Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











From Goodreads: Every time a lad came fowling on the St Kilda stacs, he went home less of a boy and more of a man. If he went home at all, that is…

In the summer of 1727, a group of men and boys are put ashore on a remote sea stac to harvest birds for food. No one returns to collect them. Why? Surely nothing but the end of the world can explain why they have been abandoned to endure storms, starvation and terror. And how can they survive, housed in stone and imprisoned on every side by the ocean?

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Told in the third person, this novel follows Quilliam and the group of boys and men who journey to the stacs of St. Kilda for what they believe will be between 1-3 weeks at most, only to find themselves marooned on the inhospitable rocky island for what turns out to be nine months. Nine months of thinking their families were raptured and that they were forgotten; nine months of sleeping in caves, scrounging for food once the birds migrate for the winter, and losing hope of ever leaving the island alive. If you’re looking for another Lord of the Flies type read, know right now that this is not it. Written for ages ten and up, I, unfortunately, don’t feel this novel would hold the attention of an MG or YA reader–not a lot happens, the language is difficult to decipher, and the characters tend to blend together. However, for a lover of historical fiction, one interested in the now abandonded island of Hirta in Scotland and the people who once went fowling on the stacs, this novel lends some insight and can actually be great fun, although slowgoing at times. Yes, it’s a bit of a hard read, but again, with the right amount of interest and insight going in, I think an adult reader could and would find this an intriguing tale.

It is 1727 in Scotland. From there, the reader ought to know that the way of speaking is archaic. Going into the novel with this in mind, and the knowledge that the Scottish dialect can be difficult to understand here and there will help the reader navigate some of the discussions held within the novel. Likewise, going in with knowledge of the stacs, St. Kilda, Hirta, and the fact that a group of fowlers did indeed find themselves left on the island for 9 months lends credibility and a sense of understanding to the read. I finished the novel before looking up any of these things, as I didn’t realize they truly existed until reading the author’s afterward, which suddenly spiked my interest tenfold, and is something I wish I had noticed was written down at the bottom of the book cover–or perhaps had been noted in the synopsis. Upon watching some videos and learning the truth behind what the characters in this novel experienced, and being able to literally see the type of inhospitable atmosphere the characters found themselves in, the novel was suddenly brought to life in a way that simply reading had not done for me (note to reader–the picture on the cover is indeed a stac and not just an embellished picture as I originally thought). Suddenly, I found that the novel was actually quite intriguing after the fact, and it made my slog through to the end, to find out why no one came for them, much more enjoyable. Because I went into this novel blind and not realizing it’s historical fiction, that the stacs and Hirta are real places, and that the events transcribed, while fictional, follow many a truth, the novel was not as enjoyable as it could have been for me. So again, I think it is really important that readers familiarize themselves with these places prior to going into the read, and below, I’ve included a video I watched on YouTube that really made me understand where the characters lived and where they were marooned on the stacs. It will make your read all the better. Three stars (which probably would have been higher had I gone into it with a different understanding and mindset).

I was provided an ARC of this novel by Flatiron Books and MacMillan through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Where the World Ends releases tomorrow, Dec. 3, 2019.

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Seriously–watch the video below! St. Kilda and the stacs are so amazing!

 



From Goodreads: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

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Oh man. Wow. This novel. I was swept up and away with Ng’s storyline and characters as she brought them to life through the pages of this novel. I felt so much anger and rage as I read, towards Elena for her intrusiveness, towards Mia and her secretiveness, and even towards the McCulloughs for not understanding Bebe Chow, and Bebe Chow for her own plight… but I also felt heartache for each in tow as I read, and part of that stems from Ng’s ability to create a realistic and vivid portrayal of the human soul, and partly because being adopted myself, and not knowing my birth family, helped me to feel this one on a personal level.

Like the child in question, May Ling Chow, I was given up for adoption to a loving family who wanted me more than life itself, and they gave me an amazing life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise had. I was blessed; I love my mom and dad more than I could ever express, and the McCullough’s are very much like my parents. So when it came to the great debate within this novel, whether or not Chinese-American May Ling should stay with her adoptive wealthy family or go back to her mother, a woman who admittedly could not care for May Ling, hence handing her over to the fire department, I immediately took the side of the McCulloughs, just like the Richardson’s do. But you know it’s not so black and white, and as Ng personified both sides of the case and showed just how much love Bebe Chow had in order to give up her own child so she could survive, it became clear to me that Bebe, now in a better position to care for her daughter, May Ling, should indeed have her, and I found myself now leaning towards Mia Warren’s side.  But how do you take away a child from her adopted family after a year of living with them? I became torn, so torn, and Ng’s masterpiece definitely jerked me around and made me question everything, including my own lack of desire to know anything about my biological family, and I’m just so glad I’m not the judge who had to make the ultimate decision for May Ling’s fate, one that would either crush the MuCulloughs or Bebe Chow. How can anyone make that choice?

The characters and the plight of them all were so real in Ng’s beautifully written novel… they touched my soul, and I am absolutely impressed with this story, especially the multiple revelations that crop up throughout concerning who the characters really are, and the secrets they keep. This one just blew me away; a must-read for sure! Five stars.

I initially borrowed this novel from the library, but then bought it for my own personal library, as it is a must for my shelves.

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From Goodreads: 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.

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Holy… holy…. wow. I don’t even have words right now for how absolutely phenomenal this novel is. The very first sentence pulls you in, and by the time you get to the end… whoa.

When I read, and re-read the opening two sentences of this novel, I knew it would be amazing: “Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrel shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.” And as I started to read, I found myself suddenly in the small town of Beartown, not unlike the small town I grew up in so long ago, and as Backman begins his exquisite exposition, I suddenly could see these characters, hear these characters, feel their feelings, understand their thoughts, and the world of Beartown became my world as well. Now, I’m not a sports fan. I have never watched an iced-hockey game, and I’m sure the games we played in gym class certainly don’t count. I don’t care for football, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the men’s or women’s team that’s playing… I don’t generally watch. So I did approach this novel with some trepidation, because if I don’t care for sports, and I know nothing of iced-hockey, will I really enjoy the novel? For me, the answer was a resounding YES, and I believe that has solely to do with the fact that Backman is a master storyteller. Had he not had that gift, I am sure this novel wouldn’t have been for me, but all that aside, this is definitely a novel for me, and I think, honestly, it’s a novel for all teens and beyond. As a 36-year-old female, this novel resonated with me because it brings to life the characters across all age groups–from the 11-year-old brother to the 70 something-year-old coach–and it’s attention to detail and real-life love, hate, and betrayal make it a poignant read.

With the fate of the town riding on the backs of the junior hockey team, we meet a plethora of characters who all have a stake in the upcoming semi-final match, and the true beauty of friendship, loyalty, and the tenuous strings that connect us all are tested beyond measure as Maya, the young, beautiful 15-year-old daughter of Peter, the general manager of the Beartown hockey club, is brutally and savagely raped by the #1 hockey star favored to bring home the championship title–a title the entire town needs to breathe life back into it and create jobs for the many who find themselves laid off, and the divide between the haves and the have-nots growing larger year after year. Because the novel does deal with rape and the after-effects on the main characters and the town, I wanted to point that out specifically, because it could be a trigger for some perspective readers, and it is also the catalyst that drives the entire novel from around the 50% mark all the way to the end. The first half of the novel, I’d say, is more so exposition so that Backman has time to really portray the town and its people, fleshing them out and making them real, with hopes, dreams, aspirations, and the difficult choices they must make in order to live both with themselves and those around them; we all know people like Amat, Benji, Maya, Peter, Sune, and Kevin, just to name a few of the key characters in the novel; there are many more. But Backman does such an amazing job creating the many characters that I did not have trouble keeping them all straight, and their stories wove together to create this beautiful tale of humanity and how far we’ll go to help others and do what is right, even when that means our own lives, wants, and needs may be damaged beyond repair.

And the ending, well, let me just say I was playing detective throughout the entire novel trying to figure out which teenager would take the double-barreled shotgun into the forest late in March, who’s forehead he/she would place it against, and his/her reasoning for pulling the trigger, because nothing is cut and dry in this novel, and all of the characters can, and do, have a reason to pull that trigger. I was on pins and needles as the ending approached, especially once I pinpointed the who and why. This is a beautiful, raw look into the heart of small-town America and a world where sports can and will drive people to do the despicable to protect themselves and what they love, but it’s also a world where people will give up everything they’ve ever yearned for in order to do what is right, and that, right there, is the crux of what it means to be human. Five amazing stars.

I initially borrowed this novel from the library, but then bought it for my own personal library, as it is a must for my shelves.

