[Book Review] The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Title: The Fifth Season (Book 1/3)
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Genre: fantasy; science fiction; ya; dystopia
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Review: 4 stars 

The learning curve for this novel / series was really steep, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this novel in the least. Jemisin has, in this series, created a world, and along with it, a complicated mythology, history, and vocabulary. There is a class system, a series of working pieces, and a natural order of things that from the beginning feels like it needs disrupting. 

Readers walk into this book en media res and it feels like jumping into an eight foot pool without really knowing much more than a doggy paddle. She provides a strong warning at the beginning though, so if we decide to keep reading, it’s really our choice. I decided to keep reading and was not disappointed. 

I love the characters in this novel. Jemisin creates strong voices in each of them. She also uniquely presents the second point of view for Essun, one of the narrators of the novel. Throughout her chapters, instead of getting an understanding of what’s going on around Essun, we see what’s happening through her. 

This is made clear in the very beginning of the text when Jemisin writes, “You’re the mother of two children, but now one of them is dead and the other is missing. Maybe she’s dead, too… And you… you shut down. You don’t mean to. It’s just a bit much, it’s the it? Too much. You’ve been through a lot, you’re very strong, but there are limits to what even you can bear” (Jemisin, 16). 

This truly and intrinsically places the reader squarely within the narrative framework of the text. I’ve never felt more a part of a novel before this. It was almost like I was going to have to stay with her, suffer with her, survive with her. Whatever this character had to face, so would I, as the reader. 

The interwoven tapestry of the Stillness is so creatively designed in this novel. There are so many connections and characters that are, in the end, all tied to this stonelore. 

I still have to many questions about the stonelore. 

Okay. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this review for a minute and here’s what I got:

Sexuality and sex is really well written in this book. It’s so nonchalant and like, normalized that it isn’t even a big deal in this world, but that’s why it’s cool to say something about in this review. 

This book really has a lot to say about systems of power and corruption. It does so in really, really overt, horrifying ways (Damaya’s hand, Syen’s first assignment, the node worker, etc.).  There are so many ways, through this first book in the series, that Jemisin really talks about the struggle of power, and it is really cool when Syenite and Alabaster have their discussions about this. 

I love the dynamics between Alabaster and Syenite. There’s this deep respect, but also utter annoyance. I’m here for it. It was really interesting to watch this relationship grow this book. It was clear right away that Alabaster had this very different ideology, right? And that he could really teach someone like Syenite, if she was open to it. I have so many thoughts about this. I almost wish there was more of this.

One thing I didn’t like at the very when he told her he understood why she did something, but would never forgive her for it. He was the one who told her to do whatever it took to make sure it never happened. She did what she had to. So. That pissed me off. 

(Rant over)

Okay. 

So. 

I loved this book. I loved the relationship between characters and time and the world and the earth. I’m so intrigued to see where this is going. 

[Book Review] The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

Title: The Love that Split the World
Author: Emily Henry
Genre: young adult; contemporary; fantasy; romance; scifi; time travel
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.

Review: 4 stars

After finishing Beach Read (you can read that review here), I wanted to read more of Emily Henry’s stuff, so I went to my Kindle app and searched. I decided to pick up her first book without reading anything into it. I was very, very shocked. It was a complete departure from Beach Read. Where Beach Read is this new adult awakening, The Love That Split the World is this young adult fever dream of surrealism and like… magical realism?

Bottom line, it was fantastic.

I noticed a few of beautiful similarities from the first book to the latest. She writes with this wonderful fluidity that made it so effortless to keep reading. (I read this book in two days as well.) Her chapters end and begin so seamlessly, so naturally that it feels like a perfect transition. It doesn’t feel like this huge cut or break like some books. This is why I think I was able to finish the book so quickly. I find that sometimes, when the chapter ends with such finality, it allows me to feel more confident about putting the book down for a spell. In this book, I felt almost compelled to continue, I didn’t want to stop scrolling / turning the page, despite it being the end of a chapter (if that makes sense).

