Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Queen of Ruin by Tracy Banghart Review

Title: Queen of Ruin
Author: Tracy Banghart
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Grace and Fury, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

                I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

                Grace and Fury was one of my favorite books of last year, so I’ve been anxiously awaiting the sequel. It’s been sitting in my library stack, so when I was finished with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I dove in. I devoured Queen of Ruin in a mere three days; this set of books are my favorite in Tracy Banghart’s entire body of work. Action-packed, relevant, and shocking, I loved every moment of Queen of Ruin, even the ones that had me screaming in rage and sobbing in frustration. I’ve been chewing on it since I finished, trying to get my thoughts straight before I put them to paper. This series has been billed as the YA Handmaid’s Tale, and that comparison is pretty spot on.

                Queen of Ruin picks up where Grace and Fury left off, with Serina leading the rebellion on Mount Ruin, and Nomi just barely escaping the palazzo with her life. Both girls must decide to fight for their rights, as well as those of their fellow women, but forces beyond their control conspire to stop them. Both sisters must make a choice: continue to fight against Viridia’s restrictive, misogynistic laws, or create a new world, in which women have choices, can make money, and have all the freedoms they deserve. But pulling off a revolution of this scale is far from easy, and not everyone will emerge from the wreckage unharmed…

                This book was absolutely amazing. Because it was a sequel, it took me a few chapters to remember everything that happened. But once things got going, I was spellbound, and I was constantly thinking about it, even while I was doing something else. The pacing was breakneck but smooth, and I really liked the way that the narrative went back and forth between Serina and Nomi. I also loved the character development of all of the women in the book, but especially Serina and Nomi. This book had me screaming and cheering, often. That’s not to say, though, that there also weren’t formidable villains. I won’t give it away for those that haven’t read it yet; but this book really frustrated me. The tension was constant, and I devoured every word. And that ending! I’m so happy with the way that things ended. Sequels make me so nervous, because all too often, they don’t hold up to the books that come before it, but I didn’t need to worry about this with Queen of Ruin. It more than surpassed my expectations, and I loved every moment of it. The bottom line: Bloody, fierce, and unforgettable, I loved Queen of Ruin; my only complaint is that it’s all over now! Next on deck: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Literary Society by Annie Barrows Review

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Authors: Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

                I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

                Okay, so, I’ll start this review out by being honest: I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, and when I realized that it was being made into a movie on Netflix, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s been sitting in my library stack for a while, and as soon I was finished with A Room Away from the Wolves, I dove in, eager to see what all the fuss was about. I’m so happy that I read this book; it was, in turns, beautiful, funny, horrific and heartwarming. I loved every moment of it. This book may have been quick and short, but it has made indelible impressions upon my heart. And one of my favorite parts about it was the format: I haven’t read a book composed of letters in years! This novel, telling of the German Occupation of the tiny English island village of Guernsey, has become a recent favorite, and I cannot wait to watch the movie later this week. This book is nothing less than a triumph of the human soul in the face of unspeakable horror and bloodshed.

                The year is 1946, the beginning of the new year, and London is trying to leave behind the Second World War. Juliet Ashton, a young writer, is having trouble finding an idea for her new book. When she receives a letter from a man she’s never met, saying that he found her name in a secondhand book by Charles Lamb, Juliet is hit with inspiration and curiosity about the island of Guernsey and its residents. When she arrives, she is welcomed with open arms. Gathering stories of when German soldiers occupied the island, Juliet finds unexpected friends and perhaps even more. Buoyed by her new friendships and a group of book lovers, she finds new purpose in the most unexpected places.

                I absolutely adored this book! It’s definitely one of my more recent favorites. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, and when the Netflix movie came out a few months ago, I jumped at the chance. This book was short, but it was bittersweet in the best kind of way. It was also told in letters, which I loved. I haven’t read an epistolary novel in years! The pacing was breakneck, and I was immediately spellbound by all the different voices that told the tale of the Guernsey island’s residents. I loved all of the characters, but Juliet was my favorite, because she was gentle, loving, caring and fiery, unapologetically herself. And the romance involved! It had me swooning. But I liked the juxtaposition between the hijinks of the villagers and the dark, horror-filled stories of the war. I loved this book so much, I only wish that the Guernsey Potato Peel Pie and Literary Society were real! But I have my book club friends, and that’s close enough! An absolute triumph of love, life, and the human spirit! The bottom line: Rich in detail and beautifully wrought, I loved this book! An absolute favorite! Next on deck: Queen of Ruin by Tracy Banghart!