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From Goodreads: Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

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I’ve never read a novel that was written in poetic free verse before, but let me tell you, this was wonderful! Woodson paints pictures in the reader’s mind that allows us to see and feel alongside her in ways prose wouldn’t do it justice, and I was enamored by Woodson’s story as she pieced it together for us. It’s a quick read, one that details Woodson’s early life living in both Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. The beautiful descriptions made me feel like I was there, smelling the cooking, sitting on the steps, turning the earth with “Daddy,” smelling the dirt, catching the fireflies, clamoring around the telephone to hear mother speak, visiting the jail… I believe this is one novel that all need to read; it’s accessible from middle grade onward, and will touch both child and adult alike, and to give yourself a real treat, listen to the audio version, which Woodson reads herself, to really feel at one with the author and her world. Four stars.

I borrowed the audiobook of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

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This is the type of novel that makes me scared of being a parent, but at the same time, shows me a lot of what not to do–pushing my own agenda onto them, playing favorites, etc., though it’s possible to do that unawares, as Marilyn and James do. This novel chronicles the lives of all the Lee’s, seamlessly switching between the before and after, and it is both poignant and heartbreaking. I feel for them all, and I want to smack them, too, but it’s always easier to judge from the outside looking in, isn’t it? Why is it so often that parents try to live vicariously through their children, and why don’t people feel empowered enough to say what they mean? Obviously, humans have many deep layers and experiences that create their waking selves. This is a rich text, one you can really dive into psychologically. Mystery novel, however, it is not, and I see a lot of people had the same idea that I had when going into it, probably from the first line of the synopsis on the back of the book. While the question of how/why Lydia died is one woven throughout, the majority of the novel focuses on the development and characterization of the Lees, and not so much trying to figure out what happened that fateful night, but what lead up to it.

Told through a series of flashbacks, readers intimately get to know each of the Lees, learning their secrets and fears, and ultimately, laying bear the struggles of life in the racially charged and discriminatory time period of the United States from the 50s to the late 70s. Lydia, her older brother Nath, and their younger sister Hannah are Chinese Americans struggling to fit into society, with a Chinese American father and a Caucasian mother. As both parents, James and Marilyn have their own deep-seated resentments against the world and each other, they subconsciously apply pressures to their children that even the strongest of wills would find overbearing. Nath looks for solace in the fact that he’ll be leaving home for Harvard in the fall, Lydia’s fear of losing her only confidant pushes her into the arms of the neighborhood “bad boy” Jack, and quiet Hannah silently watches on, wishing someone, anyone, would pay attention to her.

This novel is a study is psychology, and it’s a very poignant tale of love and betrayal, one that I found to be extremely real and riveting, although bleak and heartbreaking. Four stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

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With the amount of rave reviews this novel has, I really thought I was going to love it… gosh, was I dissappointed. I was so bored reading this novel that I nearly put it down multiple times, but decided to continue on to see, just to see, if some big revelation came and my opinion would change. It didn’t, though. From the get go, it’s pretty obvious who these characters are, what Hailsham is, and that the great “edge-of-your-seat mystery” touted by the back cover and publishing company is non-existent. I don’t even know that there’s a real climax in this book. What I found, instead, is that this novel is a reminisce of growing up at the school, as told by the now grown-up Kathy, and her revelations are all rather tepid.

I think what really got me is that, once I knew what the “mystery” was in this novel, my irritation came from the fact that no one in the story cares about it. No one laments, no one fights back… in fact, most are just so accepting and don’t ask any questions, just moving through the motions that I failed to see how this was realistic in any way, but perhaps this is where the critical acclaim stems from–a novel of this magnitude that doesn’t follow reader expectations of human reactions from the characters… characters that are just awful to each other, from Ruth’s constant vindictivness to Kathy’s rudeness, perhaps shows the true hollowness that people can decend into. Perhaps it’s the eeriness and non-humaness of it that makes people find it so wonderful? I can actually see that as being a truth in a way, but… I hated the characters and the fact that really, nothing happens in this novel, and my inability to make any connections with any character definitely put a damper on my ability to enjoy it. 

Literally, the characters just accept everything and never fuss or contemplate how or why, or if it’s legal or why it’s legal, and we’re given so little background information about the “real world” surrounding the school in order to make Hailsham have any merit, so… I feel like I just read a whole book about nothing but reminiscing, and I did not care for it. I wonder if the movie is any better… but I honestly have no desire to see it, so, I have to chalk it all up to this novel just not being for me. One star.

I borrowed the audible version of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: The Sandcastle Girls is a sweeping historical love story steeped in Chris Bohjalian’s Armenian heritage.

