Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner Review

Title: Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale
Author: Marina Warner
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me through the publisher by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book caught my eye because hey, I love fairy tales. They are the foundation of modern literature to me, and a wealth of inspiration for me as an author. And Warner doesn't disappoint; she provides a wealth of knowledge about fairy tales: where they came from, and their lasting effect on modern society, for good and for ill. I really, really liked this book, because it was an enlightening journey into what fairy tales are, the first stories that we possibly ever had, and our enchantment with them. I enjoyed the exploration into them, and the motifs that they provide, though at times, the prose seemed a little bit too academic for me, though, being published by an university press, I really should've expected it. The bottom line: A pleasantly informative, meticulously researched book about one of the cornerstones of modern literature!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sennar's Mission by Licia Troisi Review

Title: Sennar's Mission
Author: Licia Troisi
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: High Fantasy
Series: Chronicles of the Overworld, book two
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love high fantasy novels--recently, I've discovered that. The appeal of them, for me, is their scope, their ability to make it seem like a whole new world is being shown through them. And Sennar's Mission didn't disappoint me. It picks up where Nihal of the Land of the Wind left off, with Sennar leaving to go to the Underworld, and Nihal trying to make her own way as a stronger soldier, avenging the loss of her people. And for the most part, I really enjoyed it; both Sennar and Nihal grew as characters, and Laio and Ido, from the previous book, make appearances and are also deeply fleshed out, and the world-building was wonderful, but something about this installment in the series just left me yearning. Though it was full of action, and emotion, and wonder, something about it, just really fell short. Regardless, though, I look forward to the next installment in the series. The bottom line: This next installment was good, but it wasn't fantastic. Next on deck: Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar Review

Title: Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel
Author: Priya Parmar
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I love Virgina Woolf--that's initially the reason that I picked up this novel, and to hear of her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell? Well, I just had to get my hands on it. And when Edelweiss approved me, I was so happy. Part of the reason I love historical fiction so much is that it's rooted in fact, and Parmar did her research. But what was so fascinating to me about this novel wasn't even necessarily the premise of it, itself: it was the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia. Virginia is brilliant, but at times, mad, possessive, and cruel, and all Vanessa's ever wanted is something of her own, even though her sympathy and love for her sister has caused her, more often than not, to put off her own wants and needs.

The relationship between the two sisters is, at times, though tender and beautiful, twisted and frightening. Virginia is so obsessed with Vanessa that she literally wants everything that her sister has, and eventually, does, the most notable of which being Vanessa's husband, Clive. What is so beautiful and compelling about this novel is that though at times you want to look away, you cannot: Virginia seems to careen deeper into madness while Vanessa struggles to hold her, and herself, together. The way Parmar narrates the novel is like that of a psychological thriller, almost: Vanessa writes to the reader as if to a diary, and every ugly incident is exposed and raw.

I also really enjoyed the surrounding cast of characters to the love triangle: Lytton, who wants nothing more to be happy, and loved, Duncan, aloof and yet still magnetic to the others, Thoby, sweet and darling and down to earth, Ottoline, desperate for true love, Roger Fry, Vanessa's lover and great friend. I loved the way that the relationships intertwined with one another, rooted in fact and yet tenderly, lovingly rendered by the author.

There were times in the novel, though, where I wanted to scream: I hated Vanessa's husband with a burning passion for most of the book, and Virginia's selfishness and carelessness toward her sister made me livid.

The bottom line: A beautiful little book about the artists of the conversational Bloomsbury Group, highly recommended to fans of Robin Oliviera and Nancy Horan--a beautiful debut I will treasure forever! Next on deck: Sennar's Mission by Licia Troisi!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Eternal Neverland: Steps Before the Fall by Natasha Rogue Review

Title: Eternal Neverland: Steps Before the Fall
Author: Natasha Rogue
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
 Genre: Horror
 Series: N/A
Star Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The bottom line: DNF at 196 pages. Annoying main character who is stuck between at least six different dudes. The only thing I really liked was the vampire politics, but that was about it. Next on deck: Vanessa and her Sister: A Novel by Priya Parmar!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Famous Last Words by Katie Alender Review

Title: Famous Last Words
Author: Katie Alender
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Horror
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Point, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Do you like ghost stories? Hollywood? Creepy thrillers? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Famous Last Words is for you! (I know, I know, I have lame delivery.) Willa and her mother have left everything behind to move to Hollywood after her mother's marriage to a famous director, and that's the least of her issues. Mysterious visions have been cropping up, and she wonders if she's going crazy, as they're connected to "The Hollywood Killer", a psychopathic serial killer who likes to imitate famous movies. I liked the way the horror element was for the most part at the forefront of the novel

I've been a fan of Alender's work since I purchased the first book in a series, Bad Girls Don't Die, and this book didn't disappoint. I highly enjoyed it--The combination of thrills and old-Hollywood glamor were to die for. And then there's Willa herself, a highly snarky protagonist, who just might be going crazy. She's seeing visions, writing on the walls (literally) and she is drawn into the mystery. The pacing of Famous Last Words was great, too--I couldn't stop turning pages, trying to figure out who the killer was.

