very little about who he is.

And there you have it: 20 books over 11 categories have made it from the DSN family. Plus, the second round will see the addition of five more books for each category, so that will be interesting. 

The first round of voting ends Sunday, November 5th, with the second round starting the following Tuesday. Happy voting!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Horror Fiction: The Roses of May by Dot Hutchison

I was excited to find out that last year's The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison had a sequel, The Roses of May. While The Butterfly Garden had a definite ending, it does make sense to continue the story, even if it is in a different way with new lead characters, while the reader is able to learn about what is going on with the other ones. Either way, I knew I would be treated to a suspenseful story and some decent follow-up for the previous one.

The Situation: Priya Sravasti is a fairly ordinary high school student currently living in Huntington, Colorado, though she is taking her classes online, mostly in preparation for her eventual move to Paris. She is used to moving every couple of months due to the nature of her mother's job, so not being able to establish roots or make lasting friendships is nothing new to her. Also, since her sister's gruesome murder nearly five years ago, Priya has not felt much need to reach out to people. Her small circle contains her mother, the small group of military veterans who play chess in the park, and the three FBI agents that worked her sister's case, along with the cases of the other women that were killed by the same guy. The three FBI agents happen to be Victor Hanoverian, Brandon Eddison, and Mercedes Ramirez, the same three that are still working on the Butterfly Garden case that came to light four months before.

The Problem: Priya's sister's murder was never solved, and the killer is still loose, managing to give the FBI another victim every May for the last 16 years. Agent Eddison has stayed close to both Priya and her mother after being assigned to their case five years ago. So while he has the still very much active case of the Butterfly Garden, he also stays worried about Priya and how she is doing. Now it seems her sister's killer has followed Priya and her mother to Colorado, and intends to continue his streak. With the FBI agents stationed on the east coast, it is difficult for them to guarantee Priya's safety, even while coordinating with authorities in Colorado. They would love nothing more than to arrest this guy and put him away forever. But after watching the aftermath from the Butterfly Garden, Priya is not sure if that is the kind of justice she can be satisfied with. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel that most would categorize as a thriller, and it certainly is, but I like it under the horror subheading, because it is indeed horrifying. While the Gardener liked to collect girls, mark them as his own, and then rape them until they reached adulthood, when he decided to kill them and preserve them, the man who killed Priya's sister stalks his victims, and decides that they are either too pure to continue living and risk corruption, or they are corrupted already and deserve to die. Either way, whoever he locks onto is almost guaranteed to be dead before summer. The narrative switches between a third-person account of Eddison's life, and a first-person account of Priya's. Eddison is still his anxious and somewhat emotionally closed off self from The Butterfly Garden, but now the reader gets to see what he is like around people he genuinely cares about, and not just his colleagues or the suspects they haul in. As hurt and crushed as Priya was after her sister's death, she has managed to grow up to be almost as fierce and terrifying as her mother. She is certainly not interested in being a victim, whether that means ending up dead like her sister, or having to look over her shoulder for the rest of her life. While the novel is certainly tense and suspenseful, it is also a good look at how the hurt and pain of a tragic event can continue long after the actual event is over. It also looks at just how much girls and women have to put up with from creepy men from a young age. 

My Verdict: This is a story. I may have said the same thing about The Butterfly Garden, but whatever, it is true. The nice thing about The Roses of May is that it was not as hard to read as its predecessor, but was still just as powerful, if not more so. Priya is a fantastic protagonist, and getting to follow her around was a pure delight, even with the danger coming closer and closer, making the book all the more tense right up until the end. Also, it was nice to be allowed a view into Eddison's world, even though the seemingly obvious choice for that space would have been Hanoverian. In many ways, Eddison is the smarter choice, as he was almost an antagonist in the first book, but now we get to see why he is the way he is, and that ultimately, he is one of the good guys. Thriller and suspense lovers would enjoy this series and the direction it is going in. I also loved hearing from Bliss and Inara and getting even more closure from the events in the first book. 

Favorite Moment: It comes from one of the updates regarding a villain from the previous book. I will not say more in a restrained effort to not let out any spoilers. 

Favorite Character: Priya's mother reminds me a little of my own, perhaps without the disarming smile and grace. Everyone seems to know to stay out of Ms. Sravasti's way as soon as she enters a room. 

Recommended Reading: Obviously, it would help greatly to read The Butterfly Garden before picking up this one. But also, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton would be a strangely appropriate choice.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Feels a little unreal to say, but today's post is actually going to be about a new John Green book. Turtles All the Way Down came out a little over a week ago, but it has been five years since his previous novel, the incredibly popular and deeply moving The Fault in Our Stars. To say I was excited would be an understatement, and I know I am not alone.

