Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

I really did not expect to be so drawn into this book. I knew it was going to be good but I was really touched by Shirin’s story. She is a 16 year-old Muslim girl living in the US 1 year after 9/11. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy for her. It was just easier for her to get through her day to just shut down and not let people in. She tried to convince herself that she didn’t care that people called her names or insulted her or just plain treated her like a walking stereotype. She had seen the worst of humanity after the post 9/11 fear of all things Islam and her wearing a headscarf made her an easy target. She went through the motions at school and break-danced after school with her brother and that was it. That was until she met Ocean James, a boy who seemed interested in actual getting to know her. This terrifies her. She doesn’t know why a guy like him would be interested in a girl like her and knows that while he might be a nice boy the world is not. She tries to push him away to try to protect him but also to protect herself from the world of hurt. The worst thing is that when she finally let him in and things inevitably go bad, she questions whether she is worth all the drama and hatred that is brought his way. That was truly heartbreaking. Over the course of the book, Shirin starts to open up not just to Ocean but to everyone else too. Yes, people are horrible. Even more so when they are afraid but shutting everyone else only shuts you out of opportunities and experiences that you would have missed otherwise. It gives them power over you. I know easier said than done. Ocean is also a good example of well meaning White Allies who try hard but don’t really understand how white privilege works. Ocean, truly doesn’t care that Shirin is Muslim or that she wears a headscarf. If anything, he likes that she is different and unapologetic. Shirin spends most of the book trying to push Ocean away because she knows what a shitstorm it’s going to be when their relationship goes public. He doesn’t believe her and tries to convince her it’s going to be okay. Well, sadly she is right and when racism against her threatens him and his place in school, it’s Shirin who has to make the decision to stay or go. The problem that many of us White allies is that we think we know what’s the best thing to do but fail to listen when our brothers and sisters of colors speak about what they really need from us. Ocean, while in love and well intention thought she was overacting, that he understood his classmates better. What he failed to realize was that he lived a privilege life and people will always accept him no matter what because of who he is. His life may not be perfect but it will always be easier then those in the marginalized communities. It’s a lesson we all need to learn. This is just a beautifully written book and I hope that it’s added to school curriculum for years to come because it has so much to give.

Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

I really do love a good mystery, especially when it’s well done. I thought I knew what was going to happen only to find that I was wrong. The clues were there but unless you were paying attention, you completely missed it. Just as many of the characters. Stevie is an amateur sleuth who wants to solve one of the greatest mysteries in American history. The Ellingham Academy was started by an eccentric millionaire. He had a dream to have the brightest kids study at his school and focus on what they want. An educational experiment unlike any other but when his wife and daughter were kidnapped and another student was killed during the first school year, the school became infamous. Despite it’s history, the school still strives and Stevie is determined to solve it’s most famous mystery. The problem is that once she arrives another student is killed and another goes missing. Her conservative parents pull her out of the school for fear it isn’t safe only to be convinced by their employee, Senator Edward King (not so subtlety modeled after Steve King) that the school is safe. Of course, King has his own reasons for Stevie to return. His son, David, is also a student at Ellingham and Stevie and him have a complicated relationship. Stevie doesn’t like making a deal with King but her want to go back overrides her concerns. A bright spot is when the author of the definitive book on the Ellingham case needs a student to help with research on a new edition of the book. Soon Stevie is making breakthrough in the case but at what cost. This is the middle book in the trilogy and they often times feel slow but this one moved at a pretty fast clipped. One of the revelations, I knew it was coming but I wasn’t expecting it to come midpoint of the book, really throwing me off. It was a great misdirection by Johnson, to get us to focus on one direction while the answer was in the other direction. There were answers and part of the original crime was answered but who so many more are still unanswered. Who killed Iris Ellingham and is Alice alive? What happened to David and Hunter and how do they play into the mystery? Were Hayes and Ellie’s death really accidents or did they know something more? I’m really looking forward to the finale next year.