A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma Review

Title: A Room Away from the Wolves
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Magical Realism
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

                I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

                I’ve long been a fan of Nova Ren Suma; she is one of my favorite authors. So, when it was announced that A Room Away from the Wolves was the July pick for one of the book clubs I go to, I was so happy. I’ve been wanting to read that book since it came out, but unfortunately had to take it back to the library before I could finish it. I finished this book last week, and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Strange, dreamy, and confusing, A Room Away from the Wolves may be Suma’s best work yet. Usually, I like to write a review as soon as I’m finished, when my impressions are still fresh. But sometimes, a book will require some serious thought before I can even think about reviewing it. That was the case with A Room Away from the Wolves. I loved it, but there were a lot of loose ends, perhaps too many for my taste.

                Bina Tremper has very little in life, but that’s all right, because she has her mother. From the beginning, all they’ve ever had is each other. But things change when her mother finds another man to stay with. Sent away from the home they share to make peace with her stepsisters, Bina leaves home and runs away to New York City. There, she finds the boarding house that her mother stayed in when she was pregnant with Bina. But Catherine House holds a host of secrets, some of them about Sabina herself. Things get even more complicated when she meets the mysterious, spontaneous Monet, who may be holding dangerous secrets herself. Will Bina discover the building’s hidden truths? Or lose herself entirely?

                This book, in a single word, was complicated. I was the only one of us in my book club who had read Nova Ren Suma’s work, and so, I was used to her signature dreamy, strange style. Even so, I was thrown for a loop when the ending finally came. The pacing was good; I immediately fell into Bina’s strange world, where nothing is as it seems. To say that this book is a gothic, haunting ghost story is to do the story a disservice. It is a story of identity, every type of love, betrayal, and the secrets we hide even from ourselves. I also adored Bina, smarting from betrayal and left adrift after her mother sends her away. But something about her didn’t sit well with me; I got the feeling that she was a compulsive liar. And I didn’t trust Monet either, even as I cheered for them both. Haunting, gorgeous, detailed, I loved A Room Away from the Wolves, but I wish there had been more closure. Even knowing what was coming didn’t stop me from being confused. Despite the confusing prose, I really enjoyed this book; it might be Nova Ren Suma’s best work yet. The bottom line: Dreamy, haunting, and strange, I loved A Room Away from the Wolves! Next on deck: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Monstrous Affections by Kelly Link Review

Title: Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales
Editors: Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Anthology/Horror
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

                I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

                I’ve recently been craving short stories again, and Monstrous Affections has been sitting at the top of my stack. I just love them, and as short stories are my forte at the moment, I figured, why not? I’ve found many new authors like that, and I was really looking forward to this one. There were some stories that were amazing, others just left me feeling lukewarm. That’s usually the case with anthologies, and I very much enjoy them. I loved the theme around these stories, one of my favorite things: monsters! This book of fifteen tales explores every kind of monster, including a few that I’d never before heard of. Some of these stories were unbearably sad and made my heart hurt, others were like a darkly weird, funny joke, and still more made me feel brave. Understood. Dare I say vindicated?

                I like to do anthology reviews a bit differently than other novels and forms of prose. I give the anthology an overall rating, but I like to highlight the stories that made a really lasting impression. So, without further ado, here we go:

                Moriabe’s Children by Paolo Bacigalupi: 5/5 stars. This story is one of my favorites in the entire volume. A young woman has been able to hear the kraken talking in the ocean since she was a child, and when she is at risk of dying, she finds an ally that she’s never before seen. Dark, brutal, weirdly funny, and satisfying. I’m really, really curious about this author now; I’d like to look into his work more in future.

                The Whole Demoning Thing by Patrick Ness: 4/5 stars. Patrick Ness is one of my favorite authors, so I was really excited for this story. It was confusing in spots, but overall, I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the tone of it and the twist ending. It was horror in a way that I’ve never seen written before, and it really made me happy.

                Wings in the Morning by Sarah Rees Brennan: 5/5 stars. This story was hilarious. I was laughing, snorting, and crying through the whole thing, and SRB is one of my very favorite authors. It was a hilarious, modern fantasy with a surprising love story at its center, and I’m looking forward to the book she wrote in that same universe, In Other Lands! This is probably one of my favorite pieces of her writing.

                Left Foot, Right by Nalo Hopkinson: 5/5 stars. Oh, this story! It made me laugh and weep. I had to reread it twice to really understand the depth of it, and it just left me in awe. A young woman goes into a shoe store, purchasing one for her left foot, never the right. This story really felt like a strange fever dream, in a dark and crazy kind of way. I loved the style and structure of it.

