The Hazel Wood

Image result for the hazel woodTitle: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: fantasy, contemporary, fairytale
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland super fan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
ReviewReading this book was almost like walking into fairy tales for the very first time. It had an almost Grimm feeling to it but in a wholly original way. The author created an amazing cast of characters and a strong narrator, Alice, that made the read swift and adventurous. The twists and turns were unexpected and mysterious and the whole time I read it, I just kept wondering how it would end. I wasn’t disappointed. Albert’s writing style wove truth and story together beautifully. She created a modern, realistic New York City and juxtaposed it perfectly to the fantastical and horrifying Hinterland. As everything in fairy tales are better in threes, I’ll leave at this: I’d 100% read more about Alice. Three times.

*Special thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Hating Game

Image result for the hating game sally thorneTitle: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
Genre: romance; fiction; contemporary
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome. 2) A person’s undoing 3) Joshua TemplemanLucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude. Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game
Review: When you read book like this there are some things that are just straight up guaranteed —cliche or not, you read these books for the familiarity. You want a narrator who is both human and likeable, a bit of a pushover who wants to be more fierce. You want a brooding male lead who is handsome, strong, stoic. You want tension between the two. You want drama that inevitably makes the narrator grow a backbone. You want a HEA.
Well, you get ALLLLLLL of that in this Pride and Prejudice retelling. You get all of that but with an originality that is both refreshing and engaging. Lucy is perfect in that she’s flawed and charismatic. Josh is the perfect paramour all furrowed brows and strong chin. The tension is, ahem, amazing. The drama is unexpected but well written. The HEA is dreamy.
The prose and wit that Thorne embeds in this novel is fast pace and biting. It’s funny, like, laugh out loud funny, and full of heart. You root for the characters because they just fit.
I loved every minute of this book

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Image result for a court of thornsTitle: A Court of Thorns and Roses [Book I/VI]
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: Fantasy
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price … Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jeweled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.
Review: Recommended to me by one of my friends, this book was interesting to get into. It’s very much a fantasy book, but it reads more like a coming of age novel with a strong and stubborn female lead. This lead, Feyre (pronounced fay-ruh), is caring and wise, and as a reader, you root for her success.

​As an avid reader, I was impressed with the author’s ability to create a character like Feyre. She feels intense emotion, she doesn’t make all the right decisions, and she’s driven by instincts and the goodness in her heart. She felt so real and authentic that I couldn’t wait to keep reading. It was obvious to me that this was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but at no point did I feel like I knew what was coming. Instead, I fell in love with Feyre and Tamlin along with the rest of the Spring Court and counted on Feyre to conquer all.

A Court of Mist and Fury

Image result for a court of mist and furyTitle: A Court of Mist and Fury [II/VI]
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: Fantasy; Action; Adventure; Romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) SPOILERS FROM BOOK 1
Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people. Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.
Review: This book has all of the things I’m looking for in a good novel — it has a great plot line, amazing subplot lines, organic and realistic characters, and the suspense factor that makes you turn the page. Now, from the reader and ACOTAR fan in me, I love this book because the main characters are so, so, so lovable and believable.  I like when I can get behind a character and fall in love with their arc. That’s exactly what has happened here. The characters you love in ACOTAR are built upon and made more complex in this second installment. The characters you meet in ACOMAF are strong and fun and interesting. Maas has a gift for character development and shows that most clearly through Feyre’s development. Plus. Yummy Rhysand, amiright?

The Persephone and Hades subtext was not lost on me. I loved that so much. Maas is great at turning what I loved about ACOTAR on its head. Feyre is still Feyre, but she’s seeing through new eyes and without the constant fear of dying at Amarantha’s hand, she can begin to see clearly.

I cannot wait for book 3.

A Court of Wings & Ruin

Image result for a court of wings and ruinTitle: A Court of Wings and Ruin [III/VI]
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: Fantasy; Romance; Adventure; War
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

Review
: As with ACOTAR and ACOMAF, Maas clearly understands the written word. She has brought us back into this Prythian universe, into the heart of the battle, and all the while we know exactly what we’re in for, because we know Feyre. A character as complex and daring as any heroine I’ve ever seen, Feyre can handle everything thrown at her, without the savior that most female heroines are bent on having in books elsewhere. She’s flanked by powerful characters on all sides. The depth of the relationships all intensify and become much more realistic in this third installment of the series. The Feyre and Rhysand relationship intensifies in the most delightful way. He’s everything I look for in a male lead. He’s tender, loving, and trusting. He’s strong and selfless, and at times, you want to knock him upside the head because he’s being too selfless. All that being said, I quite enjoyed the diversity of the minor characters in this one, more so than the others.  The yummy Helion, the sweet Tarquin, and Mor! OMG Mor….All that’s to say that I can’t wait for Book 4 in the ACOTAR series.

Dreaming in Cuban

Image result for dreaming in cubanTitle: Dreaming in Cuban
Author: Cristina Garcia
Genre: fiction; magical realism; historical fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Here is the dreamy and bittersweet story of a family divided by politics and geography by the Cuban revolution. It is the family story of Celia del Pino, and her husband, daughter and grandchildren, from the mid-1930s to 1980. Celia’s story mirrors the magical realism of Cuba itself, a country of beauty and poverty, idealism and corruption. DREAMING IN CUBAN presents a unique vision and a haunting lamentation for a past that might have been.
Review: I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved how Garcia was able to switch perspectives and give us effortless magical realism. Pilar’s character, divided and unsure is my favorite of the women, and I love her journey. From sharing her abuela’s thoughts before bed to being an artists, Pilar truly finds herself in this novel. All of the storylines and character arcs are interesting and bittersweet.