Review: The Wicked King by Holly Black

I’ve said it one but I’ll say it again. Holly Black is at her best when she writes about fairies. She is just well versed in fairy mythology that makes this world feel so steeped in tradition but also new and original. Add all he Royal Court intrigue and you have one great story. The Wicked King is the second book of her Folk of the Air trilogy and after the first book there was a lot of stack. Jude outmaneuvered her father to get the throne away from him and save her brother from having to grow up to soon. She tricked Carden into the throne while controlling him and thus the real power in the kingdom. A lot of the story revolves around those who have power and those who do not. Jude a human living in Fairy often times felt powerless. Even though she learned how to fight from Madoc she would always be at a disadvantage but the thing she has over fairies is that she can lie. Lying and her cleverness is what got her this far but controlling Carden is harder than she anticipated. He doesn’t like being commanded by her anymore than he does being the High King. Things get even more complicated when the Queen of the Undersea is taking this moment to push her advantage and someone close to Jude has or will betray her. Fairies may not be able to lie but that doesn’t mean they can’t deceive. Jude’s strength is her ability to strategies. To see Jude constantly adjusting and planning is truly fascinating. She is constantly looking at all the angles but even the best make mistakes. As much as she plans, she can’t always see the whole chess board. In the end, after all her planning and scheming she is not only maneuvered by Madoc but Carden as well. I’ll admit, I did not see the ending coming. I guess I should have guessed something was up since the title of the next book is The Queen of Nothing but it was still stunning. It’s agonizing that I have to wait until next year to find out what’s going to happen but I know one thing. Jude has not been defeated yet. She’ll be back and all fairies better beware.

Review: The Golden Tower by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

For the last book in the series, I didn’t find this one all that exciting. I felt it lacked in action and suspense that the others had. To me the outcome that our heroes would would succeed never seemed in doubt. Even when they themselves didn’t know how they were going to defeat Alex. Whatever suspense that the last couple of books tried to create was gone. Maybe that’s because the big battle between the Mages of the Magisterium and the followers of the Enemy of Death happened at the end of the last book. This book they had to battle the arrogant teenage Alex, who accidentally turned himself into chaos and wanted nothing more then power. Not to end Death or prove a point. He wanted a cool headquarters, his enemies gift wrapped for him and his girlfriend. That’s it. Talk about a boring villain. As for our heroes, Call who has been plagued with the fear that he wasn’t who he thought he was because he carried the soul of the Enemy of Death. Throughout the series he dealt with self doubt and the doubt of everyone else. He would keep track of every evil thing he did and tried to figure out if that made him evil or if he was already evil. Battle after battle, he worked to do everything to save his friends and eventually came to the conclusion that he knew who he was. He was good and bad like everyone else but the decisions he made were his own and not someone else’s. That’s a lesson for all of us. So all in all it was a good series. I think that maybe if I was a middle school kid reading this than an adult, it would have been more exciting. I would recommend it to any young kid who is reading or has read Harry Potter as another series they might like but maybe not for adults unless you are a big Holly Black or Cassandra Clare fan.

Review: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

Earlier this week I told Kate that I keep trying to Quit Cassandra Clare and her Shadowhunters but just can’t. This was after a discussion of authors continue stories of characters after the story had ended. She felt that Clary and Jace, Simon and Alec’s story ended up after the original trilogy. Not that I totally disagreed with her. I didn’t really like the second Mortal Instruments trilogy as much as the original but it did bring about some interesting characters that wouldn’t have existed if Clare had stop after the first three. I keep reading her Shadowhunters novels because Clare knows how to write characters. The secondary characters in The Dark Artifices are so well constructed it really brings to life the story. I have nothing against Julian and Emma but I was far more interested in Diana, a transgender shadowhunter who lived in fear of being found out. Despite her own fears she remained a well respected in the community. As cliche as it sounds, it took the Gwyn the fame leader of the Wild Hunt to see her as she is and without question to give her the strength to stop hiding. Ty a shadowhunter with autism. Shadowhunters have long shunned mundane medicine, so Autism isn’t something that they know or understand. Of course that can be said for us Mundanes as well. To Shadowhunters he seems strange and slow but he is actually quite brilliant. Change is not something that deals with easily so when his twin dies at the end of the last book and how he deals with it is so heartbreaking. And then there is Christina, Mark and Kieran. A Shadowhunter, a shadowhunter half fairy and a full fairy prince in a full blown three-mance. (is that a word? Well it is now because I not sure how to explain their relationship) Of course there is Magnus, the high Warlock of all our hearts still about. Helen and Aline a married shadowhunter couple coming back from exile and so many more. I know that Clare has been planning these books out years ago so she knew where the story was going to back in 2012 when she first introduced the Blackthorns. She couldn’t have known that her story of Shadowhunters using fear and bigotry to lead them towards fascism and tyranny would be so timely. Sadly. It only makes the wide variety of characters from different backgrounds, cultures, races, beliefs and lifestyles that more vibrant. The story would not have worked or would have not been as enjoyable without such a diverse and inclusive cast, just as our world is far better off with wide array of voices and viewpoints. No matter what people tell you. So while, I do agree that some of her characters stories have passed and it’s time to move on, I’m glad that she has continued the story to include so many more voices because it has definitely kept me interested.