The Situation: Ava and her friend Daisy have decided to take on the latest scandal to hit Indianapolis. Construction billionaire Russell Pickett has disappeared, shortly before he was to be arrested by authorities. The two teenagers are not usually so interested in white collar criminals, but there is a $100,000 reward for any information leading to his whereabouts, and Daisy has decided that they could be the ones to earn that money. Ava and Daisy are already thinking about college, which is expensive, and Ava actually knows the oldest Pickett son, Davis. Well, she went to camp with him once, years ago, but it is enough. 

The Problem: Ava decides to go along with Daisy's plan, and it kinda works. The two make in onto the Pickett property; Davis remembers Ava enough to invite her in and the two reconnect; and the two girls even manage to collect clues and find some interesting information on the infamous Russell Pickett. The things is, Ava has a different narrative going on in her head that may not be as exciting or interesting as the one Daisy is insisting they play out. It would be fun to focus on the mysterious whereabouts of a missing millionaire, if she could simply stop worrying about getting sick. Actually, that is putting it a bit too simply. What Ava is worried about is getting Clostridium difficile. And once the worrying starts, she has a hard time stopping it, no matter what else is going on. It is the reason she keeps band-aids in her jeans pockets; it is the reason she obsessively cracks open an ever-present cut on her finger to, in her mind, prevent infection (hence the band-aids); it is the reason the simple act of eating can gross her out; it is the reason she sometimes drinks hand sanitizer. Ava wonders if she is truly in control of her life, because if she was, this is not what she would have chosen.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that takes place in modern-day Indianapolis, Indiana. There are several instances where Indianapolis is noted to be a decent city, though not a great one (I've never been so I really cannot argue for or against it), but the setting does play an important enough part so that the book would be a bit different if it were set somewhere else. The primary theme is certainly mental illness, and while Ava's diagnosis is never said outright, she seems to suffer from anxiety, with sides of obsessive compulsive disorder (or OCD) and mysophobia (commonly known as germaphobia). For most of the novel, Ava's focus is on not getting Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. However, once she thinks she has it, or is in danger of getting it, it is difficult for her to think of anything else. Ava is the first person narrator of the book, so the reader is allowed complete access to how these thoughts play out, but there is also considerable insight into how her behavior affects those around her. She has a mom who worries, and a friend who adores her, but as much as they care for her, sometimes it is not enough, for any of them.

My Verdict: We can never be inside of someone's mind so much so that we know exactly what it is like to be them. I will (maybe) never fully know what it is like to have anxiety...to have thoughts I cannot control and threaten to consume my everyday life. I do have OCD tendencies that mostly involve things like checking and rechecking doors that I know I closed and locked, and touching the knobs on the stove when I know they are off, and have been for hours. What Turtles All the Way Down has done is given me a glimpse of what it would be like if this was all I did and I could not fight through the thoughts enough to function in my everyday life. At first I found the way Ava thinks and talks to be jarring, then I found it despairing, and then, eventually, there was hope. In other words, I think Green has done it again. 

Favorite Moment: When Ava and Daisy actually take a canoe out to an island in order to have better access to the Pickett estate.

Favorite Character: Russell Pickett's son Davis has not had it easy, but manages to stay grounded enough that he can still be there for his younger brother. Also, it does not seem that he has let his access to incredible wealth make him spoiled or unable to appreciate the things money cannot buy.

Recommended Reading: Naturally I recommend both The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. But I will also recommend Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton, A List of Cages by Robin Roe, and You Are Here by Jenny Lawson.     

Friday, October 13, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

I was intrigued by Julia Walton's Words on Bathroom Walls as soon as I came across it on Goodreads. Add in yet another unplanned trip to Half Price Books, and here we are. I was not exactly sure what I had signed up for when I picked this story following a teenage boy diagnosed with schizophrenia, but at the very least, I figured it would be interesting.

The Situation: It is the start of a new school year and Adam is preparing to attend St. Agatha's, a private K-12 Catholic school where he will have to wear a school uniform, attend Mass, participate in an Easter play...the full deal. New schools are always a little intimidating and cause for some anxiety. But if meeting new people, making new friends, and getting around a new campus were not enough to worry about, Adam also has the knowledge that every adult in the building knows he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He attends weekly therapy sessions (where he refuses to talk) and is even on a new experimental medication known as ToZaPrex that is supposed to help with the hallucinations. Still, he is worried about the other students finding out about his secret, and even a little bit about the people who already know. 