I also really loved this book’s use of storytelling. It seems like Henry did her research (as evidenced by her Acknowledgements) to tell this story. I love the way it begins. It’s a little spooky and reminds me of the Netflix retelling of The Haunting of Hill House with Eleanor. (The Love that Split the World is NOT a horror book.) I love this idea of the universe being so flexible and fluid that someone like Natalie can see through veils.

Natalie is an awesome lead. She’s adopted, she doesn’t have her act together, and she wants to get away from her current problems by moving all the way to Brown. She thinks that by getting out of her small town, everything will suddenly just be better. That’s so relatable.

There are some really strong messages in this book — you can’t run away from your problems; your identity is what you make it, yes, but your heritage can be very transformative; no means no; stand up for what you need; be there for the ones you love; do what’s right, no matter the cost; leaps of faith are sometimes truly cathartic.

The way this book is written seems almost like verbal storytelling itself at points. Where Grandmother reminds Natalie that stories are meant to be heard and remembered, not written down, it feels almost the same for Natalie’s own journey. She goes from her present to Beau’s so effortlessly at times, and their story is so frenetic, it feels like it’s meant to be read aloud. There are so many lines that read like poetry, but here’s the one I love the most:

“The sky split open then. / The stars fell like silver rain. / The world stopped turning. The Universe held its breath” (Henry 389).

If you read Beach Read, and like me, go back to Emily Henry’s first, this will be something of a shock. They’re very, very different.

Natalie can kind of bend time and space, and there seem to be ghosts along the way. The element of the supernatural is nowhere to be seen in Beach Read, but it is so well done in The Love that Split the World. This is definitely YA, it’s a fast read, and it’s well done. I definitely recommend.

[Review] Save the Date

image0Title: Save the Date
Author: Morgan Matson
Genre: contemporary; ya; romance; realistic fiction; family
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster. There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo. Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractedly cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review: 3 stars

I had a hard time with this rating. I waffled between a 2 and a 3 star. It wasn’t that this story was bad, but it wasn’t my favorite read either, and there were points where I wanted to DNF it.

So. The not so good:
Charlie as a narrator is annoying and narrow sighted. I guess that comes with being a teenager (I feel like a broken record saying this) but I was so fed up with reading her perspective. I have read so many books with teenager narrators and can read page after page without being 1. Bored to tears 2. Rolling my eyes or 3. Mad as hell. But Charlie was infuriating. She wanted everything to be just so, and if it didn’t fit her perfect vision, she didn’t handle it well.
I think it frustrated me the most because people try to warn her but she doesn’t listen. I hate obstinate narrators. Like, you don’t have to be perfect, but dang girl, give the people around you a break when they aren’t either.
The good:
I laughed out loud at some of Morgan Matson’s clever writing. She had some really sweet family moments and some really funny family dynamic moments that hit. Very well written. The GMA interview in particular made me actually laugh… like, legit out loud, so I think that’s saying something.
When Charlie does eventually learn her lesson (it’s not a spoiler, every protagonist learns SOMETHING), that’s where I felt like i could get behind her character a little.  Matson writes, “but now, in this moment, she no longer seemed Perfect, the one who knew everything, the one who was always right. Because he wasn’t. He was in the wrong with Brooke —and what’s more, I could see it and he couldn’t. It was the latest revelation in a night that had been chock-full of them. But it felt like it had tilted the world on its axis a little. Because who was Danny if he wasn’t my big brother, the one who could fix anything and do everything? Who was I if I wasn’t looking to him for answers?
“As I drove on in silence, my headlights cutting through the darkness, I realize that maybe it meant we could be closer to equals. Maybe I could actually find out who he was, now that I wasn’t blinded by the vision of him that I had been holding onto you, the one left over from when I was six and he was the best person in the world” (372).
Like, Charlie felt so inauthentic and obnoxious to me before this, and then this scene, it felt like I’d lived that scene myself with a few people. Where you suddenly see them in a real and honest light and your opinion of them shifts (for good or ill) and you can’t go back to seeing them any other way.
I also really enjoyed the Bill plotline. Bill wasn’t pushy or invasive. He did his job as a character. Nice, Billiam.
The alright:
The minor characters add depth. The “what can go wrong, does” aspect of Linnie’s wedding is so outrageous it almost stops being funny. Everyone knows a Jesse. Mike is a real one. They should have let DJJJ handle wedding music.
Overall, I went with 3/5 instead of 2/5 because Charlie figures it out in the end. And because it made me laugh. And because I didn’t DNF it after all. And because of Waffles.