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The year is 1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.

Fast forward to the present day, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed “The Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.

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The first book of Chris Bohjalian’s that I read was Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, and it was an absolutely amazing novel–5 stars, no questions, so I knew that Sandcastle Girls was going to be just as wonderful, if not more so, and I was right. Sandcastle Girls is powerful, detailing “the slaughter you know next to nothing about”… and it’s just breathtaking. My father went on sabbatical to Armenia in the early 2000s to study the Armenian Genocide, but that was the first I’d ever heard of it, and I daresay, many people of today’s generation know nothing about it. With 1 million dead, I wonder why this genocide isn’t taught in schools, though the fact that it’s denied by many as ever happening, regardless of the accounts and evidence that shows that it indeed did happen, may be one of the reasons.

Bohjalian tells this story of genocide through the lens of two settings, one from 1st person present day Laura, researching her ancestry in order to understand her Armenian grandfather and American grandmother better, and the other from a 3rd person omniscient narrator set in 1915, the onset of the war against Armenians, ravaged by the Turks. This is a heartwrenching novel, but Bohjalian offsets the atrocities of the genocide by continually bringing us back to the present to breathe as we follow Laura’s research and begin to unearth her family secrets, and I found this a wonderful way to tell so delicate a story without overwhelming the reader to the point of no return.

A story of betrayal, death, and heartbreak, but also one of love and new beginnings, the characters, though fictional, brought a realness to the true story of so many people who didn’t live to tell their own. In the end, all kept secrets, and the revelation of such made this novel so poignant that I was unable to put it down as the characters came to life right off the page. Though ultimately a sad tale, it resonates with me, a story I won’t soon forget, and one that everyone needs to read. Five stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library, but loved it so much that I purchased a copy for my father and one for myself as well, because this novel is so powerful that it’s one for my shelves as well!

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{November 11, 2019}   {ARC Review} Coral by Sara Ella

From Goodreads: There is more than one way to drown.

Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light?

Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed?

Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right?

When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?

Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.

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Sara Ella’s Coral is a novel that deals heavily with mental health, and all of her characters are touched by it in some way, shape, or form. Ella’s descriptions of depression, anxiety, and suicide are brutal, and so she’s placed a trigger warning at the beginning of the novel, one I didn’t note when I was eagerly flipping through to the start of the story, and I regretted it. So, since Ella has published her trigger warning note on Goodreads as well as in the beginning of her novel, I’m also posting it below, because it’s powerful, and you need to know about it before you start this novel:

“Trigger Warning & A Note to My Readers: For my friends who have experienced trauma, a warning—this story may be triggering. I have done my best to approach the mental health topics addressed in this book in the most sensitive and caring way possible. But even all the research and sensitivity readers in the world would never make it so I could approach every aspect of mental health from every perspective. Your experience is unique to you.

Potential triggers include suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and unwanted/non-consensual advances.

With that said, while some of what I have written comes from research and some from the caring eyes of sensitivity readers who have lived through many of these experiences, other pieces come from my own personal experience with emotional trauma. If you have lost a loved one, I’m with you. If you face depression or anxiety, my heart aches with you in a truly personal way. If you have ever felt misunderstood for these things or simply wanted to escape altogether—I understand.

For the girl who is not okay. For the boy who wonders if it will ever get better. This story is for you.

My hope is that Coral’s tale may be a small pinprick of light in your darkness—a reminder that you are seen. You are loved. You are not alone. You are not nothing, my friend. And neither am I.

Sincerely,

Sara Ella”

I think if I’d read that trigger warning before starting this novel, I would have approached it in an entirely different light, and that is on me, and also why I need all potential readers to be ready for it. This is not a lighthearted tale, even though it deals with mermaids, and readers might think it’s going to be specifically a retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” It’s not. It’s not really a mermaid story at all, but rather an in-depth gritty look at characters who are emotionally broken, who are truly hurting for a multitude of reasons. I’ve read a number of books that tout that they deal with tragedy and mental health, but then find that the author sugar coats it all to create a happy ending. But this is not that story, and Ella does not sugarcoat anything.

I also think that had I read the trigger warning, I would have understood what was happening within the novel much quicker than I did, though the foreshadowing and hints are woven throughout.