The Problem: Everything seems to be going fairly well...or at least about as well as life in high school can go. School is what it is; Mass is boring; Adam's mom and stepdad are always supportive and there for him; he has met a cute girl; made a talkative friend; and made his way onto the school bully's hit list. All fairly standard stuff. But then the ToZaPrex does not seem to have the same effect it used to, and when the doctors managing the study recognize that Adam's body is building an immunity to it, they decide to bring him off of it, slowly. Since his diagnosis, Adam has been well aware that there is no cure for what he has, but he would like to at least be able to manage to a point that he does not hurt anyone, or give anyone reason to be afraid of him. Even at the height of ToZaPrex's effectiveness, the hallucinations do not go away completely, but he could handle them. Now, he risks losing everything he has spent the school year working so hard to gain, things that he never knew he needed or wanted until now. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in the 2012-2013 school year, which is Adam's junior year. The setting of the private Catholic school gives Adam some opportunity to talk about religion, though often the discussion is just him criticizing the Catholic church, their beliefs, and how they do things, rather than simply criticizing Christianity or religion in general. Since he refuses to talk in his therapy sessions, the story is told through the journal entries he writes to his therapist, telling everything important that is happening to him. Even the poor therapist is not free from Adam's scrutiny, as he often calls him out for his clothes, hair, even the line of questioning he sometimes chooses in an attempt to get Adam to open up. But given what Adam has been through, and what he is still going through, it is understandable that he would be unwilling to talk, even angry. Walton acknowledges that ToZaPrex may not be a real drug, and that this story is fiction, but schizophrenia is not. The book may be a peek inside of the mind of a fictional person diagnosed with schizophrenia, but it is still a window into someone who is hurting and makes a point of acknowledging that he may never be "fixed."

My Verdict: This one left me a little bit on the fence, but I am certainly leaning more towards the positive. Adam is a great character who embodies that always fascinating issue (at least it is fascinating to me) of how much support can be given to someone who is legitimately suffering, when a lot of what they offer back is pain and heartache. Adam is not quite to the point that the people in his life want to walk away for good, but he has his moments, and these moments sometimes made the book difficult to get through. Of course, that could have been the point. The format of reading the story through Adam's entries to his therapist works extremely well. It may be a one-sided conversation, but not allowing the therapist to interrupt works to let Adam say everything he wants, albeit only in written form. If there is any issue I have with the story it is that the villain, Ian, is almost a little too over-powered. He is not necessarily physically strong, but he has a little too much power and access. Because of his position as the son of the wealthy head of the school board, he does what he wants and gets away with it, right down to being able to know confidential information about his fellow students. But other than that, this is a solid story that would be good reading for anyone who is afraid of being found out for who they are.

Favorite Moment: When Adam's mom confronts her mother-in-law regarding things she said about Adam and his condition.

Favorite Character: Often in YA novels, parents are non-existent, completely useless, or part of the problem. In this case, Adam's mom and stepdad are none of those things. They are helpful, present, and by his side whenever he needs them. 

Favorite Quote: "It doesn't really matter that no one else can see what I see. That doesn't make my experience any less real."

Recommended Reading: You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds by Jenny Lawson is an awesome combination of self-help and an adult coloring book. In between the coloring pages, Lawson talks about her own struggles with mental illness. For a fiction book, I recommend All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Contemporary Fiction: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Once again, shout-out to Half Price Books and their section of discounted new titles, coupled with their coupons and sales. I always feel better about the impulse book purchase when paying less than full price, and Hannah Tinti's The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley was on the right shelf at the right time. 

The Situation: Louise "Loo" Hawley has never lived in one place for long. She and her father, called "Hawley" by most everyone he knows, have had to pick up and leave quickly from many locations over the course of her life. When they do make their temporary home somewhere, Hawley has the same ritual of turning the bathroom into a makeshift shrine to his dead wife, Lily. Loo would note the strangeness of such an act if she was not so used to it. It is just something Hawley has always done. Now the pair have settled once again in Olympus, Massachusetts, which happened to be Lily's hometown. For the first time in a long time, Hawley and Loo manage to stay put for a few years, with Loo going to school and Hawley finding steady and legitimate work. The locals may be suspicious and wary of the strange pair, but like always, they are able to make it work.