 

Where the Crawdads Sing Review

image1.jpegTitle: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: fiction; historical fiction; realistic; mystery; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Review: This novel was selected for me as part of an impromptu book club. If you’ve seen my usual book choices, you can see that it doesn’t exactly fit in with my book choices, but I wanted to give it a fair shake. I read this as a kindle read so as I provide this review, I’ll be giving percentages instead of page counts to talk about how I felt as I read along.

To be 100% honest, I almost DNF’d this book around 23% through. I was BORED. I get the appeal of a girl and a place. I truly do. But that’s not my story and there are too many books on my tbr that ARE my story. But, it was for book club, so I kept going. There was an element of crime drama and the non linear storytelling that I kinda liked, so regardless of whether I liked Kya or not, I kept reading.

But then it got so, so, so predictable that by 50% I did DNF it. I was totally done with it, book club be damned. I was 100% sure I knew how the crime plot was going to shake out, I didn’t have any strong tie to Kya or Chase or Tate or anyone else, except for maybe Jumpin.

The one thing I didn’t count on was being shamed for DNFing it at book club. I thought I had enough to speak on when we started talking about it… (50% is a LOT to talk about AND I’m an English major and an English teacher tyvm) I guess by me not finishing it in the first place I was bashing the pick of it? Or maybe I made my opinion of it too well known, but anyway, I was made to feel guilty enough that I went home and stewed over finishing it so much that I did just that!

I finished the dang book. And you know what, it was exactly what I thought it was going to be. The crime plot shook out exactly as expected, the good guy was the good guy, the bad guy was the bad guy, the the marsh was the marsh.

Here’s the good:

Delia Owens is a beautiful descriptive writer. Her description is out of this world. She created the marsh as it’s own character and imagery is her god damn forte. Holy cow can she paint a picture.

Here’s the not so good:

It felt predictable from the start.Maybe it was supposed to. Maybe you’re supposed to guess it from the beginning. This wasn’t for me.

I just felt like I wasted my time. Like I said in the beginning… There are too many books on my TBR for me to feel guilty over DNFing a book.

 

The Hate U Give

9780062498533_p0_v10_s550x406Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: fiction; ya; contemporary; realistic
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
ReviewBooks that make me feel both empowered and ready to take on the whole damn world are why I read books! Angie Thomas’ debut novel is inspiring. Important. Relevant. Engaging. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Activating. Starr is a brilliant protagonist who rises up and claims her voice. She begins her story by having two sides, the side she shows at school and the side she shows at home and they never mingle. B the end of the novel, she’s learned that both parts of her life are important and they need to be able to coexist for her to really be herself. She starts as a Tumblr activist, someone who retweets hashtags and shares posts, but by the end, she’s the one making moves for awareness.

The relevance of this book in the United States right now cannot be underestimated. With the help of social media and the internet, more and more cases of racially unjust acts of violence have come to light, and this novel highlights that brilliantly. This book isn’t about Starr having all the answers — that would be unrealistic. How could Starr have any solutions if there AREN’T any real solutions yet? As a teacher, I know that I will teach this book year after year after year.