What I mean is, Ella does not clearly connect the stories and points of view together for a very long time, which she is doing on purpose, but it is also frustrating for the reader, especially because she continually mentions happenings and starts down a pathway for the story and then just leaves the loose ends hanging for a majority of the novel… so long, in fact, that I nearly put this novel on my “did not finish” pile a number of times, because even at the halfway mark, I was still wondering what the purpose of the story was, and when the exposition would end and the rising action would begin.

The novel starts by introducing us to Coral, “the littlest mermaid” as she readies to turn 16 and take her place within her family. However, the Red Tide is coming for her oldest sister, and it’s bad… and that’s about all we initially know. Throughout the whole novel, we’re given many tidbits of information, but nothing concrete enough to really know what’s going on or what has happened in the past to these characters for us to make much sense of it all, or to begin making the connections needed. And while I think this was done in order to drive suspense, I think for me, it did the opposite, and confused me more than anything else. We jump from Coral to Brooke without much connection, then to Merrick, and round it goes, until suddenly, the mermaid world is no longer discussed and everything takes place on land. It’s here that I began to suspect what Ella was attempting to do with the story, yet the information we’re given is so halted that I felt like I always had more questions than answers as I read. It’s not until near the end that Ella confirmed my suspicions about who these characters are and how they’re all connected, and while I think it was a great plot twist idea, the execution of it fell a bit flat as it took so long and there was so much confusion prior, that it almost just fizzled out for me.

And yet, it works. While I did spend a majority of this novel thinking, “what is happening” and feeling like too much was glossed over and not fleshed out enough, when the plot twist was finally revealed, I felt validated—and this is when the real emotion of the novel hit me. That, and then another part towards the end, which I’m sorry to post about, as it’s a tiny spoiler, but one I feel potential readers need to know about because it is beyond tragic: a child commits suicide. That broke me. I was hanging on pretty well up until that point, but that is something that I did not expect and it really triggered me based on my own personal life, and I just… well, like I said, Ella does not sugarcoat, and she shouldn’t if she’s going to do a book on mental illness that hits home.

And this brings me to my conclusion—all this to say that this is a good book, although confusing and perpetually dark. Three stars.

I recieved an ARC of this novel, which releases today, from Thomas Nelson Publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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From Goodreads: Allie Abraham has it all going for her—she’s a straight-A student, with good friends and a close-knit family, and she’s dating cute, popular, and sweet Wells Henderson. One problem: Wells’s father is Jack Henderson, America’s most famous conservative shock jock…and Allie hasn’t told Wells that her family is Muslim. It’s not like Allie’s religion is a secret, exactly. It’s just that her parents don’t practice and raised her to keep her Islamic heritage to herself. But as Allie witnesses ever-growing Islamophobia in her small town and across the nation, she begins to embrace her faith—studying it, practicing it, and facing hatred and misunderstanding for it. Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the “perfect” all-American girl? What does it mean to be a “Good Muslim?” And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in?

ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL is a relevant, relatable story of being caught between two worlds, and the struggles and hard-won joys of finding your place.

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The premise for this novel is great, and I firmly believe we need more YA literature that tackles topics like this one, especially in the times we currently live. The beginning of the novel jumps right into the thick of Islamophobia, and it had me absolutely raging right alongside Allie, though whereas she keeps herself in check in order to help diffuse the situation (which she’s used to because she deals with racial bias all the time), as a reader removed from the story, I was able to spout all my feelings at the novel and the characters involved as I read, and I think it angered me even more that Allie has to keep her cool, and she is used to this treatment… no one should ever have to be used to this treatment!!!

Allie is a fair-skinned, redish haired sixteen-year-old who easily passes for not being Muslim due to her “looks” and the fact that she and her family are non-practicing, as she states throughout the novel. But Allie does start to practice, and I loved how she takes us on her journey with her as she begins exploring her heritage and religion, learning Arabic to begin speaking with her grandmother, studying the Qur’an, learning to pray, standing up for herself and her community, and ultimately finding herself in this coming-of-age story, even though she must defy her father in the process. As a non-Muslim myself, I learned a lot about the religion and its beauty, while also identifying with Allie and her friends, because people are people, regardless of religion or looks. I enjoyed that this novel focuses so much on Allie’s characterization and her thought-process and experiences as she struggles to make her choices and wonders if she’s doing the right thing because, as stated earlier, her father doesn’t want her to practice (due to both his own personal issues and the fact that he deems it unsafe in the today’s society), her boyfriend’s father is extremely racist, and Allie herself struggles with feelings of inadequacy, constantly wondering if she is “good enough” in her practice. Overall, I think Courtney did a great job dealing with a difficult topic, shedding light on it as well as giving it a voice, and I think more novels like this need to be written. Four stars.

