Rating + Review: A Study in Charlotte

When Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm book tour was in my area, I was lucky enough to attend, and Brittany Cavallaro was another author who shared a stage with Aveyard. I got to hear Cavallaro talk about her books and writing process and found her to be a really great speaker, but I hadn’t read any of her books prior to the event. I wanted to remedy that and gave A Study in Charlotte a read.

A Study in Charlotte uses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock novels as the jumping off point, imagining that Holmes was a real man and had descendants who would carry on his name and detective abilities. Embarrassingly enough for an English teacher and an avid reader, I’ve only read one Sherlock Holmes novel: The Hound of the Baskervilles. I’ve also seen the early 2000s films starring Robert Downey Jr., and Jude Law. Even though I may not be a Sherlockian expert, the atmosphere and intellect of A Study in Charlotte felt spot on.

In this book, James Watson – a descendant of John Watson – finds himself at a boarding school in Connecticut near his estranged father. Charlotte Holmes – the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes – also attends the boarding school. Even though Charlotte is a teenager, she’s just as neurotic as Sherlock. She’s also a great detective, as she’s been trained since she was a child. Not long after James comes to school, a classmate that both he and Charlotte despise winds up dead. All the evidence points to Charlotte and Jamie because the killer has recreated scenes from the original Sherlock stories. Holmes and Watson have to prove they’re innocent and find the true killer before anyone else gets hurt.

I was really impressed by this book. The writing was dark and formal, making it feel very different than the usual YA books I read. Charlotte even has Sherlock’s drug habit, which I thought was pretty risky for the author to include in YA. The writing style was refreshing – despite feeling old-fashioned – and such a good match to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. Since the book was a mystery, it was also suspenseful and it was fun to make predictions as I read.

“We’re not on who, or why, Watson, we’re still working out how. You can’t theorize in advance of facts, or you’ll waste everyone’s time.”

Even though I assume the rest of the books in the series will be formulaic (like most mystery series are), I feel like it’s worth it to continue reading this series. Charlotte and Jamie are complex characters with a complex relationship. They understand each other and need one another’s friendship, but they are also just teenagers who have a lot of family pressure on them.

I wanted the two of us to be complicated together, to be difficult and engrossing and blindingly brilliant.

There is room for Charlotte and Jamie to grow personally and I appreciate the diligent work Cavallaro has put into crafting this novel.

Rating + Review: Flame in the Mist

“Let’s get down to business, to defeat *pause* the Huns.” If you were a kid in the ’90s, I’m 100% sure that you not only sang that line out loud, but that you’ve got the rest of the song stuck in your head now. You’re welcome! I didn’t do this to mess with your day, but rather to introduce book #13 of my Goodreads 2019 challenge, a twist on the story of Mulan: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh.

I had been looking forward to reading this book because 1) who doesn’t love Mulan? and 2) I was ready for another snarky, magical romance à la The Wrath & the Dawn from Renée Ahdieh. Sadly, I’m not sure that it delivered on everything I wanted it to be.

Flame in the Mist introduces us to Mariko, a young woman who is on her way to the capitol to wed her betrothed: a prince whom she hasn’t even met. Her convoy enters a creepy forest wherein they are attacked. Mariko manages to escape, and even though she knows her amazing tracker of a brother will find her, she decides to take care of herself by pretending to be a boy so she can figure out why her convoy was attacked and who wants her dead. The obvious choice is the notorious Black Clan, but it’s so obvious that it doesn’t quite make sense – especially once she joins their ranks and gets to know the young men. Meanwhile, court intrigue seems to be at play, along with some magic. Will Mariko be able to keep her identity a secret and discover who is plotting against her family?

While the premise is interesting, and I don’t mind well-done re-tellings, I found the beginning of the book dull and slow moving. In fact, I switched to another book and read it before coming back to Flame in the Mist. Thankfully, the action and intrigue started to pick up around 60% of the way through the book.

Things I liked about Flame in the Mist:

  • Great moments related to Girl Power and Feminism
  • “She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one’s match was like finding one’s other half. Mariko had never understood the notion. She was not a half. She was wholly her own.”
  • Disney’s Mulan moments like chopping off her hair and the lines, “Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain,” obviously reminded me of the lyrics to “Be A Man.”
  • A romance built on mutual respect
  • Things I was disappointed by:

    • The magic was confusing. I didn’t get what was happening. Like The Wrath & the Dawn, the magic had potential but was a missed opportunity. For me, Ahdieh hasn’t quite figured out how to write magic that makes sense for the reader yet.
    • I just couldn’t believe these guys who are so cunning and observant couldn’t figure out that Mariko was a girl. She keeps changing the pitch of her voice and she doesn’t know how to do anything useful. She’s not a cartoon character- she’s an actual person.
    • The beginning was so uneventful that I almost gave up on this book.

    While the book wasn’t all I wanted it to be, I still want to go ahead and read the second book, Smoke in the Sun. The ending is cliffhangery and I’m hopeful that the romance, descriptive imagery, and the message of girl power will make for a strong second book.

    Rating + Review: The Width of the World

    I was so excited to find the third book in the Vega Jane series available to read on the OverDrive app right after I finished the second book. How refreshing to get to continue on in a series! This rarely happens to me. Even though I quickly completed the third book in the Vega Jane series, I ended up waiting a full week before writing my review for The Width of the World because I couldn’t figure out what to say about it. Why? Well, because even though there were a lot of plot holes and moments of “why are you doing that?!” and “shouldn’t you be doing this instead?” and “how did the character assume that?” I still really, really enjoyed this book! 

    Goodreads Blurb:

    This is it. Vega Jane’s time. She’s been lied to her whole life, so she breaks away from Wormwood, the only home she’s ever known, in search of the truth. She battles horrors to fight her way across the Quag with her best friend, Delph, and her mysterious canine, Harry Two. Against all odds, they survive unimaginable dangers and make it through.

    And into a new world that’s even worse. Not because deadly beasts roam the cobblestones, but because the people are enslaved but don’t even know it. It’s up to Vega, Delph, Harry Two and their new comrade, Petra, to take up the fight against a foe that’s unrivaled in savagery and cunning. Not only is Vega’s life and the lives of her friends on the line, but whether she triumphs or fails will determine whether a whole world survives. 

    Beloved author David Baldacci delivers a shockwave of destruction and shattering revelations in The Width of the World, book three in his instant #1 global bestselling Vega Jane series.

    At first, I was not sure that I would like this book. When Vega, Delph, Petra, and Harry Two escape the Quag, I was momentarily reminded of the crushing let-down from the Divergent series when Tris escaped from her city and into the unknown. It was underwhelming. I thought, “Nooo! Don’t take all of this epic adventure and turn it into a lame experiment and dystopia!” Luckily, that’s not quite what happened here, so I was relieved. 

    Another reason why I was initially cautious about this book was because in the second Vega Jane book, I felt that some of the plot points seemed too reminiscent of other literary sources. This third book felt that way, too. Certain scenes reminded me of events from Harry Potter, Star Wars, A Discovery of Witches, and even Beauty and the Beast. However, I still enjoyed this book so much. I read it quickly and was invested in Vega’s journey. 

    The conflict in this book was very interesting, or as Vega puts it, “It really was quite brilliant. But more diabolically evil than brilliant.” The Maladons are manipulative and evil, all right, just not as blatantly as we had been expecting. I agree with Vega when she says, “I had to admit it was all very well planned. And yet the Maladons had had centuries to perfect what they were doing: unobtrusively enslaving an entire people while at the same time destroying all those who could rise up against them.” These Maladons are bad dudes, and Vega is so pure-of-heart compared to them. 

    I cannot wait to find out what happens in the fourth installment of the Vega Jane series. This series has kept me on my toes the entire time, and I know Baldacci is saving some great twists for the final book.