Quick Review: Arch-Enemies by Marissa Meyer

What is the definition of a villain?  The Renegades and the Anarchists would say the other is a villain.  The Anarchists wanted to fight for prodigies rights.  They were no longer willing to live in fear and hiding but there methods of violence did sit well with others.  The Renegades used their powers to defeat them and now run Gatlon City.  Both the Renegades and the Anarchists wanted to change the world but had different ideas on how to do it.  Does that make either one of them villains?  This is really the question in the center of the series.  Nova was raised to hate the Renegades.  She sees them as dangerous and not what they appear to be.  She blames them for the death of her family and for the destruction of her uncle.  Meanwhile Adrian was raised by the Renegades and sees what they do as trying to make the world the better place but sometimes frustrated with all the rules.  Things get even more confused when the Renegades reveal their new weapon against Prodigies who break the rules.  Agent N, that take away their powers.  Soon all patrols are being trained on how to use it basically making Renegades judge, jury and executioner.  This is troubling to both Nova and Adrian but for different reasons.  Nova believes this a gross misuse of power and to easy for it to be abuse.  Who is to stop a rogue Renegade from using Agent N on someone they don’t like?  But Nova also starts to see that not all Renegades are bad people and truly believe what they are doing is for the good.  Which makes her question everything that she was taught.  She keeps having to remind herself that she is an Anarchist and that she has a mission to save her Uncle Ace Anarchy.  To complicate things even more to complete her task she must get closer to Adrian, who she may or may not have feelings for.  You know it wouldn’t be a YA novel without some kind of complicated romance.  It’s a fun series as the characters are enjoyable to read and constantly questioning your own loyalties.  Are you with the Renegades or the Anarchists?

Review: Kingdom of Ashes by Sarah J Maas

What a way to end a series.  It was seven books in the making and finally know how it all came together.  Aelin and her friends have been on a quite a journey.  From the beginning when Aelin was just an assassin and Dorian was a spoiled Prince.  It was expanded so far beyond that now. To other continents and other worlds.  What I liked about this was that every character had a role to play in the ending and that is quite a feat as there are a lot of characters.  I mean we are talking about Game of Thrones level of characters.  They are all flawed people but have one goal to defeat Erawan and Maeve and create a better world.  It wasn’t easy and there were many twists and turns along the way.  It started off slow as the characters were spread far and wide.  It also took me awhile to reacquaint myself with some of the characters as for most of them it’s been two years since the last time we have seen them but once they started to come together that it really started to pick up and get going.  So many story arcs to wrap up and most of them were.  I think a few left open a bit that we could go back and revisit Erilea.  Let’s get back to Aelin as she is really the heroine here.  Of all the characters she has been through the most.  She started out as a assassin and ended up a Queen.  She has endured enough trauma for several lifetimes and would have been forgiven if she gave up and she had plenty of chances to do just that but she doesn’t.  She gave everything she had for her country and her friends.  She used her intelligence and skills to outwit and defeat her enemies as much as she used her power.  I’ll miss reading about her because she was fun, smart and spunky. If you haven’t read this series you should and lucky you, you can now read it in it’s entirety without wearing years between books. 

Review: Dashing Through the Snow by Debbie Macomber

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Here is the description from amazon:

Ashley Davison, a graduate student in California, desperately wants to spend the holidays with her family in Seattle. Dashiell Sutherland, a former army intelligence officer, has a job interview in Seattle and must arrive by December 23. Though frantic to book a last-minute flight out of San Francisco, both are out of luck: Every flight is full, and there’s only one rental car available. Ashley and Dash reluctantly decide to share the car, but neither anticipates the wild ride ahead.

At first they drive in silence, but forced into close quarters Ashley and Dash can’t help but open up. Not only do they find they have a lot in common, but there’s even a spark of romance in the air. Their feelings catch them off guard—never before has either been so excited about a first meeting. But the two are in for more twists and turns along the way as they rescue a lost puppy, run into petty thieves, and even get caught up in a case of mistaken identity. Though Ashley and Dash may never reach Seattle in time for Christmas, the season is still full of surprises—and their greatest wishes may yet come true.

 

This book was terrible. So terrible I almost didn’t review it. The whole premise of the plot is that Ashley Davison has the same name as someone on the FBI’s most wanted list and the no-fly list and that’s a huge roadblock to her getting home for Christmas.  This premise seems in poor taste, at the very least, because it does happen and hurts people, most often people who are racial and/or religious minorities in this country. I decided, for the sake of a quick Christmas read that I’d read it anyway.

I should have gone with my first instincts.