A Court of Frost and Starlight

Image result for a court of frost and starlightTitle: A Court of Frost and Starlight
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; faerie; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Winter Solstice. In a week. I was still new enough to being High Lady that I had no idea what my formal role was to be. If we’d have a High Priestess do some odious ceremony, as lanthe had done the year before. A year. Gods, nearly a year since Rhys had called in his bargain, desperate to get me away from the poison of the Spring Court to save me from my despair. Had he been only a minute later, the Mother knew what would have happened. Where I’d now be. Snow swirled and eddied in the garden, catching in the brown fibers of the burlap covering the shrubs My mate who had worked so hard and so selflessly, all without hope that I would ever be with him We had both fought for that love, bled for it. Rhys had died for it.
Review:  I preordered this book and anticipated this release so so heavily. I thought I was getting the next full installment of the series, not a 3.1 “day in the life” kind of novella. Maybe that’s my fault. I loved getting back into the characters and their lives, and I am glad I spent the time to preorder it, but it was not everything I hoped for. Some people really enjoy these types of books, the kinds that give their characters a semblance of normalcy after a long battle or a hard heartbreak, and typically, I am those readers. But this time, I was just expecting more.

I wanted this to be the fallout of the Battle of Hybern, and instead, I got the story of recovery after trauma. The varied POV changes also threw me a little. I wonder if this is to set up a series of spin offs from the characters in the future? Anyway. I’m still going to be ordering the next one, so ….

 

Love in the Time of Global Warming

Image result for love in the time of global warmingTitle: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Genre: retelling; ya; hero’s journey; adventure; dystopian; lgbt; mythology
Synopsis: Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
Review: This Odyssey pairing is an interesting YA version of the text. A modern setting and some cool queer characters make this classic tale seem fresh and inviting for a new generation of readers. Pen is an interesting protagonist, thrown into the apocalypse without warning or preparation.  While Block doesn’t have the sweeping power that Homer does, it would be a good pairing for lower-level readers so that they understand the mile markers of the epic. Pen is a heroine in her own right, but she is no Odysseus.

In the end, the book felt a little one-dimensional for me. I am very well versed in Homer, so I think I went into it with really high expectations and hopes, but was instead kind of left wanting more. The characters didn’t get enough backstory and the drama felt a little rushed. I’d still recommend it to the students I teach though, so….

The Song of Achilles

Image result for the song of achillesTitle: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: historical fiction; fantasy; mythology; lgbt; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Review: This book is everything an epic retelling of mighty Achilles should be. In the beginning of the novel, as Patroclus’ backstory was being introduced, I started to feel some type of way because I always loved Patroclus’ story and Madeline Miller’s telling of it wasn’t what I remembered at all, but when he is sent to live with Achilles, I stopped caring about that completely. The relationship between these two heroes grows slowly and softly and sweetly in a way that proves just how passionate about the classics Miller really is.

As Achilles and Patroclus grow older (not that old, they’re barely teenagers at the start of the Trojan War), they cannot avoid the world forever. The dynamics between all of other characters shift, but the bond between Achilles and Patroclus stays steady. I knew how this was to end, obviously, but JESUS did I cry. The best of the Greeks indeed. Patroclus’ love for Achilles, and Achilles’ lust for legacy create a beautiful and tragic story of love and honor. Thetis, I hated you, but in the end, you did right by your son.

Definitely looking forward to more from Madeline Miller after this.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Image result for erotic stories for punjabi widowsTitle: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genre: contemporary; mystery; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community. Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind. As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.
Review: Recommended to me by a friend, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is definitely a departure from my regularly scheduled reading. This is no YA Fantasy, that’s for sure. But! I LOVED IT. It was fast paced and fun to read. The storylines are pieced together in a really beautiful way. I especially loved Nikki – a die-hard feminist looking to make a difference in the world – in her world. I laughed out right at some of the Punjabi stories, just as I imagine Nikki would have. The mystery element, at first threw me, but again, I was surprised at how well it was woven into the contemporary story of a woman finding her place in the world.

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.