    This book almost deserves a 5 star rating, but I was annoyed at how Vega would get tunnel-vision and just focus on one thing – totally forgetting about lots of other things she should be thinking about. I don’t want to let any spoilers slip, but, what about her family? Learning more about the resistance? Warning other people about what’s going on? None of that seemed to be addressed, but I find it all rather important and obvious. I’m curious if other readers noticed this, too.


    Rating + Review: The Keeper

    Like the first book in the Vega Jane series, The Finisher, I received this book as a gift from my Aunt Shannon. I don’t think I would have picked the series out for myself because the author, David Baldacci, typically writes adult thrillers that I associate with things that dads would like to read! Like authors Michael Connelly and Lee Child, David Baldacci just isn’t on my radar. I’m glad I decided to start this series, though, and I can’t wait to find out how Vega Jane’s adventure will end.  

    Goodreads Blurb:

    Master storyteller David Baldacci is back with THE KEEPER, the follow up to his instant #1 global bestselling and award-winning fantasy debut, THE FINISHER.

    Vega Jane was always told no one could leave the town of Wormwood. She was told there was nothing outside but the Quag, a wilderness filled with danger and death. And she believed it – until the night she stumbled across a secret that proved that everything she knew was a lie.

    Now just one thing stands between Vega Jane and freedom – the Quag. In order to leave Wormwood and discover the truth about her world, Vega and her best friend Delph must find a way to make it across a terrifying land of bloodthirsty creatures and sinister magic. But the Quag is worse than Vega Jane’s darkest imagining. It’s a living, breathing prison designed to keep enemies out and the villagers of Wormwood in. 

    The Quag will throw everything at Vega Jane. It will try to break her. It will try to kill her. And survival might come at a price not even Vega Jane is willing to pay. 

    Master storyteller David Baldacci unleashes a hurricane of action and adrenaline that takes readers to the breaking point.

    *Review contains minor, vague spoilers

    Might be best enjoyed by readers who have already read the book!*

    I had some real worries going into this book – mainly that the book would be incredibly limited and repetitive. Would it just be about staying alive in the Quag? Moments of calm and then constant battles for their lives? And just Vega, Delph, and Harry Two (a dog) for characters? How would this carry a whole book? Thankfully, Baldacci has crafted quite the adventure and quite the heroes, and I think I enjoyed this book more than the first one.

    Vega Jane, Delph, and Harry Two continue their trek through the Quag in the second book, The Keeper. The book starts right where the first book in the series left off: at the bottom of a cliff. From the first page to the last, there are trials and creatures to defeat at every turn. Vega is a bit like Odysseus, being tested on a long, dangerous journey where forces outside of her control are trying to thwart her plan to see what’s beyond the Quag. Vega starts to feel like she’s been left behind in Wormwood, like she wasn’t worth saving, but then she comes to discover that she has the power to wield magic. Along with Vega’s magic, the incredible tools she collected in the first book (Destin, the Adder stone, and the elemental), plus Delph’s strength and uncanny sense of direction, and Harry Two’s selfless bravery, our heroes attempt to make their way through five circles of the Quag – a literal maze to keep anyone from getting in or out. The circles are designed to break your spirit and no one is supposed to actually succeed in escaping the circles.

    While, thanks to a book provided by Quentin, Vega and Delph know that there will be many horrendous creatures that will stop at nothing to kill them, one of the most surprising things Vega and Delph come across is other people: a cruel, self-proclaimed king, the Keeper who (fittingly) wants to hold them captive, and some survivors living in the Quag who may or may not be trustworthy. The people are some of the trickiest challenges to navigate, but it was a relief that the entire book wasn’t just one terrifying creature after another.

    At times, the book felt a bit juvenile because the writing was so…well, I’m not actually sure why I think this, but I do! Perhaps because it was such a fast-paced, action-packed book? Or because Vega actually thinks like a teenager? Also, some of the plot points felt borrowed from other sources. For instance, the five circles felt too contrived, and Vega’s magical incantations are sure to remind readers of other famous wizards (personally, I could have done without the wand-wielding magic – I liked how tough and fearless and smart Vega was without it). Luckily, the book is still incredibly fresh and unexpected. 

    Even though Vega Jane learns some answers to questions she had about Wormwood and its past, there are still plenty of unanswered questions to uncover in the next book. I read this book several days faster than The Finisher because it was so dangerous, suspenseful, and surprising. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

    Rating + Review: Space Boy, Volume 1

    I was supposed to meet my sister and niece at a children’s museum an hour from our house, but because of flash flooding near the museum, we had to cancel our plans. I decided to take my daughter to a new (to us) library about 30 minutes from our house in an area not affected by flooding. We practically had the library to ourselves. We explored a bit first. The library has a deck on the second level where you can read outside (when it’s not winter, of course), nice furniture and lots of reading nooks, and one of the biggest children’s sections I’ve ever seen. We found a place to play and when it looked like my four-year-old was busy with the LEGO table, I decided I needed something to read. My kid got nervous when I started walking away from her, so I had to pick out something quick! I spotted a graphic novel on a shelf and hoped for the best. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised by this book.

    Goodreads Blurb:

    A sci-fi drama of a high school aged girl who belongs in a different time, a boy possessed by emptiness as deep as space, an alien artifact, mysterious murder, and a love that crosses light years.

    To Amy, everyone has a flavor. Her mom is the flavor of mint–sharp and bright. Her dad is like hot chocolate–sweet and full of gentle warmth.

    Amy lives on a mining colony in out in deep space, but when her dad loses his job the entire family is forced to move back to Earth. Amy says goodbye to her best friend Jemmah and climbs into a cryotube where she will spend the next 30 years frozen in a state of suspended animation, hurtling in a rocket toward her new home. Her life will never be the same, but all she can think about is how when she gets to Earth, Jemmah will have grown up without her.

    When Amy arrives on Earth, she feels like an alien in a strange land. The sky is beautiful but gravity is heavy and the people are weird. Stranger still is the boy she meets at her new school–a boy who has no flavor.

    Space Boy is a graphic novel that introduces us to a teen named Amy who lives in space, but gets sent back to Earth when her father loses his job. The family gets cryogenically frozen and “sleeps” through 30 years on board a spacecraft. When they arrive on Earth, they have to adjust to gravity and catch up on all the news and technology they’ve missed. While Amy goes to an Earthen school for the first time, she comes across a boy who seems out of place – I’m assuming this will be the “Space Boy” from the title, but we don’t learn much about him in this installment.

    I read the entire book in just about an hour, so it’s a quick read, but incredibly enjoyable. There are layers and questions and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. While Amy is a teenager and this is marketed as a young adult book, it felt more like middle grade to me because of the reading ease. Also, I found it on the children’s side of the library, so I went into this book thinking it was middle grade. That being said, the illustration style is beautiful (though my daughter kept asking where the girl’s feet were!). I enjoyed the depictions of life in space and the pictures felt like they had movement and energy to them.

    One of the reasons why I think I liked this book so much was because it reminded me of the 1999 Disney channel movie Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. Cetus-Lupeedus! Remember that one? But I also enjoyed Space Boy because I love thinking about what it will be like for humans to live in space. Books where the author presents a version of the future and our connection to space usually intrigue me – for instance, anything by Andy Weir, These Broken Stars, Defy the Stars, Ender’s Game and many others.

    In all, I’m so glad that I swiped this book from the shelf to read. I didn’t know anything about this book going in, but I’m leaving with a new series to follow. A great graphic novel and great read.

    Intrigued by Space Boy? You can read the series online at the Webtoon website. The books are broken down into “episodes” that you can scroll through. Try it out here. This is a good way to read the books for free, but I think I like the format of a book better. 

    Rating + Review: They Both Die at the End

    The Finisher (9)

    Do you read the acknowledgments section in the back of the book? I do. For one, I’m usually not ready to part with a book once I’m done with it, so I read (most of) the extra content at the end, and two, I love seeing how so many of the authors I read all seem to be friends with each other. I imagine them having artsy get-togethers and interesting email conversations.  Well, while reading Becky Albertalli’s books (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Leah on the Offbeat, The Upside of Unrequited), I kept coming across Adam Silvera’s name in the acknowledgments and in interviews with Albertalli. Since I hadn’t read any of Silvera’s books, I decided to give this one a try. Maybe I’ll be adding the book Albertalli and Silvera wrote together, What if it’s Us, to my TBR list, too.   

    Goodreads Blurb:

    On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

    my thoughts

    If you knew today was your last day, how would you choose to spend it?

    That’s the premise for Adam Silvera’s novel, They Both Die at the End. Teens Mateo and Rufus both get the Death-Cast call on the same day, warning them that sometime within the next twenty-four hours, they will die. They won’t know how or when. They won’t be able to stop it. Mateo is a loner whose father is in a coma in the hospital, so Rufus needs someone to help him truly live on his final day. He uses the Last Friend app to find Rufus. Rufus has a group of people who care about him, but thanks to some bad choices he made earlier, he has to stay away from them or risk getting picked up by the cops. Together, Mateo and Rufus live and learn and love as the hours pass them by. They both become the best versions of themselves as the Death-Cast call looms over them.

    The title and Death-Cast calls at the beginning of the book means that the reader is on edge through the entire story. There is an ache in your chest because as you get to know more and more about the characters, you also know that time is running out for these teens. Will they be the exceptions? Will they somehow be able to make enough changes or take care of each other so well that neither of them dies? The suspense keeps the book moving along.

    That being said, I didn’t looove this book. It’s more like a 3.5 or 3.75 and I’m generously rounding up to 4. It has suspense and characters I cared about, but the characters didn’t really seem like a love-match to me. It felt more like a relationship of convenience. If you knew you were going to die, wouldn’t you want to be loved? Mateo and Rufus don’t really have the luxury of being picky! Would they have chosen each other under different circumstances? I’m not sure.

    The relationships that I found more believable were their friendships. Mateo’s friend Lidia is a teen mom who already lost her boyfriend. It seems unfair that she’s losing another branch of her support system. Rufus’s friends Malcolm, Tagoe, and Aimee, have already helped Rufus cope with the loss of his family and it’s clear they love each other. They offer the best support that they can. I like books with great friendships, so I think I would have liked this book more if there was more time spent on friendship rather than on a forced romance.

    In all, They Both Die at the End is a solid YA contemporary/sci-fi-ish read. While it’s never explained how Death-Cast knows it will be your final day, the concept is interesting and I could suspend disbelief enough to jump into the story. The book also made me wonder what I would do if I knew it was my last day. This was my first Silvera novel, but I think I would be open to another one.

    my thoughts (5)

    Rating + Review: Beartown

    A Man Called Ove – both the book and the movie – was well-received, but I hadn’t bothered with either because in all the blurbs and reviews, the main character is described as a grumpy, old curmudgeon. That’s really not the type of character I gravitate towards! I’m going to have to rethink that opinion, however, because I just read another one of Fredrik Backman’s books and it was incredible. Thanks to my Aunt Celeste’s recommendation, I read Beartown and was blown away from page one.

    Goodreads Blurb:

    The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

    People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

    Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

    Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

    If Beartown is an accurate portrayal of Fredrik Backman’s writing, then sign me up for the rest of his books. From the shocking first page to the very end of the book, I was captivated by Beartown’s inhabitants.

    Beartown is a small town hidden in the woods that lives and breathes hockey. With jobs and businesses disappearing, the junior hockey team offers the town one last chance for glory and economic stimulation. But when an appalling incident happens days before the big game, the town has to decide between what it wants to be true and what it knows is right.

    Perhaps because I’ve lived in small, cold towns where sports ruled, but I found this book so relatable. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine the events of the book at all. It could practically be pulled from headlines. In addition to the setting and content, author Fredrik Backman uses a variety of characters – all with their own charms and flaws – to give a well-rounded representation of a community. Each point of view was compelling. The writing was so easy to read and lovely. There were several fantastic descriptions and lines sprinkled throughout that made Backman’s writing superb. It’s atmospheric and insightful. Beartown was also an emotional read. I teared up a handful of times as I read, proving that the characters felt real to me.

    Even though it’s early in 2019, I feel confident that Beartown will be one of the best books I read this year. Without a doubt, this was a five star read for me.

    Rating + Review: On the Come Up

    Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, sure was a writer’s dream. It was a hit with readers, garnering 275,000 Goodreads ratings (with an amazing 4.55 star average), and was even turned into a movie starring Amandla Stenberg. Like a lot of other people, I was looking forward to another novel by Thomas. With a voice that’s genuine and timely, her young adult fiction is finding traction with readers who are interested in reading diverse voices.

    Goodreads Blurb:

    Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

    On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

    On the Come Up is a standalone novel from the author of The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas. This book stars Bri Jackson, a high school junior who wants to become a rapper so she can help her family out financially. She lives with her mom and older brother, Trey, but they barely make ends meet. Sometimes they go without power or visit food drives to get groceries. Bri attends a nice school outside of her neighborhood, but feels targeted there by the security guards and teachers because she’s black. Bri plays on the idea of what everyone assumes about her and raps about what she’d really like to do to the security guards at her school. The song gains Bri some quick fame, and the reader goes along with Bri through the ups and downs of navigating life as a young black girl when your dreams can be dangerous.

    Overall, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did (THUG is like a 4.25 stars and OTCU is a 3.8 stars, rounded up!). I struggled to get into this story at first. There was a lot of slang and vocabulary that I wasn’t familiar with and had to stop and think about. For instance, “I throw my snapback on, pulling the front down enough so it can cover my edges” or “She’s beside her Cutlass, getting it in. Milly Rocking, Disciple Walking, all of that, like she’s a one-woman Soul Train line.” It took me out of the story a bit, even though this language is also what helped make it authentic. And unlike THUG, I didn’t find the characters quite as endearing. They didn’t feel quite as fleshed out for me as Starr and her family did. Even the descriptions of people and places didn’t feel as well-done in this book, but perhaps I’m remembering THUG incorrectly. Bri makes rash decisions and doesn’t consider the consequences until later. She makes a lot of careless choices, so it was hard to be sympathetic towards her at times. Despite this, I was definitely rooting for Bri and her family. I wanted them to beat the odds and make it – while also recognizing that many of their difficulties weren’t their fault but rather systematic racism.

    On the Come Up is still an enjoyable read, even with a few criticisms. For instance, it was really cool to see Bri come up with her rhymes. She would hear a word or phrase and be reminded of other concepts or rhyming words and turn it into lyrics, or bars. I liked seeing this word play. I also really liked Bri’s mom, Jay, and a conversation she has with the school superintendent. Jay is a strong, smart woman. Even with flaws and a past, she brings a lot of wisdom to Bri’s life. If only Bri would listen! Guess that’s what happens when you’re a teenager, though.

    While there is plenty to unpack with this book – racial profiling, inequality across housing and education, gang violence, hip hop culture, guns for white people vs. guns for POC, police brutality – the package is so neat and tidy that you don’t realize that’s what you’re reading about. Angie Thomas has definitely hit on something special and relevant with her first two books. She’s carving out a niche in contemporary YA using diverse perspectives that everyone can enjoy and learn from.

    Recommended for:

    • Readers who enjoyed The Hate U Give (or moviegoers who enjoyed the same title)
    • High school English teachers looking for diverse perspectives to expose their students to
    • Readers who prefer to read fiction, but still want to learn about race in America
    • People who like hip hop music, spoken word poetry, and rap battles

    Rating + Review: Outline

    I can’t quite remember why I added this book to my TBR shelf on Goodreads in June of 2018, but I think it might have been because of a segment I heard on NPR. Perhaps Rachel Cusk was promoting the third book in her Outline trilogy? For whatever reason, the book sounded writerly and interesting. Outline earned a lot of awards and I wanted to see if I agreed with the hype.

    Goodreads Blurb:

    A luminous, powerful novel that establishes Rachel Cusk as one of the finest writers in the English language.

    A man and a woman are seated next to each other on a plane. They get to talking—about their destination, their careers, their families. Grievances are aired, family tragedies discussed, marriages and divorces analyzed. An intimacy is established as two strangers contrast their own fictions about their lives.

    Rachel Cusk’s Outline is a novel in ten conversations. Spare and stark, it follows a novelist teaching a course in creative writing during one oppressively hot summer in Athens. She leads her students in storytelling exercises. She meets other visiting writers for dinner and discourse. She goes swimming in the Ionian Sea with her neighbor from the plane. The people she encounters speak volubly about themselves: their fantasies, anxieties, pet theories, regrets, and longings. And through these disclosures, a portrait of the narrator is drawn by contrast, a portrait of a woman learning to face a great loss.

    Outline takes a hard look at the things that are hardest to speak about. It brilliantly captures conversations, investigates people’s motivations for storytelling, and questions their ability to ever do so honestly or unselfishly. In doing so it bares the deepest impulses behind the craft of fiction writing. This is Rachel Cusk’s finest work yet, and one of the most startling, brilliant, original novels of recent years.

    A Finalist for the Folio Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. One of The New York Times’ Top Ten Books of the Year. Named a A New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, Vogue, NPR, The Guardian, The Independent, Glamour, and The Globe and Mail.

    As I started reading Outline, I was expecting to go on a literary adventure through some lovely writing. With lines like, “Love restores almost everything, and where it can’t restore, it takes away the pain,” I had high hopes for this book. The prose read quickly and easily, so while it could have been pretentious, it felt precise and effective. Each word felt carefully chosen. The part that I came to dislike was the lack of plot.

    The lack of action.

    The lack of connection to our narrator.

    I followed the narrator around and listened in on her acquaintances’ conversations, but learned next-to-nothing about her. Can the main character really be the protagonist of her own story if she didn’t do anything?

    On a flight to Greece, the narrator and her seatmate, whom she calls her “neighbor,” strike up a conversation. She learns that he has been married three times, had several kids, earned money and lost it, and had a tumultuous life overall. We learn that the narrator will be teaching a summer writing course in Greece. Next, the writer has a conversation with another writing teacher, a conversation with a friend she met on a previous trip to Greece, a conversation with a different friend and a published author, some conversations with her neighbor from the plane, we listen in on two of her writing classes, and then the book ends with a conversation with the next writing teacher who will teach the course. Each of these conversations reveals the deepest, darkest secrets and fears of the people the narrator is with. For some reason, all of these people spill intimate details about their lives while the narrator holds herself back. She isn’t prying into their lives or even asking questions – they freely offer up these details (but why? People don’t do this). I just couldn’t imagine this happening in real life, even though much of the book felt real because of its leisurely pace and unremarkable action.

    The format of Outline reminded me of The Canterbury Tales. There’s a framework: a “pilgrimage” to Greece, and fellow characters tell personal stories, from which the reader is supposed to gather some sort of insight. It’s a departure from the typical novel and felt very anticlimactic to me. Although the writing is lovely, it felt a bit pointless. I feel like I need a professor to point out what I was missing. Like, is the fact that there’s not a satisfying ending supposed to be a mirror of life, where there’s no real conclusion, just a continuation? What else did I miss?

    I don’t want to read the next book in the Outline trilogy; however, I’m also feeling such a lack of resolution that I’m curious to know what happens next to our main character. Will we finally come to know more about her? Or will the next book just offer up more conversations with random people? Cusk’s prose may be worthy of awards, but the absence of a plot left me unimpressed.

    Kingdom of Ash

    Kingdom of Ash, the final book in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, was my most-anticipated book to read for 2019. In a nutshell, this fantasy series follows a female assassin out to save the world from an ancient evil creature who is building an army of vile creatures. There are also fae warriors, pirates, witches, wyverns, talking spiders, and shapeshifters, plus drama, romance, and plenty of epic battles. The previous six books, plus novellas, means that I had already devoted close to 4,000 pages to the series, and I was eager to see how SJM would pull everything together, defeat evil, and give us a satisfactory ending. While almost 1,000 pages on its own, Kingdom of Ash is a dense read – but absolutely worth it. I was first introduced to Maas when I read her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. I adored the series, so at first, I was hesitant to fall for Throne of Glass. How dare she write another fantastic series?! However, as I read novel after novel, there was no denying that I was hooked. I’m definitely a SJM fan.