The Problem: Hawley has a past, one that he would do anything to protect his daughter from. But his attempts to keep her safe, while also keeping his many secrets, has made her curious, suspicious, and socially awkward. From how she reacts to bullies at school, it is clear Loo has inherited her father's temper, something he is not that excited to learn. Being the way he is has only earned him multiple bullet wounds, endless grief, and a life spent constantly looking over his shoulder, waiting for his past to catch up to him and his daughter. Now that Loo is older, she decides to start learning for herself about Hawley and her mother. Such knowledge may provide answers to questions she has had all of her life, but it will threaten to create distance between herself and the only person she has ever truly trusted. And while his daughter grows up into her own person, Hawley cannot seem to change who he has become, or avoid those who want to find him.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in present day Massachusetts, though stories from Hawley's past come from various locations all over North America. Loo's story begins when she is 12 years old and Hawley teaches her how to shoot a gun, and carries through to her 17th birthday. But in between snapshots of their life in Olympus, the story between each of Hawley's bullet wounds is told. To say that the man has led a hard life would be an understatement. Hawley is man who always has a gun on him. He is careful to the point of paranoia, and if a situation is even slightly off from what he thinks it should be, he is prepared to take action. Even so, such a high level of caution has not helped him avoid being shot multiple times in different situations, with those who are with him getting hit as well. It is his past that has caused him to be so careful and worried when it comes to his daughter. And it is his temper that causes everyone in town to be careful about him. Even without knowing his past, people quickly become wary about him due to how he prefers to dole out his own justice instead of waiting on authorities. Hawley is not only a difficult man who has lead a hard life, but he is also a father drowning in grief and running from fear. And one of those fears is that his daughter will end up just like him.

My Verdict: This is a book with thoroughly fleshed out characters whose fear and suspicion can be felt on almost every page. Hawley is a man not to be messed with; Loo has grown into a young woman not to be messed with, but can still be undone by a local boy; and then there are various others in the community, such as Loo's hardened grandmother, the well-meaning high school principal, Hawley's old partner in crime, and the widow still dealing with her own grief in a way that would only hurt the local economy. The problem for me is that it is hard to root for any of these people, including Hawley and Loo. The former should be dead, and the latter is headed towards the same fate if she is not careful. But ultimately, it becomes clear that everyone is simply doing their best to manage their own pain and failing at it. 

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Lily is revealed to be the reason behind one of Hawley's gunshot wounds.

Favorite Character: Principal Gunderson may be annoying, but he ultimately has Loo's best interest in mind and does what he can to help her. 

Recommended Reading: American War by Omar El Akkad tells a story of a woman hardened by war and the little boy who wished to learn her story.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Science Fiction: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

I received The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett after winning a giveaway on Goodreads. I had initially added the book after being intrigued by the synopsis. Settling colonies in space, a devastating virus, few survivors, a possible sinister government plot...all of these things got me interested to see where this new author was going to take the already thoroughly explored post-apocalyptic storyline.

The Situation: Jamie wakes up on the planet Soltaire after being bedridden due to a severe illness. The virus had grabbed hold on everyone across space. Earth was hit hard, but so were all of the settlements full of those that were forced off of the overpopulated planet, along with those who voluntarily left. Jamie fell into the latter category, but now none of that seems to matter. After remembering where she is and what happened, Jamie also remembers that the virus left few survivors. According to the statistics, only 0.0001% of those hit would survive. If that is true, then Jamie could not expect to find anyone else on the ranch she lived and worked as a veterinarian. And after a brief and frantic search that yields no signs of life, Jamie begins to see that sometimes there are worse things than dying. Fortunately, people do show up, and then a ship arrives to take them all to Earth, possibly proving that the statistics were not as accurate as Jamie had feared.

The Problem: There may be a small number of survivors, but it seems that humanity is intent on carrying on with its many bad habits. Everyone seems to have a different idea as to how society should proceed. And the more stops the ship makes on other colonies, the more unsure Jamie is of what the future will hold. Even before the virus hit, her life did not have a clear direction, although it was stable. Now, she finds herself curious about the people she left behind, but she is not the only one with a past, and also not the only one who may be searching for someone or something. The further the group travels, the more tension there seems to be, leaving Jamie to wonder if there was a point to anyone surviving such a catastrophic event.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel with an undetermined date as far as where to place it in our own timeline. The assumption is that it would be set in the future, but I could not be sure. It could easily have been placed in present-day, making it a reality where we as human beings long ago decided to send people to colonize in outer space. But there is talk of overcrowding on Earth leading to that decision, as well as much discussion about certain populations being forced to move, while there are others who also volunteered. Jamie is one who volunteered, and though her placement in society would have guaranteed that she never would have been forced, she resents those who made the decision to put such a policy in place. Throughout the novel, the subject of population control comes up quite a bit, along with the decision to reproduce, and how many see it as a duty, especially after a deadly virus has ravaged most of humanity. The novel also looks at how even those who choose to have children may not be able to, which can lead to a manic and desperate mindset where people make decisions they would not otherwise make. Before the virus hit, everyone Jamie meets had a previous life, but now none of it seems to matter. And those who attempt to hold onto their past end up the least equipped to properly move forward.

My Verdict: There are many things I enjoyed about this book, specifically that it was science fiction I could follow and understand. Also, the descriptions of the various settings that are visited manage to paint incredibly vivid pictures of lands and worlds that may be barren of humans, but are otherwise fine. Even the time spent on the ship while traveling through space is well-described, giving the reader a decent picture of what that would look like. With that being said, if there was one thing that threatened my enjoyment of the story it was the main character. Jamie is understandably struggling to come to terms with life after the virus. There are so many unknown factors, and she is traveling on a spaceship with strangers while they all attempt to figure things out. But she is so incredibly self-righteous about every little topic, and frequently gets mad at others for being the same way. She sees her way of moving forward as the only way, even though she is not even sure what her plan is. Her desires change at the turn of a page, and she finds even the smallest reasons to be frustrated with someone. Again, it is a stressful situation, but the protagonist made the narrative more annoying instead of intriguing or interesting.

Favorite Moment: When Jamie and her new friends manage to escape a settlement that would have them stay and be forced into whatever roles the government believes would suit them best. 

Favorite Character: Marcus Lowry is a former Catholic priest who always takes the role of peacemaker. It is obvious he has his own secrets (they all do), but he understands that if society is going to rebuild itself, everyone is going to have to get along and be patient with each other.

Recommended Reading: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel covers the days just before a deadly disease hits Earth, and continues until decades later when society is slowly rebuilding itself. There is no colonizing of other planets or space travel, but people must decide how they will move forward now that everything has changed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Historical Fiction: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

When it came to historical fiction, 2016 was actually a good year for me. Now, we are nearing the end of September of 2017, and it has been incredibly difficult for me to find new historical fiction. There is plenty of it out there, of course. But for whatever reason, I am having a hard time finding books that I am interested in reading. Thankfully, I came upon Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Here's to hoping that finding more historical fiction published in 2017 will be easier in these last few months of the year.

The Situation: It is New Year's Eve, and the city of New York is ready to ring in 1985. Lillian Boxfish is dressed and ready to go to Grimaldi's Restaurant, where she goes every New Year's Eve, to eat a fantastic meal among people who know her, and have known her for years. And though it is New York City in January, Lillian decides to walk, and as she does, not only will she come across various characters, and visit various businesses and establishments, but she will also more or less tell the story of her long life and her incredible career. At one point, Lillian was the highest paid female in advertising in the country. Working for R.H. Macy's, Lillian wrote advertising copy, and in the 1930s she was it. After finding success in that field, Lillian also published books of poetry that also met with both critical and commercial success, thus expanding the reach of her name and legacy. Incredibly witty, smart, independent and hard-working, Lillian does what she wants and on her own terms. Even after falling in love, getting married, and having a son, Lillian was determined to be her own woman.

The Problem: Having been born in 1899 (though she lied about her age, always taking off a year and pretending she was born in 1900), Lillian's streak of independence was often met with opposition, but she was always ready to fight it. Her own mother was the first to object, but Lillian would also contend with critics, a few fellow writers that she had to work with, occasionally her editor, and finally, her own husband. In the opening chapter of the book, Lillian admits that her job at R.H. Macy's, which she loved, both saved her life and ruined it. She is proud of the work she did, and did not want to stop doing it once she became pregnant with her son. But when Gian, or Johnny, was born, maternity leave was not a thing, and R.H. Macy's was not about to hold a job for her, despite her past history and success. As Lillian spends New Year's Eve walking the familiar streets of New York City, which even she admits have grown more sinister in the last few years, she relives her life and its many successes, as well as its many failures.

Genre, Things, History: This is a historical fiction novel set primarily on New Year's Eve, 1984 in New York City. Lillian takes a walk, beginning at her apartment in Murray Hill, and ends up walking a little over ten miles around the streets of Manhattan, before the clock finally strikes midnight, welcoming in the year 1985. As she walks and comes across landmarks, businesses, and offices, the reader is offered pieces of Lillian's life. Her stories are not necessarily in chronological order, but by the end, the reader has a pretty good idea of how Lillian's life has gone, and how she feels about it. If growing up as a feminist in the 21st century is hard, it was even harder when Lillian was making a name for herself in advertising. However, she managed to do it, and never backed down when challenged. This is not to say she never had her own issues. She would always have mixed feelings about motherhood, even after having a child. And though she fell fast and hard for her husband Max, and he fell fast and hard for her, the marriage would eventually end after Max's affair with another, younger woman. It seems even a fascinating and self-assured woman can have her moments of doubt, despair, and insecurity. It is acknowledged in the author's note that the character of Lillian Boxfish was modeled after the real-life ad woman Margaret Fishback, who also worked at R.H. Macy's and was once the highest paid woman in advertising. This book is not an autobiography of Fishback, but a fictionalized account of an independent woman who managed to make a name for herself during a time and in an industry when that was pretty much unheard of.    

My Verdict: Lillian Boxfish is a fascinating woman, and the story of her life is anything but boring. Unfortunately, the way it is told in this book is incredibly boring. I tried to get into it. I wanted to be interested and invested. But I simply could not do it. Even as Lillian talked about some of the more hectic or scandalous pieces of her life, I found that I cared very little as to how things turned out. And for whatever reason, her interactions with the people of New York as she walked the city did not come off as believable for me. Something about the dialogue seemed forced and out of place. However, things felt more natural when Lillian was speaking about or with an old friend or family member. I will say that I did learn some interesting tidbits about Manhattan, as well as New York City as a whole. But as far as the story goes, I felt like Lillian deserved more. More what? I don't know. Just more.

Favorite Moment: Lillian's interactions with her coworker Olive delighted me immensely. Olive was that person that seems to exist in every office in America who is both petty and useless, but somehow has not been fired yet. She is clearly jealous of Lillian and looks for opportunities to undermine her, but does not have the intelligence nor that power to do so. Lillian is always able to dispatch her with a witty remark, or an outright insult, but the poor girl just keeps coming back.

Favorite Character: Outside of Lillian, there really aren't any other characters worth noting. Her best friend Helen seems like the kind of best friend we all need, but there really was not much I could go on that would let me call her my favorite.

Recommended Reading: Okay, so this venture into new historical fiction did not quite go as planned. But that's okay. I think anyone who picks up A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles will be absolutely delighted by what they find. I certainly was. And I hope to run into that kind of delight again soon.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Nonfiction: You Are Here by Jenny Lawson

This is not Jenny Lawson's first rodeo, but this is the first chance I have gotten to pick up one of her books. Instead of going for either Furiously Happy or Let's Pretend This Never Happened, I decided to read You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds. After reading the description, I decided I would save this book for my trip to Europe, which would involve a stay in both Prague and Vienna, with a train trip in between. It seemed like the perfect book to relieve travel jitters, and I was right. 

Genre, Themes, History: I decided to place this book under the nonfiction heading, but I have seen it placed under self-help, as well as graphic novel, though that one may be a bit of a stretch. What Lawson has done here is create a book that is half narrative, half drawings and doodles that you can color in yourself. The sheets are even perforated to allow for easier coloring. Also, if you just want to take a few pages with you and not the entire book, tearing them out is naturally the way to go. But good luck picking which pages to take. Many of the drawings may be similar, but none of them are the same. The drawings, or doodles as Lawson refers to them, are a result of her efforts to do something productive with her mind and her hands when what she wants to do is freak out. After sharing a few of them online and receiving some positive feedback, she decided to make a book of them that is humorous, while also serious and helpful, and will provide hours of entertainment long after the actual words have been read. 

My Verdict: This is indeed the perfect book to take to the airport while knowing full well that it will be over 12 hours before you will be anywhere you will be comfortable again. And while I started reading it in the JFK airport, I did not start coloring pages until the train ride to Vienna, which proved to be an ideal setting for such an activity. The text is both funny and encouraging, and the drawings are creative and beautiful, even without any color added to them. As Lawson says a few times throughout the book, it really is whatever the reader wants to make it. Even outside of the coloring sheets, there are a few places where the reader can add in their own stories, secrets, and memories. It is certainly different, but it is also certainly awesome. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous nonfiction, even if you are not all that into adult coloring books. Practically anyone can find some enjoyment in the pages of this book.