The Brief & Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Image result for oscar waoTitle: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Genre: fiction; contemporary; magical realism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim. Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.
Review: When I picked this book up originally, I thought I was going to love it — outcast nerd who likes weird things and wants to be a famous writer someday — but I couldn’t really get all the way into it. I liked that it was told through another perspective, and I love the cultural dissonance between the two characters, but for some reason, when I finished the book, I wasn’t inspired. Yunior’s storyline is bittersweet — he can’t figure out what he wants and with this engrained idea of who he has to be and how he has to act, he doesn’t really grow up until the end. Oscar is the complete opposite of that. He realizes that he can only be who he is, even if it “sucks” because it’s “all he has.” I wouldn’t consider Oscar to be “wondrous” but I do like his “I’d die for love” attitudes.

​Overall, I enjoyed it. Just not as much as everyone said I would.

Goblin Secrets

Image result for goblin secretsTitle: Goblin Secrets
Author: William Alexander
Genre​: YA; fantasy
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared. Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan—because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.
Review: In this day and age, with the book world as oversaturated as it is, finding a fantasy book that has magic, a hero’s quest, and a prophecy is almost commonplace – but that’s not what you’ll get in William Alexander’s Goblin Secrets. This book has familiar elements from all of those tropes but in Zombay, even with the threat of a prophesized flood, nothing is as it seems. The main character, Rownie, is a little boy who doesn’t even have his own name, and yet, he is plucky and tough. It is easy to see why this book received a National Book Award as William Alexander’s quality of writing, narrative style, and structure is easy to follow and his characters are both charming and brave. In the city of Zombay, Tamlin (the politically correct term for goblins) believe in hope and magic and prophecy, and need Rownie’s help to make it come to pass. They accept Rownie as one of their own and tell him to “Stand and move with purpose. Move the way the mask would prefer you move” (103) because what they do for Zombay is mysterious… something “ancient and grand” (101).

​This book, originally written for middle grade readers, is full of steampunk, action, and questing for them to enjoy. Rownie, an orphan running from the witch that is his caregiver, Graba, is looking for his missing brother throughout the town of Zombay. Rownie, while on the run from Graba, comes upon a band of goblins (Tamlin) whose home, despite their social status, is Zombay. Born and raised in Zombay, but changed – the term used for people who become goblins – are not seen as real citizens even in their hometown. In this, Alexander does something clever – he introduces social commentary into the novel without seeming to be on a soapbox. He does this in little ways, for instance he writes, “UnChanged folk do not touch Tamlin, as a rule. They seem to believe that it would give them freckles” (106). Without being political, Alexander introduces inequity and discrimination into a novel meant for preteens.

The story is told from a 3rd person point of view which allows the reader to enter Rownie’s mind throughout the book. Alexander writes in the main character’s emotions and thoughts in a way that lends itself to its readership. Rownie “does not run” (60) from his problems – although he does run from the Guard – but instead, faces them as a hero who is on a quest must. Alexander’s style posits for strong truths and deeper meanings into the hero’s quest. Semele, the Tamlin who takes Rownie in, says, “We are always using masks and a lack of facts to find the truth and nudge it into becoming more true” (95). In a city full of liars, Rownie realizes that actors, who “pretend” because “It’s kind of [their] job” (95) are the only ones who can help him find his brother and save Zombay from the prophesized floods. into Rownie’s journey with simple, yet beautiful prose. It isn’t Graba or his brother who “gather beside Rownie” (219) throughout this journey through the flood and back, it’s the Tamlin. Alexander’s book, written in Acts and Scenes, like the drama it is, is a journey for the truth. Rownie, an orphan and a misfit, goes on a quest for his brother, but ends up finding out what he’s truly made of in the process.

Always Running

Image result for always runningTitle: Always Running
Author: Luis Rodriguez
Genre: nonfiction, memoir, crime, urban
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.
By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.
At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.
ReviewAlways Running has been a book I’ve gone back to over and over again as a story that still needs telling. Every time I read it, I’m surprised and impressed by how Luis Rodriguez can tell such a heartbreaking story so beautifully. In the synopsis they say “at times heartbreakingly sad and brutal” and they aren’t lying. This book is sad, brutal, and graphic. But. Every single word means something in Rodriguez’s story. Every anecdote he relays to the reader is purposeful and compelling. I hate that the things he writes about from his childhood are still relevant — the police brutality, the general attitude toward the “other”, laws and policies that are detrimental to those outside of the majority, those without power. The way Rodriguez writes about gangs and his upbringing is still relevant. I love this book, and I’d recommend it to high schoolers or older without reservation.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Image result for fried green tomatoes bookTitle: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
Author: Fannie Flagg
Genre:  fiction, historical fiction, LGBT, feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) It’s first the story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women — of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder.
Review: If you’ve seen Fried Green Tomatoes and liked it, you’ll love the book a thousand times more. The book answers all of those ambiguities from the movie and sheds more light on all of the characters. Ruth and Idgie’s relationship is pure and beautiful and clearly defined. Ninny as a storyteller is wonderful and Evelyn is much more defined.

If you haven’t seen the movie, this book is told from multiple perspectives in multiple eras. Depression Era south, 1980’s Birmingham. It’s got everything you’d expect a historical fiction novel to have — a busybody with her own news column, family, love, loyalty, action, and humor. When you read this, you’ll fall in love with Flagg’s characters — from Smokey Lonesome, the hobo who tramps around the country on the rails, to Idgie Threadgoode, feminist icon who defies gender roles in a time where women were meek and obedient.

The only thing that stopped me from giving this a 5/5 is how Flagg wrapped up a few of my favorite characters. The writing style is unique — each voice is distinct, and no one gets left behind.