    Goodreads Blurb:

    Years in the making, Sarah J. Maas’s #1 New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series draws to an epic, unforgettable conclusion. Aelin Galathynius’s journey from slave to king’s assassin to the queen of a once-great kingdom reaches its heart-rending finale as war erupts across her world. . .

    Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day…

    With Aelin captured, Aedion and Lysandra remain the last line of defense to protect Terrasen from utter destruction. Yet they soon realize that the many allies they’ve gathered to battle Erawan’s hordes might not be enough to save them. Scattered across the continent and racing against time, Chaol, Manon, and Dorian are forced to forge their own paths to meet their fates. Hanging in the balance is any hope of salvation―and a better world.

    And across the sea, his companions unwavering beside him, Rowan hunts to find his captured wife and queen―before she is lost to him forever.

    As the threads of fate weave together at last, all must fight, if they are to have a chance at a future. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever in the explosive final chapter of the Throne of Glass series.

    I’m so sad to see this series end because I really and truly enjoyed it. From start to finish, I was immersed in Sarah J. Maas’s world. I loved getting to know the characters, hearing about their struggles, and watching them grow into incredible heroes. The series may have started with our young Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol, but it grew into something bigger and better than I could have imagined.

    Kingdom of Ash begins right where Empire of Storms left off. **Slight spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Empire of Storms** Aelin is being held captive in an iron box by Queen Maeve – tortured physically by Cairn and mentally by Maeve’s power of illusion. Rowan searches for her frantically, along with Elide, Lorcan, and Gavriel. Meanwhile, Aedion leads an army to fight against Morath. He’s joined by Ansel of Briarcliff, Prince Galan, Ilias of the Silent Assassins, Rowan’s fae cousins, and the Bane, among others. Lysandra uses her shapeshifting abilities to become Aelin as needed, but her lack of flame is quickly noted. Picking up from Tower of Dawn, Chaol and Yrene make their way to the continent along with Nesryn, Sartaq, and a host of well-trained soldiers from the southern continent. But before they can get to Terrasen, they decide to take on a faction of Morath’s army in Anielle – Chaol’s father’s city. Far from the fighting, Dorian and Manon hold the two wyrdkeys and search for the third. When their search proves fruitless, Manon changes course and works on rallying the crochan witches. Dorian continues to gain even more control of his magic and learns some incredible skills. He ultimately makes the decision to leave Manon and go in search of the last wyrdkey in the most dangerous place of all: Morath, where Erawan will surely be keeping watch over it. Outnumbered by the thousands, and with Erawan and Maeve as powerful enemies, does Terrasen stand a chance? Our characters are all in danger: who will survive?

    The characters are fighting to keep their world safe from evil, and I felt like I was right there with them. I was invested in the characters and the outcome. Even though at points the book was slow and I wanted more to happen, it was balanced by moments of great intensity. Looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted to cut any of it out, even though I barely managed to finish the book before my 21 day loan was up. In fact, sometimes I felt like scenes weren’t long enough or that I didn’t get enough dialogue from certain characters (like Manon. She’s awesome). One of my favorite things about this book was how all of the pieces fit together. I love how characters pop up just when they’re most needed. I love how everyone is so on board to build a better world – humans, fae, witches, pirates – everyone works together. The ending becomes all about #girlpower, which felt a little bit forced, but I’m okay with because I’m a ‘90s girl! There are a lot of chapters at the end to wrap everything up. This is one book where all the loose ends are taken care of. It’s pretty clear where everyone and everything stands at the end. I adored the journey that Aelin and Maas took us on, and I don’t know what I’m going to read in the fantasy realm now that I’ve read all of the Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses books! 5 stars and beyond. One of my most favorite series to read, ever.