                Kitty Capulet and the Invention of Underwater Photography by Dylan Horrocks: 4/5 stars. It took me a little bit to get into the dialogue, and I had to reread it twice to really absorb it. But it came across as a dark kind of warning, and it made me think of climate change and how quickly time is running out if we don’t acknowledge it. Thoughtful, funny, and original, this story reimagines a Maori god brought to life, and I loved it.

                The New Boyfriend by Kelly Link: 5/5 stars. I loved this story! It perfectly embodied the feeling of when you’re young and dreaming of those first feelings of love. It was wry, dark, funny, and thoughtful, and I really enjoyed it.

                The Woods Hide in Plain Sight by Joshua Lewis: 4/5 stars. I loved the tone of this story, and it dealt with a classic monster: the vampire, seductive and romantic but truly terrifying in their rage and bloodlust. It was really dark, and scary, but I loved the way it ended. It was fantastic, and my favorite vampire story in the volume.

                And, last but definitely not least: Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters, Because They Are Terrifying by Alice Sola Kim: 4/5 Stars. I had to reread this entry several times in order to really understand it. This story paints a different kind of horror. Four girls steal a spellbook, and use the magic inside to attempt to resurrect one of the girl’s mothers. They connect, and what ensues is a frightening event. It was creepy, oddly tongue in cheek, and I loved how it gave me the shivers! The bottom line: This anthology revolving around monsters is fantastic, and most of the stories were really memorable! Next on deck: A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma!

Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Ruth Rendell Review

Title: Sky Without Stars
Authors: Jessica Brody and Ruth Rendell
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: System Divine, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

                I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

                I’ve been intrigued by this book, and it’s been sitting on my library stack for a while now. As soon as I was finished with You Must Not Miss, I dove in, uncertain what to expect. What I got was an ambitious, atmospheric science fiction epic with memorable characters, fantastic worldbuilding, political intrigue and romance. It was one of my favorite musicals, Les Miserables, told in space! It was so cool to see Victor Hugo’s classic in a completely new way. I’m long overdue for a rewatch of that film, and as I was reading, I got several of the musical’s songs stuck in my head. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, and at times it was difficult to distinguish between them, but overall, Brody and Rendell have penned a knockout. I can’t wait to see what comes next for The System Divine series!

                On the planet of Laterre, the Second and Third Estate are forced to forage for scarps, while The First Estate live in Ledome, a sheltered paradise for the rich, ruling class. Five hundred years have passed since The Last Days, and revolution is brewing once again. The winds of change force three young people together, all from different walks of life. There’s Chatine, the scrappy daughter of thieves, desperate for a way off of the planet to forge a new life. In her quest for escape, she is forced by the brutal Regime to spy on Marcellus, the son of a traitor and grandson of one of the most powerful men on Laterre. Aloulette lives in a secret, underground refuge, where she guards the last library on the planet. But when she goes up to the surface for the first time in twelve years, she finds a world she barely knows or remembers, and is plunged into chaos when she goes searching for answers. Will Laterre rise from the ashes anew due to the revolution, or will chaos rule entirely?

`               I loved this heady, darkly wrought debut! Les Miserables is one of my favorite musicals, and to see it through a futuristic, science fiction-tinted lens was so cool! The pacing was breakneck, and I really liked the way the authors went from Chatine, Marcellus, Aloulette, and back. As I said, there were a lot of characters to keep track of, and I had to go back and reread every now and then to make sure I had the person right. To say this book is Les Mis in space is accurate, but it also doesn’t completely embody the feel of the story: the characters, all embodied with flaws and very real troubles, cyborgs and secret societies and political intrigue. This book is an amazing work to add in the growing body of YA space operas, and I loved it. There were many characters, but I loved them, despite my disorientation at the sheer number. This book was soulful, heart-wrenching, dark and funny. And all the references to the musical had me grinning from ear to ear. (When I realized, I had the entire soundtrack on loop in my brain as I was reading… And I wasn’t mad at it!) I cannot wait for the next book in the System Divine series, because this ambitious, meaty debut novel was fantastic! I loved every dark, charged moment of it. I will happily wait for what books come next in the series. And meanwhile, perhaps I’ll actually be brave enough to watch the musical? The bottom line: Ambitious, finely wrought, and darkly beautiful, I was utterly captivated by Sky Without Stars! What a fantastic series starter! Next on deck: Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales by Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno Review

Title: You Must Not Miss
Author: Katrina Leno
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Horror
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

                I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

                Katrina Leno is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve been following her work ever since she wrote The Half-Life of Molly Pierce. I’ve been curious about You Must Not Miss since before I came out, and I was finally able to snatch it at my local library. As soon as I was finished with Under the Moon, I dove into this novel, not really knowing what to expect. This book was like a crazy fever dream that reminded me of Stephen King’s early work, like Carrie and several of his creepy, fantastical short stories. I loved every dark, scary moment, and this book is one of my favorites of Leno’s work, even though the ending seemed a little forced. Nonetheless, Leno has penned a book of darkness, dreams, rage and revenge, and the monsters that hide within us all.

