Having way too much fun with My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris

Thank you, Quirk Books, for providing me with a review copy!

You are the plucky but penniless heroine in the center of eighteenth-century society, courtship season has begun, and your future is at hand. Will you flip forward fetchingly to find love with the bantering baronet Sir Benedict Granville? Or turn the page to true love with the hardworking, horse-loving highlander Captain Angus McTaggart? Or perhaps race through the chapters chasing a good (and arousing) man gone mad, bad, and scandalous to know, Lord Garraway Craven? Or read on recklessly and take to the Continent as the “traveling companion” of the spirited and adventuresome Lady Evangeline? Or yet some other intriguing fate? Make choices, turn pages, and discover all the daring delights of the multiple (and intertwining!) storylines. And in every path you pick, beguiling illustrations bring all the lust and love to life.

Oh my.

If you’re like me, you have fond memories of all those choose-your-own-adventure books in the kids’ section of the library. But why should kids have all the fun?

My Lady’s Choosing spiffs up the concept with an astonishingly funny romance book for adult readers, full of suspenseful decisions, perilous outcomes, and a plethora of sexy love interests no matter which path you choose.

It’s decision time.

Do you throw caution, decorum, and all other respectable nouns to the wind in order to follow Lady Evangeline into the unknown? If so, turn to page 128.

Or do you value your limbs still being attached to your body and decide to sit this one out? If so, turn to page 71.

You could end up seeking the secrets of an ancient hidden treasure in the deserts of Egypt… or helping a (sexy) kilt-wearing Scotsman at an orphanage in the Highlands… or trying to figure out the secrets of a decrepit manor on the moors with a brooding, bad-boy lord and master… The possibilities are endless!

I had a blast flipping my way through this delightful book. I went through three different story variations — and cheated a bit by reading a few of the random pages in between. I know there are many more main paths I could follow, but at this point I’m holding off on the rest and planning to read them in bits and pieces when I need something to lift my spirits.

The writing is frothy and melodramatic, with plenty of humor and sarcasm — it’s like the authors are making sure that we readers know that they’re in on the joke. The language includes some of the best and worst of overwrought romance writing:

He senses your soul stirring betwixt your bosom.

“I sense your soul stirring betwixt your bosom,” he growls.

In answer, you make love to him again, with all the rushed intensity of spirits wrongfully dispatched from the mortal coil trying to communicate with the living from the great beyond.

Then there are the various descriptors of body parts, such as “womanly orbs”, “the moonstone of your sex”, and lots of talk about the Highlander’s “caber”. Or lines like this:

Mac’s own faithful steed strains at the flap of his kilt, ready to take you on as far a journey as you wish.

This book is really and truly a great time. But every once in a while a wee bit of social commentary sneaks in:

Do you accompany your tyrannical employer to the fundraising ball for the Society for the Protection of Widows and Orphans of the War? The company may be atrocious, but balls are fun! If so, turn to page 67.

Or do you run away from Lady Craven, only to find yourself with no other means of survival than to sell your young body into the cold, cruel night? If so, do not go to any other place in this book, for you will be utterly doomed and dead from syphilis within a year.

Sorry. This may be a choosable-path adventure, but as a penniless young unmarried woman at the start of the nineteenth century, your options are somewhat limited. They will get better, though! Turn to page 67.

You have to appreciate risqué romance and quirky humor to really enjoy this book… but if you’ve read this far in my rambling review, I suspect you do! Pick up a copy to enjoy on your own, or read it with a bunch of girlfriends when you want a night in, maybe with a few glasses of wine to go with. Good times, either way!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel
Authors: Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: April 3, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Humor/romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Audiobook Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

 

 
The village of Chilbury in Kent is about to ring in some changes.

This is a delightful novel of wartime gumption and village spirit that will make your heart sing out.

Kent, 1940.

In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.

But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.

Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.

Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

What an uplifting, engaging, utterly delightful read (and listen)!

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is set in the small English village of Chilbury in 1940, as the ladies of the town try to find purpose and solace while the men are at war. When the official church choir is closed down due to a lack of men, spirits sink even further, until the women decide to sing on their own. Stemming from there, relationships are strengthened as the women find a new source of courage. By standing up together, they realize they can make a difference, and each, in her own way, starts to move beyond the boundaries of her former life and take a chance on something new.

Told through journal entries, newspaper clippings, and letters, we get to know the main characters through their own voices, which is a wonderful touch. Young Kitty Winthrop, age 13 (almost 14! as she likes to point out) is an aspiring singer with a childish crush on an older boy, which she allows to dominate her romantic dreams. Kitty’s sister Venetia, age 18, is the town beauty who likes nothing better than flirting and toying with attractive men, making them fall in love with her and then pushing them aside once they do. However, when Venetia meets the mysterious Mr. Sleator, an artist who moves to Chilbury along with many other evacuees, she sense something more in him than merely this week’s fling. For Mrs. Tilling, a woman widowed years earlier whose only son is now fighting in the war, the ladies’ choir offers a chance to create beauty and harmony, and helps her come out of her shy shell and become a leading force in the community. And then there’s Mrs. Paltrey, a midwife with a heart of stone, who schemes to make it rich no matter what, and no matter whose lives may be shattered along the way.

It’s moving and fascinating to see how these and other characters grow and change over the course of the book. Venetia in particular is an absorbing character. Shallow and self-centered when we first meet her, she grows into a woman of substance over the months we know her, as she falls in love, suffers great loss, and emerges as a hero at a time of devastation. Likewise, Kitty, while still a young woman, learns to appreciate those around her and see people more realistically, while also realizing that even someone of her young age can make a difference.

These characters’ stories, as well as those of other women of the village, weave together to create a portrait of community and courage. We don’t go to war; we stay behind and see how this small village is affected by the war, and how all are changed by it, for good or for ill.

I loved the audiobook version, which features a cast of voice actors to represent the main narrative voices of the story. Hearing the women’s stories told in their own words, each with a voice that felt specific to that character’s true self, was a really special way to appreciate the story. In this particular case, I highly encourage giving the audio a try — it’s a wonderful experience. As an added bonus, in key points in the story, we hear choral music in the background which ties in with what the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is singing in that moment. It’s not overdone, certainly not enough to interrupt the flow or get annoying. Instead, at crucial moments, when a song is particularly meaningful in relation to the events being portrayed, we hear a lovely women’s choir providing an added bit of atmostphere.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a book group pick, and yet another one that I might have skipped over if not for the group. When it was first selected I was skeptical: The title made me think that it would be a very church-y sort of book, perhaps a little saccharine and cloying. Well, once again I’m glad to not have judged a book by its title! The choir itself is the framework of the story, but really, the book is about so much more. It’s a portrait of the courage and strength a community can find by supporting one another through the worst of times, and shows how each woman emerges as a better version of herself when given the opportunity to step forward and stand up.

Highly recommended!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
Author: Jennifer Ryan
Narrated by:  Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogen Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, Mike Grady
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: February 14, 2017
Length (print): 384 pages
Length (audio): 11 hours, 34 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: Discount Armageddon (InCryptid, #1) by Seanan McGuire

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance.

Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…

My Thoughts:

So… you may have noticed that I’ve been reading a lot of Seanan McGuire lately. I got totally obsessed with the October Daye series, and before I knew it, I’d read the 11 books in the series straight through. (Okay, with breaks for eating and sleeping, but otherwise, no stopping!)

Given how much I loved that series, I thought I’d try the author’s OTHER urban fantasy series, InCryptid. First impression after reading book #1, Discount Armageddon? A) Seanan McGuire can do no wrong; and B) this series is promising to be altogether lighter and sillier than the Toby Daye books. Just take a look at the cheese-a-rific cover image — if that doesn’t scream “don’t take this too seriously”, I don’t know what does.

The basics: In Discount Armageddon, we meet Verity Price, wannabe professional tango dancer and for-real deadly monster hunter. But also a monster protector — the Price family split from the Covenant generations earlier, because the Prices believed in studying and preserving “cryptids”, while the Covenant just believes in wiping them out. Verity works as a cocktail waitress in a strip club while she’s not chasing creatures across the rooftops of Manhattan, and gets embroiled in a dangerous quest to locate the last living dragon and prevent the bad guys from treating her friends as human (or non-human) sacrifices.

The plot is fast and clever, Verity is tough and funny, and I really liked the surprising ways that ballroom dancing skills can come in handy when engaged in hand-to-hand (or foot-to-chin) combat. The writing is full of McGuire’s trademark humor, and the banter (and constant encounters with weird creatures) keeps the book moving right along, start to finish.

Based on Discount Armageddon, I’d say that this isn’t a series that demands deep emotional investment (unlike how Toby rips out my heart from time to time). And that’s fine. Sometimes, I need light, fluffy adventures. And talking mice. Did I mention the talking mice?

Awesome.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Discount Armageddon (InCryptid series, book #1)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 6, 2012
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Library

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

 

Carol Evers is a woman with a dark secret. She has died many times . . . but her many deaths are not final: They are comas, a waking slumber indistinguishable from death, each lasting days.

Only two people know of Carol’s eerie condition. One is her husband, Dwight, who married Carol for her fortune, and—when she lapses into another coma—plots to seize it by proclaiming her dead and quickly burying her . . . alive. The other is her lost love, the infamous outlaw James Moxie. When word of Carol’s dreadful fate reaches him, Moxie rides the Trail again to save his beloved from an early, unnatural grave.

And all the while, awake and aware, Carol fights to free herself from the crippling darkness that binds her—summoning her own fierce will to survive. As the players in this drama of life and death fight to decide her fate, Carol must in the end battle to save herself.

What a strange book! The concept is pretty cool. Carol is a wealthy, well-loved woman, esteemed by the townsfolk of Harrows, but her husband fakes affection while yearning for her money. Dwight knows her deepest secret — that every once in a while, with no predictable pattern or symptoms, Carol falls into a coma indistinguishable from death. When Carol’s closest friend dies, she realizes she should take someone else into her confidence, in case she should have an episode while Dwight is away or too ill to intercede, but before she can share her secret, she goes under again, and Dwight launches his dastardly plan.

But all is not lost. Carol’s faithful maid alerts the man Carol once loved, the outlaw James Moxie. Moxie sets out on the dreaded, dangerous Trail to rescue Carol before she can be buried alive. But Moxie doesn’t ride alone — he’s pursued by a deranged, deadly assassin known as Smoke, who seems unstoppable and completely devoid of humanity. It’s a race against time, as James tries to reach Carol, Dwight tries to get Carol buried before she wakes, and Smoke keeps on coming and coming and coming.

There are some horrific moments, especially the scenes with Smoke. I won’t tell you why he has the name that he has, but trust me, it’s well-deserved and awful. As James rides to Carol’s rescue, we learn more about their sad history together, and meanwhile, we accompany Carol as she lies helpless in what she refers to as Howltown, the coma world she inhabits in which she’s aware of what’s going on around her, but unable to speak, move, or save herself from the terrible fate Dwight has planned for her.

The writing gives a classic Western twang to everything — gritty and profane and swaggering, with hints of violence and danger all at the same time.

It once was he rode into town and people blanched. Men avoided his eyes and women turned their backs, hoping not to be seen. It once was the domesticated dogs of the Trail-towns barked at him from afar. It once was he was whole, he was awesome, he was dread.

But he had no way of knowing that his loose lips, wet still with whiskey, had allowed powerful words to escape, words that would travel, mostly innocently, all the way to Sheriff Opal, who would consider it very odd indeed that someone with as many bedrooms as Dwight Evers would keep his dead bride in a cold, drafty storm room in a cellar.

There’s a difference between bad and evil, John Bowie once told her, his voice slurred with brandy. Bad is when you ignore the one you love. But evil is when you know exactly what that person wants, what means most to them, and you figure out how to take it away.

I liked the swear-words and cusses and exclamations the characters all use, such as “hell’s heaven” and “heaven’s hell”, and once (my favorite), “Lord of all hogs and pink piglets…”!

The drama mounts as the book progresses, as the stakes get higher and higher. We see the local sheriff trying to balance suspicion and facts, the maid who loves Carol drinking herself silly over her horror, Moxie’s reluctant return to his days of inspiring awe and terror in all he meets, Dwight’s mounting desperation, and Smoke’s unrelenting pursuit of Moxie and torment of anyone who crosses his path. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the storytelling and the writing itself, but once I did, I was hooked.

I’m not usually much of a fan of the Western genre, but this odd book ended up appealing to me in an unexpected sort of way. I liked the grimness and the feel of listening to an old-timey story about legendary figures of a by-gone time. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but I understand that Unbury Carol is quite a different feel from his other books (and yes, I know I need to read Bird Box!).

Overall, I found Unbury Carol really weird and off-beat, but in a good, creepy way.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Unbury Carol
Author: Josh Malerman
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Western/horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Feedback (Newsflesh, #4) by Mira Grant


There are two sides to every story…

We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we unleashed something horrifying and unstoppable. The infection spread leaving those afflicted with a single uncontrollable impulse: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, a team of scrappy underdog reporters relentlessly pursue the facts while competing against the brother-and-sister blog superstars, the Masons.

Surrounded by the infected, and facing more insidious forces working in the shadows, they must hit the presidential campaign trail and uncover dangerous truths. Or die trying.

Feedback is a full-length Newsflesh novel that overlaps the events of the acclaimed first novel in the series, Feed, and offers a new entry point to this thrilling and treacherous world.

Okay, first things first: DO NOT pick up Feedback thinking that you can start the Newsflesh books at this point. I would absolutely not consider Feedback “a new entry point”, as the blurb says. Instead, it’s a story set within the world of Newsflesh, telling a story that parallels the story of Feed (book #1 in the series). A knowledge of the world of Newsflesh is required in order to enjoy Feedback… and Feedback will absolutely spoil the original trilogy for you. So there — we’ve gotten the warnings and disclaimers taken care of right from the start!

So basically, the deal is this: Feedback starts at about the same point in time as Feed, 20 years after the Rising, just as the presidential campaign is kicking off. The Masons — stars of the original Newsflesh trilogy — are the stars of the blogging world, and have just gotten the sweet gig of following the Republican candidate expected to grab the nomination, and maybe even the White House. Meanwhile, in Feedback, we meet Ash North, an Irish expatriate who’s an “Irwin” — a daredevil blogger who goes out in the field and pokes zombies — along with her team. Ash and company would love to be anything close to as successful as the Masons, but they remain in the crowded field of lesser bloggers until they get chosen to accompany one of the Democratic candidates, Governor Susan Kilburn.

Ash is a sassy redhead, married platonically to her partner Ben and in love with her other partner Audrey. Along with their techie/makeup guru Mat, they hit the road with the campaign, and immediately find themselves in all sorts of horrifying and life-threatening disaster situations. With lots of zombies. And death. And zombies. And carnage. And, you know, zombies.

I was a little nervous about starting Feedback after reading some fairly negative reviews… but you know what? I liked it! While Feedback includes enough context to explain the origins of the zombie Rising and what’s happened since, it doesn’t feel like a repeat. It’s pretty cool getting another take on the events of the presidential campaign, as seen from the more limited viewpoint of Ash and friends. Ash, Ben, and Audrey stumble pretty quickly across similar clues to those unearthed by Georgia and Shaun in the first three books, but they don’t get as deeply involved in the ghastly conspiracies at play behind the scenes of the US political system.

The plot moves along quickly, and it was interesting to note the parallel events here, and to line those up with the events we know about from Feed and the later books. I liked Ash well enough to enjoy her company, and thought her relationships with Ben and Audrey were unusual enough to keep things fresh and different.

As a fan of The Walking Dead, I will mention that there was a section toward the end of the book that felt a bit too Negan-ish and Savior-y for me… but I suppose the idea of a strong, well-armed man taking over and setting up his own society, with himself at the center, isn’t that unusual for a post-apocalypse tale.

As always, Mira Grant’s writing is sparkly and shiny, alternating between describing scenes of incredibly disturbing zombie attacks (and yes, there are a few truly gruesome, terrible attacks in this book) and applying humor even to tense situations, so I never had to go too long without a laugh (or a snort or a chuckle)… in between wincing in horror, cringing at the gore, and being struck by the devastation to the characters’ souls.

Some light and not-so-light snippets:

“Hello, and welcome to the Huntsville Convention Center,” said the attendant. “We’re so very sorry that you’ve been exposed to a biohazard. Please, pick your preferred scent profile and drop the tabe into your shower as you enter. Your shampoo and body wash selections will be set to match.”

The all-terrain vehicle trundled through the woods like an armored bear: fast enough to be better than walking, bulky enough to make driving a continuous adventure, and sturdy enough to give no fucks when I overcompensated for the slopes and side-swiped a tree…

(what I pictured while reading those lines… )

I hoped [he] and the others had had a moment — just a moment, because sometimes a moment was everything in the world — to call their loved ones and say they were sorry, that they’d always known it would end like this, but that they’d been hoping it wouldn’t end quite so soon. There were always things left unsaid, undone, and I wanted, desperately, for them to have had the time to say at least a few of them.

Our part in this tale was done, and we were getting the hell out. Leave the lies to the living and the truth to the dead. Nothing ever stays buried for long.

 

I’m really glad that I read Feedback, and recommend it — but only if you’ve already read the other Newsflesh books. I love the world that Mira Grant has created, and reading Feedback allowed me to stay in it just a little bit longer.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Feedback
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Length: 560 pages
Genre: Horror/science fiction
Source: Purchased

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega, #5) by Patricia Briggs

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In her bestselling Alpha and Omega series, Patricia Briggs “spins tales of werewolves, coyote shifters, and magic and, my, does she do it well” (USATODAY.com). Now mated werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham face a threat like no other–one that lurks too close to home…

They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

My Thoughts:

I love this series, and I love Anna and Charles as characters. I love their complicated relationship — as husband and wife, and as mated werewolves. I love their pack, and I love their interactions with Charles’s father Bran, the ruler of all werewolves of North America.

Despite my undying love for the Alpha & Omega books, Burn Bright felt a little weaker to me than some of the other books in the series. Perhaps it’s just that the story took a bit too long to really build momentum, or maybe it’s because Anna and Charles have been together long enough that their relationship here seems like more of a given, rather than something to be explored. In any case, while I enjoyed the story and my “reunion” with these beloved characters, the plot and pacing felt like a little bit less than what I’ve come to expect from this outstanding series.

Side note (without spoilers!): There’s a certain conversation early on in the book that has fans of this series (and the Mercy-verse as a whole) very up in arms. Yes, I also found it upsetting… but I guess I’m busy compartmentalizing and deciding that I’m going to ignore it, because otherwise it will make me feel differently about people I don’t want to feel differently about. Ugh, why???

Okay, beyond “the conversation” controversy riling up Briggs’s readers…

I raced through Burn Bright in about 24 hours, was very hooked by the end, and will absolutely read each and every book in the Alpha & Omega series (and Mercy Thompson too) for as long as Patricia Briggs chooses to keep writing them… which I hope will be for a long, long time.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Burn Bright
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Audiobook Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

A word of warning right from the start: There will be some spoiler-ish discussion later on in this review — but I’ll put a big spoiler warning on top when we get there!

 


Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

My Thoughts:

I was completely engaged throughout my listening experience, and thought both Ari and Dante were charming as hell. The story is touching and emotional, with lots of humor as well. At the same time, I realized at the end that the story I thought I was listening to was not in fact the story I was getting. I’ll explain — bear with me!

Ari and Dante are both of Mexican descent, living with their parents in El Paso, Texas. The story is set in the late 80s, which is important to keep in mind in terms of situations within Ari’s family as well as societal norms and prejudices of the time. Both boys are only children — Dante in fact, Ari in terms of circumstance, as his siblings are significantly older and he’s the only one living at home. Both sets of parents are loving and supportive, but in Dante’s case, this is tempered by the walls of silence he experiences around the two forbidden subjects in his home: his father’s wartime experiences in Vietnam, and anything and everything to do with his incarcerated older brother.

Ari loves his parents and they love him, but he finds them unknowable, as their secrets create barriers. Ari is an angry young man with no  friends, but something in him connects to Dante from their very first meeting, in the summer when both boys are fifteen. Dante is friendly and outspoken and honest, and he likes to talk about everything. Something about his willingness to accept Ari for who he is forces Ari to see Dante as a friend. They’re soon inseparable, connected and honest and supportive in ways that Ari has never experienced.

Here’s where I’m getting into spoiler territory, so look away if you don’t want to know more!

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Dante’s feelings for Ari go way beyond friendship. As the boys mature over the course of the book, Dante is pretty forthright about where he stands — he’s interested in kissing boys, not girls, and no, it’s not just a phase. Finally, he confesses his feelings to Ari, but Ari isn’t interested in boys — or Dante — in that way.

And that’s where things stand for most of the book, until close to the end, as Ari’s emotions and anger threaten to finally get the best of him. By the end of the book, the walls between Ari and his parents have started to come down, and his parents have started to open up to Ari about their family’s past and all the secrets between them. Finally, his parents confront Ari and tell him that they know that he’s in love with Dante. After tears and a huge emotional release, Ari acknowledges this too.

And I mostly felt… huh? I did not see that coming.

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that I thought I was reading a different book than the book it turned out to be. And here’s what I meant by that: The book is told through Ari’s first-person narration. We get to hear this thoughts on his life and his family, on his frustrations and anger, and on his friendship with Dante. And there’s just nothing that I heard that made me feel that what he felt for Dante went beyond friendship. He talks about Dante’s good looks, but not in a way to make me think there was physical attraction. He talks about the closeness he feels for Dante, but I didn’t have the impression that there was romantic love behind it.

So, I thought I was reading a book about how friendship — real, true, deep, strong friendship — could be possible between a straight boy and a gay boy. And I thought that was really cool. So different, so refreshing. What a great way to break down barriers!

And I have no problem with reading a book about a romance between two teen boys. Coming out stories, first love stories — done well, these can be so sweet and moving, and it’s so important to have these stories available in the YA market. But that’s just not what I thought this book was going to be!

Don’t get me wrong — I loved the book. The writing is marvelous, and I loved the characters. I thought it was so interesting to see how the boys’ Mexican heritage came into play in different ways, and to see how having a loving home isn’t the magical answer to all the problems in a young man’s life. Given the setting in the 80s, it’s also very clearly a different world than the one we live in. Being gay in the time period of the book is something to be hidden, something dangerous, and not an identity to be worn openly and proudly. My heart absolutely broke for Dante when he ended up in the hospital after being on the receiving end of a major beating simply because of being spotted kissing another boy.

End of Spoilers!

Still, I ended the book feeling a little let down. The ending is romantic and hopeful, but it just didn’t match my expectations for where the plot was going. I have to wonder whether part of this is due to listening to the audiobook rather than reading the print book.

The audiobook is amazing, thanks to the insane talents of LIN-MANUEL FREAKIN’ MIRANDA as the narrator. He breathes life into the characters, giving personality to Ari, Dante, and their parents with drama and flair. I did have a hard time in spots keeping track of the dialogue, as there are lengthy exchanges full of quick back-and-forth comments and quips, and despite the different voices given to the characters, I occasionally got lost.

In terms of why I expected the story to go in a different direction (as described in my spoilery section above), I wonder if I’d been reading a printed edition of the book whether I would have absorbed more of the subtext and nuance of the language. The writing is really lovely, and being inside Ari’s head is a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions — but by listening to the audiobook, perhaps I didn’t focus and really spend enough time with the words that build the story. Does that make any sense?

In any case, I really and truly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly… despite feeling both puzzled and a little out of sorts about how it all works out. I’m full of admiration for the author, and will definitely be seeking out more of his books.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Narrated by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 1, 2012
Length (print): 359 pages
Length (audio): 7 hours, 29 minutes
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Audible download

 

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Pride and Prometheus


Pride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

My thoughts:

The classic/monster mash-up may seem played out by now, but I promise you that Pride and Prometheus is something quite different, and definitely worth reading.

This isn’t a case of an author putting otherworldly creatures — zombies, werewolves, vampires — into an existing story. Sure, those are fun, but once the charm of the gimmick wears off, so does the entertainment value.

Instead, Pride and Prometheus is a continuation of two stories, Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein. The author takes two narratives, and imagines what might have happened to these familiar characters if their paths crossed.

We begin more than a decade after the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mary Bennet, at age 32, has mellowed and grown since we last saw her. She’s learned more about herself and others. From the scorn and dismissal she experienced as a teen, she’s learned to be more thoughtful, to understand how her lectures and self-righteousness come across to others, and as a result, she’s become a young woman who’s more self-contained. She knows her own mind, but imposes less on others. Meanwhile, Kitty too remains unmarried, and the sisters live at home with their aging parents, growing closer to one another but neither particularly happy about their approaching spinsterhood.

Meanwhile, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his Creature picks up soon after the events in Frankenstein. The Creature has sworn vengeance on Victor, threatening to destroy everyone he holds dear, unless he makes a mate for him so he’ll no longer be so alone in the world. In Pride and Prometheus, we follow Victor as he travels to England to try to escape his suffering — and we also follow the Creature, who pursues Victor relentlessly.

Mary has developed an interest in science, and when she meets Victor in a social setting, they seem to hit it off. He responds to her interest in his work, and she’s enamored of his intellect, his scientific curiosity and daring, and his treatment of her as if she were both intelligent and interesting. But with the Creature stalking Victor, things soon take a dark turn, and Mary becomes embroiled in the drama of Victor’s attempts to keep his promise to the Creature, while at the same time developing sympathy for the Creature and becoming convinced that he too is a soul worthy caring for.

The author’s writing approach in Pride and Prometheus is just so clever and well-done. In alternating chapters, we see the story from Mary, Victor, and the Creature’s points-of-view. As the narrator changes, so too does the writing style. The Mary chapters, told in 3rd person, have an Austen-esque tone, and the Victor/Creature chapters, told in first-person, have the gothic feel of Mary Shelley.

Familiarity with both original works — Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein — is helpful if you truly want to enjoy Pride and Prometheus, although maybe not completely essential. The story would still be entertaining, I suppose, without having read the original works, but I’m not sure the reader would get as much out of it. For me, it’s been many, many years since I read Frankenstein, and I realized soon after starting this book that I needed a refresher. Of course, there are tons of synopses available online, which helped, but reading Pride and Prometheus piqued my interest in going back and reading Frankenstein again.

Pride and Prometheus stands on its own as a creative, moving, and engaging story, and it’s also an absolute treat for anyone with a fondness for the original works that inspired it. With terrific writing that manages to capture the flavors of the originals while also telling a story that’s new, startling, and compelling, Pride and Prometheus is a great read that I hope will find an appreciative audience. I know I really enjoyed reading it… and I can’t wait to find other people who’ve read it too, so we can talk about it!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Pride and Prometheus
Author: John Kessel
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: February 13, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Speculative/science fiction/classics
Source: Library

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Children’s Books: Two terrific girl power books by Chelsea Clinton

 

 

Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them. These thirteen American women certainly did not take no for an answer.

They persisted.

If you’re looking for easy-to-follow kids’ books to empower and inspire, check out this pair of picture books written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexander Boiger.

Each book offers a selection of profiles of women who persisted — women who were told “no” or faced major hurdles, whether legal or cultural or physical. Each of these women followed their dreams, and made their marks on history by achieving something that no one thought possible.

She Persisted tells the stories of thirteen American women, among them such luminaries as Harriet Tubman, Florence Griffith Joyner, Sonia Sotomayor, and Sally Ride. Each gets her own two-page spread, with images lovingly drawn to show each woman’s progress and achievements, and often, a childhood image to show where she started. A brief, easily digestible paragraph tells each woman’s story. What I especially loved is that for each, there’s a quote, so the young reader will get to hear each woman speak in her own words.

 

Wonderful selections include:

“I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.” (Sonia Sotomayor)

“I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.” (Nellie Bly)

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” (Helen Keller)

 

It’s not always easy being a girl — anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places. There are countries where it’s hard for girls to go to school and where women need their husbands’ permission to get a passport or even to leave the house. And all over the world, girls are more likely to be told to be quiet, to sit down, to have smaller dreams.

 

Don’t listen to those voices. These thirteen women from across the world didn’t.

They persisted.

In She Persisted Around the World, Clinton chooses thirteen women from all over the globe, all of whom made a difference against the odds. Highlights include Malala Yousafzai, J. K. Rowling, and Marie Curie — but really, they’re all wonderful. The Around the World book follows the same format as the first book, and once again, I really loved the pages with the quotes.

“We are tired of having a ‘sphere’ doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is ‘unwomanly’… We must be ourselves at all risks.” (Kate Sheppard)

“I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it.” (Wangari Maathai)

“The more I did, the more I could do, the more I wanted to do, the more I saw needed to be done.” (Leymah Gbowee)

I do have one complaint about these books, and it feels almost petty to bring it up… but I found it odd and kind of frustrating that no dates are provided for any of the stories. I’m not sure how young readers would know where these women fit into American and world history without providing some sort of timeline or dates as context.

Other than that, I think these are wonderful additions to the world of children’s literature. Both books are lovely, thanks to the clear, intelligent writing and the colorful, eye-catching, girl-positive illustrations. In some ways I loved the Around the World book more, simply because it introduced me to the names, faces, and stories of women whom I hadn’t heard of before. But really, I do recommend both, and hope that lots of parents and teachers will make these books available to the girls and boys they love, nurture, and inspire.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: The Flight Attendant

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She’s a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing. When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, already counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police–she’s a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home–Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it’s too late to come clean-or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did?

My Thoughts:

I’m usually a big fan of Chris Bohjalian’s novels, but The Flight Attendant was only so-so for me. Maybe it’s the premise itself: A woman with a history of drinking until she blacks out wakes up in a strange bed beside a dead body. I feel like I’ve seen this before, either in movies or TV shows. And maybe it’s just the fact that I’m not a big fan of thrillers, so it takes a really unusual and exceptional one to draw me in.

In any case, the story was engaging and kept my attention, but it still felt like a fairly flat reading experience. I had a hard time sympathizing with Cassie. If ever there’s someone who could be described as her own worst enemy, Cassie is it. Between drinking, sleeping around, and lying, it’s no wonder Cassie finds herself in a world of trouble. The only surprise is that it’s taken this long for her drinking problem to get her into something that can’t be laughed off or talked away.

I found the espionage aspects of the novel somewhat impenetrable. The details didn’t really come together for me, although I suppose if I’d been more interested, I could have tried harder to follow the ins and outs. Still, it’s really Cassie’s story that matters, and I followed all of that just fine. The ending was a bit pat, despite a few surprises.

Chris Bohjalian is an amazing author and I’ve loved so many of his books. This one, however, was mostly a miss for me, although I can see it being of much greater appeal to readers who really enjoy the thriller genre.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Flight Attendant
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: March 13, 2018
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save