Favorite Doodle: Page 48 was the first one I decided to color. It is a drawing of the tail end of a whale above the surface of the water, with a small human figure in a boat near it. The text in the water reads, "She always felt far too afraid for adventures,but that was okay, because misadventure was her true calling." It felt fitting as I was traveling in Europe alone, and had just managed to find my train to Vienna from Prague. It was by no means my first time traveling by myself, but I am afraid every time, though I always push forward.

Recommended Reading: There is no other book like this in my collection. So I will recommend either comic collection by Sarah Andersen: Adulthood Is a Myth, or Big Mushy Happy Lump

Friday, September 8, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Oh Goodreads, how did I find new books and authors before you came along? Seriously, I cannot remember how I did that before. Though to be fair, I was in graduate school for forever before I started this blog, so what I read was often dictated to me by my professors, leaving little time to read anything for fun. But I digress...today's selection is When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I am all for discovering new YA authors. I am also all for books with diverse voices that involve cultures I am not all that familiar with. This book allowed for both, so this is going to be fun.

The Situation: Dimple Shah knows exactly what she wants in life, and it happens to be the direct opposite of what her mother wants. Dimple's mother would love it if her daughter were more interested in make-up, dressing nice, and finding the "Ideal Indian Husband." But Dimple is focused on starting at Stanford in the fall, and attending Insomnia Con this summer, where she will get to compete against others while creating an app, with the winner getting a chance to make the app available to the public. It is at Insomnia Con where she will meet Rishi Patel, in incredibly practical and dutiful boy who loves the idea of an arranged marriage, and wants to honor his parents by becoming a successful corporate business man, getting married, and having a family. He loves the idea so much that he agreed to attend Insomnia Con, even though he has no interest in coding or web development. He knows it is there that he will meet Dimple, as both his parents and her parents have already arranged the marriage.

The Problem: Everyone is pleased with this plan...well, everyone except Dimple, who did not even know about it until Rishi approached her outside of a Starbucks. Needless to say, that first meeting did not go well, and while Dimple is incredibly angry with her parents, Rishi is the one who incurs her wrath. And if things were not awkward enough, the two of them have been made partners for the entire six weeks of Insomnia Con. Eventually, the pair will get to know each other enough to relax into an easy relationship. But Insomnia Con is still a competition, and one that is incredibly important to Dimple. Together, they must endure encroaching family, snobby competitors, and flaky roommates. It is enough to make Dimple rethink her future, which just a few weeks ago was one thing she was absolutely sure of. Even Rishi begins to wonder if the life he mapped out for himself is truly what he wants.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in and around San Francisco, California. The program that Dimple and Rishi attend, Insomnia Con, takes place on the San Francisco State University campus, where the participants stay for six weeks in the student dorms and work on their own idea for an app. The winning pair will get the chance to develop their app for the market, and work with one of Dimple's idols. Dimple is at Insomnia Con because it is important to her and she wants to win. Rishi is at Insomnia Con because he wanted to meet Dimple, whom he solidly believes is his future wife. Tradition and history are important to both the Shahs and the Patels, but while Rishi embraces these things, Dimple could not care less, and wants nothing more than to be allowed to live her own life and follow her own dreams, without her mother's interference. It is these opposing viewpoints that will pit Dimple and Rishi against each other, and Dimple against her parents. It does not help that some of the other Insomnia Con participants are less than friendly, and have no problem showing how superior they believe themselves to be. It becomes a more complex issue beyond Dimple not wanting her only purpose in life to be finding a husband. And Insomnia Con becomes more than a competition about web development. 

My Verdict: Delightful. Absolutely delightful. Which I am glad for because I had high hopes and was incredibly excited to start this book. Dimple is headstrong and fierce without being tiresome or a cliche. Rishi is genuine and sweet in a way that will endear him to the reader, without coming off as desperate or cloying. The setting of Insomnia Con is perfect in that it gets the students away from their parents, who would otherwise just be in the way, while also keeping them in a somewhat high school-like setting with other students who are not nice people, and authority figures that give them cause to behave and obey a somewhat loose set of rules. Tradition and history of the Indian culture is presented without the plot becoming burdened in details, and the tension between Dimple and her mother feels real. If I had one issue, it would be the character of Celia Ramirez, Dimple's roommate at Insomnia Con. I do not even know if I can put my finger on it, but something about her was just...off. Parts of her personality felt forced and fake, and there were moments where it seemed her only purpose was to push Dimple to put on make-up or wear nicer clothes once in awhile. But her presence did not mar the book in any significant way, making this an awesome new read for any YA lover.

Favorite Moment: It is the moment depicted on the back cover: when Dimple throws her iced coffee in Rishi's face immediately upon meeting him for the first time.