Sometimes, though, Willa's obsession with her father's death made me want to groan--she seemed so emo about it and it took the focus off of the actual story.

The bottom line: A highly enjoyable novel, though at times bogged down by the main character! Next on deck: Eternal Neverland: Steps Before the Fall by Natasha Rogue! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz Waters Review

Title: Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before
Author: Karelia Stetz-Waters
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Coming of Age/Gay Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Ooligan Press, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

Part of the reason I love young adult fiction is a classic topic: coming of age. We can all relate to being a teenager. But the trick with a coming of age story is that you have to capture an original voice that will resonate with the reader. And Stetz-Waters does just that in Triinu, the young woman who narrates the novel. This book broke my heart, not just because of Triinu and her troubles, but the outcast in me resonated sharply with her story.

Triinu, the young Estonian woman, who might, just possibly, be gay. She longs for acceptance from her peers, and most of all, love. One of the reasons I loved her was because she was, essentially, a teenager, through and through. She thinks no one understands her, she has two loving but eccentric parents, the first love is the last--this book is a powerful, beautiful journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, the portrait of a young woman coming into her own.

People in Triinu's life are not all bad, nor all good, they are all flawed and human, and they all have a huge impact on her and her choices. Isabel, Triinu's best friend, steadfast and smart, all to hide a deep inner pain, her parents, loving and hilarious and beautiful in their tender portrayal of a real family, Ursula, her first friend and love, and finally, Principal Pinn and Pip, two men who hate her for her homosexuality. This is brutally honest tale on what it means to be a teen, and what it takes to truly accept yourself.

The bottom line: This book was wonderful. Next on deck: Famous Last Words by Katie Alender!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Compulsion by Martina Boone Review

Title: Compulsion
Author: Martina Boone
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Heirs of Watson Island, book one
Star Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Simon Pulse, through Edelweiss.

The bottom line: DNF at 149 pages. Strange, confusing plot I couldn't keep up with. Just seemed like a giant knot of Southern feuds with no real rhyme or reason. It really wasn't for me. Next on deck: Forgive Me if I've Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond Review

Title: Girl on a Wire
Author: Gwenda Bond
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Magical Realism
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Amazon's Children's, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Have you ever wanted to run away with the circus? I always hated it when I was a kid, but I enjoyed it as I grew older. There was always a certain romanticism about it to me--living on a train, working with animals and doing amazing stunts! A circus, I've learned, is really a place for dreams, and for dreamers, to take refuge in. And Gwenda Bond completely captures that sensation in Girl on a Wire.

Meet the Maronis, a family whose profession is, you guessed it: circus performers. Julieta, the 'precious only daughter' in this slightly eccentric but very loving family, wants nothing more than for her family to be performing with the best. The best, apparently being, the Cirque American! (I can picture that across a poster, can't you?) And she gets her wish, albeit by rebelling. Soon, her family is taken in by the Cirque American. Family secrets and mystery and forbidden romance abound!

Julieta (Jules) was a fun main character for me, I found myself really relating to her, especially as the novel went on. Getting to know her, and her family, was easy. I enjoyed all the characters, and the pacing of the mystery aspect was good, but despite it all, even with all the facts tied down at the end, something just fell short for me.

The bottom line:It wasn't awful, but it wasn't spectacular. Good mystery, but something about it just really left me yearning for something more. Next on deck: Compulsion by Martina Boone!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto Review

Title: Em and The Big Hoom
Author: Jerry Pinto
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book intrigued me because of its topic: mental illness. It has a stigma in society, and is a topic not to be discussed in public. I myself have suffered with mental illness, depression, and partially because of that, it really resonated with me. But all in all, Em and The Big Hoom is two stories in one, the story of Em and the Big Hoom, Imelda and Augustine, the narrator's parents, and their relationship with one another, and the narrator himself, and his own emotions. (After all, it isn't easy to have a 'mad mother'.) It is a story of darkness, hope, and hatred. But what really sold this book for me was its poignant, honest portrait of a family.

Em, the narrator's mother, has bipolar disorder, and quite possibly schizophrenia. The book is told in an erratic way, in a way that mirrored Em herself. It never goes in chronological order, but somehow, our narrator, with his watchful eyes, makes sense of the sometimes confusing narrative. The Big Hoom, the narrator's father, is a lovable character unto himself: long-suffering, patient, and calm, but with his own demons, aside from Em. And then there's Susan, the narrator's older sister, trying her best to have her own identity and help her family all at once. And last but certainly not least, there is the narrator himself: a young man trying to understand the confusing, and sometimes hilarious, paths to his mother's mind. Strangely enough, Pinto doesn't just create a real picture of this family; he does it with flair and, surprisingly, humor, and tenderness.

The bottom line: I loved this book wholeheartedly, though it was at times very emotional. Highly, highly recommended for those who want a drama about family! Next on deck: Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Damaged by Amy Reed Review

Title: Damaged
Author: Amy Reed
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

"'...Maybe that's how people get stuck in lives they don't want--assuming that their decisions must be permanent, that there are no do-overs. But what if life is really a series of lives, a series of reinventions? What if the best paths are made up of detours?'"

Kinsey Cole has just lost her best friend, Camille, in a violent, frightening car accident. It doesn't matter that Camille was drunk, nor does it matter that Camille's boyfriend, Hunter, also survived. All that matters is that Kinsey doesn't want to feel anything. Recklessly, she and Hunter decide to run away to San Francisco together, and in the process, realize that running may not be the solution after all.

This book--this book. It just struck me to the heart. Kinsey in particular I felt a kinship with--the young woman lost without her best friend--possibly her only friend. The pacing of this novel was breakneck, but not in the way you'd expect--the transformation of Hunter and Kinsey set the pace. What sold this novel for me was the way the characters were so incredibly raw. Both of them try to deal with Camille's death: Hunter through alcoholism, and Kinsey through desperation and denial. The various characters that the two meet throughout the book are also integral to the growth of Kinsey and Hunter.

 It is a surprisingly tender, and yet brutal, novel that explores the question: When we are lost, how is it that we find our way back? One of the things I love so much about contemporary novels is that they are another sort of escapism, but in almost a bad way, in the way that it is painful. It is unflinching in its stark, yet beautiful, prose, and I loved the way it reminded me of being a teenager, the beautiful and yet frightening idea that the world can be yours, if you only let yourself live. 

But this book wasn't perfect, not totally: At times, Kinsey's denial made the narrative confusing, almost so erratic that it was hard to follow. 

The bottom line: A beautiful, gorgeous book on life, love, and self-discovery. A few little quibbles, but definitely worth checking out for fans of Sarah Dessen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

True Fire by Gary Meehan Review

Title: True Fire
Author: Gary Meehan
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: High Fantasy
Series: True Fire, book one
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Quercus, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

When I saw this review copy available on Edelweiss, to everyone, not just in the UK--I'm not going to lie. I jumped at it. I love dark stories with high fantasy elements, especially those involving witches. Unfortunately, the blurb was the only thing that was really attractive for me about this novel. Not to say that there were not good things in the novel, they were. But they were few.

Megan is sixteen and pregnant. Sounds like a cliche, doesn't it? She hasn't told anyone but her sister, Gwyneth. But when her small village is destroyed and her sister captured, she flees the ruins of her home to find out the truth--and gets far more than she bargained for in the process. Accompanied by Eleanor, a displaced aristocrat, and Damon, a boy thrust out of the priesthood, she is forced to confront perhaps the most frightening thing of all: herself.

There were some good things about this novel, as I've said before: I enjoyed each of the main characters, Megan, the young pregnant woman struggling just to find her sister and gets far more than she bargains for, Eleanor, the woman with cloudy motives and even more obscure morals, and Damon, the young man whose devil-may-care attitude hides a dark, even shameful, past. Each character was nuanced and had some amazing depth. I enjoyed the ending as well, and how it cleared space for a sequel.

There were some things that really needed work, as well: The pacing stuttered often, try as the author might to make it smooth through gory shows of action and blood-letting--not that I minded the gory factor of the book. It was one of the things I most liked about it. The world-building was at best confusing--I didn't really understand any of it, and the whole witches and priests thing really didn't work for me--it was far too difficult to even follow, and I was lost. Another thing that broke the pacing: the flashbacks were so hard to follow, integral to the story though they were. The second half of the story seemed to be muddled up by political intrigue, so quick and with so many people I couldn't follow it.

The bottom line: A showy debut novel promising much, but a lot of things were lacking. Not a complete dud, but just a 'meh' kind of novel. Next on deck: Damaged by Amy Reed!