Ashley and Dash have sparks? I guess? But, It seems more like he’s the grown up looking after a well-meaning and slightly-irresponsible younger person. (And, for possibly obvious reasons, I really resent any characterization of a graduate student that way.) The FBI agents who follow them are ham-fisted and stubborn-to-a-fault. It is not a very flattering caricature. They also don’t seem good at their jobs? I feel like there were other clues that could have gotten them to Dash and Ashley faster, and while this would have made for a less exciting novel it also would have made for a shorter one and I would have been cool with that?

Oh, and they adopt a puppy at some point on their rental car road trip. This seems slightly irresponsible but big-hearted. Guess who’s idea it is.

The puppy is great. Not great enough that you should read it for the dog, though.

Ugh. this book. It was just terrible. I was hoping for something light and fun with a cute happily ever after and that’s not what this was. The nicest things I can say about this are that there was a dog and that it was a quick read.

 

Quick Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

muse of nightmares I really don’t know the best way to describe this book or this series as it’s so lush and unique.  It’s also kind of a hard read because pretty much every character is a victim of terrible abuse and trauma and the events of the book are the direct result of all the trauma.  The people of Weep spent years under the threat of kidnapping and rape and even 15 years after they killed the “Gods” responsible the citadel where it all took place still stood as a reminder of what they endured.  The Godspawn lived in fear of being discovered for fear of what happened to their fellow children would happen to them.  This all came to a crashing half when our hero Lazlo discovered who he really was and brought them together.  Even the villains of this piece were acting on their own traumas.  You knew what they were doing was wrong at times you couldn’t really blame them either. In the end it was an act of compassion that saved them all.  Sarai used her power to listen and understand what was the issue and finally talk them down.  I highly recommend that everyone read Strange the Dreamer and the Muse of Nightmares because they are so lush in descriptions of Weep and the other strange lands.  It’s truly beautiful story that is also timely to today’s me too movement.

Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

sunshine The first time I read Sunshine was 10 years ago right after the release of Breaking Dawn. Let’s just say that Breaking Dawn left a lot to be desired.  I can’t remember if it was Kate who suggested Sunshine or if it was our friend Elizabeth but it was one of those “read this if you want to read a good vampire novel after a really bad one”.  I did and it is.  I loved it as much now as I did back then.  It was just as suspenseful, mysterious, funny and kind of sexy even if there isn’t much of a romance going on.  Rae “Sunshine” Seddon is as normal as one can be living in New Arcadia after the Voodoo Wars.  She makes the best cinnamon rolls at Charlie’s Coffeeshop.  Her whole life revolves around the coffeeshop.  Things change when she decides to take a drive out to the lake and is kidnapped by Vampires and is sucked into an old school feud between two very old and very different vampires.  She also discovers that she isn’t so normal after all.  She happens to be the daughter of a powerful sorcerer and has powers of her own.  When she saves herself and Constantine with her sunshine power her life is turned upside down.  She deals with it pretty well with a lot of dark humor and a great supporting cast.  Constantine is everything that Edward is not.  He doesn’t try to pretend he’s anything that he isn’t.  He’s considerate and thoughtful.  Many times he could have taken advantage of Sunshine but doesn’t.  In the end he realizes that he needs her as much as she needs him.  As for their relationship status, who knows.  There is definitely a connection between them.  It’s more than just the bond from healing each other but also surviving multiple traumatic events.  They are definitely two friends who have a deep respect for each other and continue to challenge each other.  Let’s go back to Sunshine.  In someways it’s unfair to compare her to Bella because Sunshine is an adult and Bella is not.  Sunshine has more life experience that when she makes decisions she knows how much is going to effect her and the people she cares about.  She also sees that she is an impossible situation that doesn’t give her any good choices to choose from.  She is self aware to know herself but also what is going on around her.  While Constantine does take up a lot of time and thinking he doesn’t become the center of her life.  She keeps her family and friends close and many of them actually help her to understand what is going on and give her the tools to defeat the evil vampire.  Her support system is truly key. Not just to help her through killing vampires but also help her heal from her traumatic experience too.  I think that’s important part of the story.  Constantine is a powerful vampire but he couldn’t take on The Evil Vampire on his own.  He needed Sunshine.  Sunshine would not been able to deal with what happened to her without the support of her stepfather, Charlie, her boyfriend Mel, Her Mom, Her landlady, Yolande, her friend Aimil, her other friends and SOF agents, Pat, Jesse and Theo.  Whether or not they knew it, they all played a roll in defeating The Evil Vampire and keeping Constantine and Sunshine alive.  It was a group effort but also a reminder that no matter what is going on in your life.  You are never truly alone.  So yes, Sunshine is a great vampire novel and deserves more props.