                Margaret ‘Magpie’ Lewis once had the perfect life. A great best friend, a loving family and home. But that all unravels when she accidentally walks in on her father and aunt having sex. Her family, as a result, falls apart. Her mother becomes an alcoholic, her older sister, Eryn, leaves, unable to cope with her mother’s neglectful behavior, and Magpie loses everything. She is labeled a slut and quickly becomes a social pariah. Friendless, alone, and desperate for revenge, she begins to write in a notebook of a mysterious, magical place called Near. But when Magpie discovers that Near is actually real, a dark reflection of her town of Farther that she alone can control, she begins to realize that revenge is indeed possible. But once her world continues to spin out of control, Magpie must decide whether to give in to the monsters inside of her, or to begin the journey back into the light…

                I really loved this book; it might be my favorite in Leno’s entire body of work. Her prose is signature, dreamy and sparse and not altogether real. It was a book practically written with a scalpel. It made me want to rage, scream, and howl; I will never, ever forget Magpie or the dark, cruel trail of violence she leaves in her wake. The pacing was breakneck, and I was immediately spellbound by Magpie’s story, as ugly and awful and monstrous as it was. The transitions were also good; I liked the way the book flowed between the past and present, explaining the before and after of Magpie’s life. I also adored the way that Leno portrayed her; the way that she was so unapologetically wrathful. I could understand why Magpie felt that horrible, awful need for revenge; some wounds just require retribution. I liked the way that the book was written; it felt as if I was caught up in a compelling but terrifying nightmare. The only thing that I didn’t like was that the end, and Magpie’s bloody revenge, seemed really forced. But nonetheless, I really think that this book is my favorite of all of Leno’s books. I love stories about angry girls, and You Must Not Miss really fits the bill, despite its minor flaws. The bottom line: Dark, furious, and bloody, I loved You Must Not Miss! Easily Katrina Leno’s best novel, despite its flaws. Next on deck: Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Ruth Rendell!

Under the Moon by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart Review

Title: Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale
Author(s): Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Graphic Novel
Series: DC Ink, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

                I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

                It’s no secret that Selina Kyle is one of my favorite characters within the DC canon, so when I saw Under the Moon sitting on a shelf at my local library, I snatched it right up. DC is currently in the process of rebooting their characters to appeal to young adults, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. As soon as I was finished with Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, I dove into this graphic novel, which turned back the clock for Selina, beginning from the time that she was a teenager. Beautifully drawn in schemes of black, blue, white, and purple, Goodhart does an amazing job illustrating this graphic novel. Lauren Myracle’s tone is dark, jaded, a little bitter, and bitingly funny, and I loved her take on the young Selina Kyle. The first entry in the new DC Ink series, Under the Moon gives me hope that the next offering, Raven by Kami Garcia, and I’m so happy that DC has rebooted some of their most well-known characters!

                Selina Kyle knows how to take care of herself. After all, her neglectful mother cares more about Dernell, her abusive, misogynistic boyfriend. Running away from home at the young age of fifteen, Selina vows that she will not get close to anyone. When she is desperate for money and out on the streets, she falls in with another group of homeless kids, who teach her how to fight and steal. But things go badly wrong when one of her beloved friends disappears, and Selina is determined to right the mistake, even if it means coming across some familiar faces. Will Selina find refuge by herself, or will she be forced to go back to her broken home?

                Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, has always been one of my favorite characters in the DC universe, and I was so happy to get an opportunity to see her childhood. I loved the sparse, tense prose of the graphic novel, and the way that it was interspersed with gorgeous, stark illustrations. The pacing was snappy, and as with Natalie Tan, I devoured this book in just a few hours. The dark, jaded mood and tone of the book perfectly fit Selina, even at such a young age. I also loved Selina herself, fierce and fiery and angry and sad. I cried for her, laughed with her, and was cheering by the end of the book. One of my favorite things of the book was the constant DC Easter eggs sprinkled throughout; I was laughing and smiling so hard that my cheeks were hurting by the end. The other characters also made a great foil to her, especially Briar Rose, Yang, and the other homeless kids. This was the first entry in the DC Ink series, specifically for young adults, and I’m so excited for Raven by Kami Garcia! The bottom line: Beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written, triumphant, hopeful, and dark, I loved Under the Moon! Next on deck: You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno!