Enchanting Sisters

The universe is sending me messages about sisters. I didn’t mean to read back to back books containing a strong sister bond but now that I have, my tear ducts are shriveled and dry. The tag line on the front of the ARC of Caraval is “Remember, it’s only a game…” but when it comes to your sister, it’s never just a game. The main characters Scarlett will protect her sister, Tella, from anyone and anything.img_2391

Scarlett has to be mother and best friend and older sister while protecting Tella from their manipulative, abusive father. Of course Tella has a wild streak that makes it difficult to protect her but Scarlett does her best making sure their father stays unaware of Tella’s actions. Scarlett doesn’t always succeed and it was startling to find out how their father, the governor of a small isle, punishes his daughters. Caraval is essentially an elaborate circus, with less animals, and a scavenger hunt twist. Legend is the ringmaster with plenty of performers to make the five night event feel like a daring adventure. The players are warned at the start “it’s only a game” but the performers encourage them to indulge during the game.

Each year Legend creates a game of tricks and clues for the prize at the end. This year it’s a wish, but to win you have to find the stolen item. Scarlett and Tella have a lot of things to wish for but Scarlett quickly learns she has more at stake when the stolen item to find is her sister. Scar has never been the daring one but she will risk her father’s wrath and her engagement to find Tella first. She has help from the sailor that got the sisters to Caraval but he seems to know too much about the game and has an awful lot of secrets for Scarlett to completely trust him.

Stephanie Garber wrote a magical tale not only of a sister’s love but of self-discovery and self-worth. I loved the world of Caraval. Magical, inviting, but dangerous and a little faded around the edges. Garber added wonderful details to make the island feel tangible. Some of my issues were with the clues Scarlett was searching for. Sometimes it seemed she forgot she was looking for clues at all, and the second, third, and fourth clues happened all at once. It didn’t feel like Scarlett had to work for them and it was really rushed, but then she still didn’t find her sister for some time. The plot structure in the middle was just a little of but I loved the cliff hanger at the end. The story wrapped up but it’s far from over. Hopefully we get to follow Tella on the next adventure.

Protect Your Own

On the back of the ARC, there is a blurb that says “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl” and it’s a pretty accurate description. I got more Dragon Tattoo than Gone Girl but I see what they’re saying. This is a solid story. It’s not that it took me by surprise because I expected it to be bad, but I surprised myself by how fast I drank this story in. Twists and turns and danger makes for some fast reading but it helps when you care about the characters.img_2363

Christina a.k.a. Tina a.k.a. Tiny Girl/Tiny is broken in so many believable ways. Fleeing the Congo as a young child with a single mother can’t be easy but who would have thought living in a gated estate is where she would end up being orphaned. Living on the street, learning to pickpocket is where she becomes Tiny Girl. The pickpocketing is just practice until she becomes stronger, faster, sneakier, until she can take on her revenge.

Natalie Anderson not only created believable characters but wove together an intricate story of secrets. Anderson tore Tina’s world apart and let us watch her put it back together. She has a strong writing voice but my one critique of her writing was how American the characters sounded. These are teenagers and street thugs who grew up in the Congo or in Sangui City but sometimes is was hard to think of them as natives. And yet on the other hand, I completely believed her description of the area. Of course I’ve never been there to see it myself but nothing about her world building took me out of the story.

As the book worked up to the fast-paced resolution, I got nervous it would fall apart. It would have been easy with one minor change and I would have been disappointed. But I’m happy with how the conflict resolved. And then the last couple of pages happened. In my defense, anything to do with sisters gets me a little emotional but as I finished the book, I was on a plane to Minnesota for my sister’s wedding. Let’s just say I stared out the window until I got myself under control again. Not saying anyone else will end up an emotional mess like I did, but it is touching. Natalie Anderson did a great job for being a debut author and it’ll be fun to see what else she comes up with.

Going Down In Flames

Sarah Raughley drops us in the middle of this dystopian future, which include phantom (wraith-like beings with destructive power) and 4 teenage girls with elemental powers who are trained to protect the world from the phantoms. When a girl, an Effigie, is killed, a new girl receives those same powers and joins the famous Effigie group. At the start of the story, Maia knows she has been chosen as the new flame Effigie but hasn’t told anyone yet. The Sect (international organization in charge of the Effigies) will find her eventually and force her to reveal herself.img_2127

While the story grabs your attention, I had some trouble with the dialogue, especially in the beginning. Maia had a terrible habit of talking around what she wanted to say. I understand she’s only 16 and is more than a little uncomfortable with being an Effigie, but spit it out girl! Rhys is a Sect member and ultimately the love interest, and scenes between the two of them were difficult to get through. Rhys has a crush on Maia but won’t act on it, and also has an important secret to tell her but kept skirting around it until they were interrupted. Over and over again. We still don’t know what his secret is. Raughley did enough to keep my interested in the story as it went along but she withheld some information and I’m not sure it was necessary. Are those secrets going to play that big of a role in the coming books? I might be more inclined to continue the series if I understood more of what was happening.

I was disappointed with the characters as well. Nothing about them made them more than just stereotypes. Maia is quiet and awkward, Belle is the face of the Effigies but is cold and disinterested in anyone else, Chae Rin has been outcast by the Sect for being too destructive and now occupies her time as an acrobat in the circus, and Lake has PTSD from her last battle so she decides to try her hand at being a pop star. Belle comes the closest to breaking her cold hearted shell and having some character development, but Raughley pulls her back again and doesn’t give us the satisfaction to seeing beyond her exterior.