Favorite Character: I am actually having a hard time choosing between Dimple or Rishi. I like that Dimple knows what she wants and is not easily swayed. But I also like how earnest Rishi is and how he manages to not be bothered by the crappy behavior of others.

Recommended Reading: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon also explores the clash that can occur when a college-bound teenager is not too thrilled about honoring their parents' wishes for their life.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Science Fiction: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Ah...science fiction I can actually follow. It is good stuff I must say. Jeff VanderMeer's Borne tells of a world where cities have been trashed, no one is safe, and to care about anyone or anything is to not only risk your own safety, but your sanity as well as all things can be taken from you. Sure, it is another book exploring a dystopian alternative, but with an interesting spin on it.

The Situation: Rachel lives with Wick in the Balcony Cliffs. Together they have carved out a sufficient existence as she scavenges for materials, and he creates and maintains valuable biotech that adds to the security, food source, and quality of their lives. For the most part they trust each other, but whether they did or not, they must depend on each other for survival. The city around them is more or less a wasteland, with every being for themselves, human or otherwise. There are plenty of threats around, the greatest of which being Mord, a created monster that terrorizes the city, and the Magician, a woman who seeks to contend with Mord for ultimate control of the area and its resources. For a long time, Rachel and Wick have only had to worry about each other, but that is until she finds Borne. He is small, seemingly helpless, and could be valuable, so Rachel takes him and keeps him, with no idea as to what she has possibly gotten herself into.

The Problem: Rachel has no clue what Borne is or what he is capable of, and neither does Borne. As time goes on and as Rachel cares for him, Borne will grow, get bigger, and learn language, among other things. From day one Wick is not a fan, and Borne knows it. He repeatedly demands that Borne be given to him so he can be taken apart, destroyed, as salvage. Wick continually asserts that Borne is dangerous, but Rachel will hear none of it. But as Borne gets bigger and bigger, it becomes difficult for any of them to ignore what is happening. Plus, Borne is not their only concern. Mord is still ruling the city with teeth and claws, while the Magician  is pulling her own tricks in an attempt to gain total control. Meanwhile, Rachel and Wick fight more often, keep more and more secrets from each other, and Borne continues to grown and learn at a terrifying rate. The already delicate balance that they kept over their lives is beginning to tip, and not in a good direction.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel set in an unknown time in an undetermined location, because ultimately, neither of those things matter, given the state of the world. The city where Rachel and Wick have made their home in the Balcony Cliffs is no longer recognizable as what it once was. An entity only referred to as the Company is often mentioned, mostly for its hand in the destruction, as well as its creation of Mord, a terrifying giant bear-like creature that roams the city and eats/destroys what it pleases. And if avoiding Mord is not enough of a task, there is also the Magician, who seems to serve not only as Mord's rival, but Wick's as well. Both of them are worth avoiding, but their growing presence make it fairly obvious that life in Balcony Cliffs cannot last forever. When Rachel finds Borne, she seems to find another purpose of life beyond scavenging. Eventually she will admit to seeing Borne almost like her child, which explains her compulsion to defend him endlessly against Wick, despite her longer relationship with the latter, and the obvious danger behind the growth of the former. In this book, what you see in someone or something is not necessarily what you get. Everyone has secrets; everyone has a hidden history that even they may not know about.

My Verdict: While the story may be incredibly original, even despite the dystopian setting, something about the story's pacing or the amount of internal dialogue threw me off. I liked the setting, I liked the characters, and I liked the action that took place. But Rachel's constant need to pick apart every little instance, every interaction, every shrug, every question, every answer, every silence...it becomes too much. The surprises came out less surprising, and excitement was hard to come by. With that being said, it is still a great book with interesting characters and a compelling story that made me wander how the ever-growing issue of Borne was going to be handled or dealt with. VanderMeer presents a problem with a seemingly simple solution, but that solution is hard to execute when someone refuses to see the obvious truth in front of them, while the problem only gets bigger and bigger. 

Favorite Moment: When Rachel is able to take firm action when dealing with the Magician.

Favorite Character: This is difficult, because Rachel's blindness and need to take care of something or have something of her own, despite the obvious issues, makes her hard to like. Wick seems more clear-sighted, but is difficult to trust. And Borne is innocent and ignorant, but also a troublemaker. 

Recommended Reading: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel tells the story of a world after a terrible epidemic has wiped out most of humanity. There are not enough human beings to run the bigger cities, and survival is a tenuous thing.