I’m hoping this will be a trilogy. Three books would be enough for this story. Raughley has done well with a diverse setting but there is a lot of work to be done building the plot. This could be a great story with more character development and continued plot development.

Does anyone remember what Z.O.O. stands for?

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da…welp…typing the tune to John William’s theme from Jurassic Park fails in comparison to listening to it’s majesty. I felt that I should fit in a reference to Michael Crichton’s wildly popular book since so many people talk about it when they talk about James Patterson’s Zoo.zoo-james-patterson

I must confess, this was my first James Patterson novel. The television series looked interesting and I wanted to read the book before binge watching the show. I ended up binge reading the novel in two sittings. It is quickly paced and not at all dense which lends itself to the sort of bingeing that we do in the Age of Netflix.

I will do my best to leave any comparison to Jurassic Park from this review since I really didn’t find the two at all similar in style or execution. The problem is…Jeff Goldblum reads the part of Jackson Oz in my head…

I’m sorry! That is the last of it, I promise!

But seriously, if you like Michael Crichton you will like James Patterson.

In Zoo, we find that animals across the globe have begun to act strangely. Attacks on humans have increased in frequency. Jackson Oz has noticed and tried to warn people but is seen as a crackpot conspiracy theorist by the scientific and biologist communities. As things start spiraling out of control and the bizarre and gruesome attacks become harder to deny, Oz gets video proof and is able to convince the scientists and the government that there is indeed a problem and they need to figure out what is causing it and how to reverse it.

Okay, here is what I liked about the novel: fast pace, characterization, organic plot.

I really can’t think of much that I didn’t like about the novel. It was a little predictable at times but hey, I’m the type of person that watches each episode of Survivor already knowing who got voted off (Google is just too easy to use…)

Da da da da da dada da da..oh never mind…just read the book!

 

 

By Daniel Stump

Physics in Poetry

It’s not often I read a book filled with math and physics and astronomy, it’s also not often a fiction novel makes reading math equations and physics and astronomy an easy and enjoyable experience. Antonia Hayes pulled it off with Relativity. There was an immense amount of research that went into creating this story and while I didn’t understand all of what I read, I appreciated the work Hayes put into her novel.IMG_1057

Ethan Forsythe is an extraordinarily intelligent 12 year old. He can see physics happening around him and doctors can’t explain why. His single mother, Claire, tries to keep life normal for Ethan as life around him grows unpredictable. Ethan’s father, Mark, has been out of the picture since Ethan was an infant but recently comes back to town to deal with some immediate family matters. Ethan is old enough to question his mother extensively about Mark’s absence but Claire doesn’t want to talk about the past when the past has crept of the shadows in a violent manifestation already.
Claire is a fiercely loyal mother even as the wall she built around her heart and Ethan’s well-being is tested with Mark’s arrival. Mark has a lot to answer for about his demons from the past, from both Claire and Ethan.

Antonia Hayes created a dysfunctional family with a dark secret not often touched upon. Ethan was a great characters, with a good balance of boy genius and naïve 12 year old. Claire’s emotional range was all over the place and was hard to keep up with at times. Mark and Ethan’s interactions felt stiff and uncomfortable but not in the “father, son just reunited” sort of way. Hayes does have a smooth and flowing writing style, though. There was enough tension that I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I became more invested in the story than I expected. When Hayes writers her next novel, I’ll be more than happy to give it a read.

Don’t Let Your Smoke Show

Smoke first intrigued me because of the watercolor cover. I’m a sucker for watercolor. The deep blues and purples and reds gave it a romantic feel but the shadowed tower in the background left an ominous and mysterious feeling. The back of the book talked about smoke emitting from people’s bodies in a sinful fashion. Well now I had to read it to find out what all this smoke was about.

Dan Vyleta is an old hand at writing novels and it shows. I haven’t read any of his other work but I imagine it all to be as beautifully written as Smoke is. It did take me a couple IMG_1003of chapters to fully comprehend what the smoke was. But it is a physical manifestation that uses orifices and pores to escape a person’s body. Set during the mid-1800s, religion and aristocracy were held in high standard. Smoke is the physical release of intense emotions and considered “sinful.” Aristocrats didn’t do things as common as “smoke.” But everyone has intense emotions of one kind or another so the aristocrats have poured money into devices that will bind their smoke so it doesn’t manifest on their body.

Vyleta has created a thrilling novel filled with all manner of characters who live in London and its outskirts. There is a love triangle that forms between the three main characters, which I wasn’t crazy about as it formed, but I didn’t hate it by the end either. Vyleta could easily continue this story with Livia, Thomas, and Charlie as they move onward, on the heels of the revolution, but Smoke wrapped up nicely as a standalone novel as well. I was very pleased with my first encounter with Dan Vyleta and will keep a look out for future work.

Inspirational

Georgia is an historical fiction piece about the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. I knew nothing about her and now I feel like I know her as an intimately as myself. Dawn Tripp did an amazing amount of research to get into the head of this iconic artist.IMG_0364

The book moves throughout Georgia’s life as a young woman living in Texas, highlighting her years living with Alfred Stieglitz in New York, to spending her older years in New Mexico. The story depicts the rise and fall of this power couple but through it all, they kept creating. What was most inspiring about this novel for me was how prolific of creators they bother were. For Georgia to paint was like breathing. It naturally happened and when she wasn’t able to it was a physical pain.

The couple inspired each other for better or worse, during good and bad. My fiancé and I both write and I hope that I am an inspiration to him and his creative nature as he is to mine. I fell into this book and was engulfed by Tripp’s beautiful writing and inspirational insight.