I received an ARC of this novel from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

All-American Muslim Girl releases in two days, on Tuesday, November 11.

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From Goodreads: Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

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What if the world as we know it ended? This question has been asked many a time, but I’ve never read nor seen a story quite like this one. While the premise is one we’ve all heard before, one in which an illness wipes out over 90% of the world’s population, every man is for himself, factions appear, prophets and cults immerge, and the roads are not safe, Mandel throws a curve ball into the mix by adding Shakespeare. Perhaps every English literature and theater buffs dream, this dystopian world follows a troupe of actors and musicians who travel up and down the east coast bringing merriment to the small groupings of people that make up little towns, as it were.  I found this group, the Traveling Symphony, to be quite an interesting idea, and it made me start wondering if humanity’s love of the arts would indeed survive if the world as we know it was decimated… and how something so taken for granted in today’s society–music and theater–could and would prevail, bringing joy in the darkest of times.

While a strange premise, I appreaciated Mandel’s decision to follow the actors, and yet, I found this novel to be a tad boring. Following five different people, the portion of the novel that I found the most interesting detailed life before the decimation of the world, one in which we learn about the famous hollywood actor who eventually dies onstage at the opening of the novel (and the others–though they didn’t do much for me). Life after the collapse was, in my opinion, rather boring and somewhat too cookie cutter, as the troupe mostly just marches around, and the danger, while expected, is quickly resolved and glossed over repeatedly, almost too hurried for me to enjoy it. But I did enjoy how Mandel brought the five key characters all together, and being able to pinpoint how the characters were related was fun for me, though I really felt that the climax of the story left much to be desired. However, while some aspects of the novel I felt were hurried and lacking, the premise of the novel was quite intriguing, and Mandel’s prose is beautiful to read. Three stars.

I borrowed the audible version of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this gripping, atmospheric debut novel.

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike.

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Powell’s debut novel, Songs from the Deep, is a fascinating “whodunit” that intertwines magical realism with every day island life, creating an almost gothic atmosphere that I thoroughly enjoyed! Moira Alexander, the strong willed protagonist of the story, and her beau Jude Osric, are an amazing pair to watch as they deal with not only the death of a young 12-year-old boy, but also the secrets that lie between them, the police that attempt to deter them, their own personal losses, and an island where everyone knows everything about one another. I loved Moira; she’s a strong-willed girl who knows what she wants and doesn’t sugarcoat it, refusing to back down and give in to anyone, regardless of who they are. While she can easily come across as rude, especially to her own mother and the other adults that populate this novel, since she’s technically only a 16-year-old girl, one must remember that this story takes place on a fictional island where life differs vastly from the world that the reader inhabits, and as the population of the island is relatively small and tightly knit, members of the island interact much differently with one another.

The people on the island have seen and dealt with more death and sorrow than most, as their waters are inhabited by sirens, creatures who not only inhabit water, but can also walk and survive on land. The sirens in this novel are seen relatively often, but the story itself is not about them per se; there is actually little interaction between the sirens and the characters, and Powell does not attempt to humanize the creatures in any way. I liked this, because sirens are a sea dwelling entity that entice their human prey through their melodious songs, and drags them to their deaths, and giving them a voice in this murder mystery would have defeintely changed the entire vibe Powell worked so hard to create.

This novel employs much foreshadowing, some of which will easily lead savvy readers to the truth of the mysteries much quicker than I would have liked, however, the way the novel comes together, and the ultimate end, made it all worth it to me. I really enjoyed this novel, and I think Powell is an author to watch as she continues to create compelling stories in the future. Four stars.

I recevied an ARC of this novel from Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Songs from the Deep releases in two day, Novemebr 5, 2019.

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From Goodreads: Monster On The Moors is an MG-YA horror thriller that takes place in the eerie North York Moors of England. Clairvoyant Bobby Holmes, his American cousin Brenda Watson, and their friends, wise guy Stevie and Michael (who is challenged by Asperger Syndrome), are drawn into a deadly mystery. They are hunted by an ancient wolf creature controlled by evil witches of British lore. When one of their friends is captured, they must rely on the investigations of a librarian who is more than he seems, the mystical gifts of a gypsy king, a mysterious stranger at the center of it all, and their own wits in a desperate race to save their friend and come out alive. 

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Monster on the Moors, which releases today, is a great middle grade book, and I’ve already recommended it to my ten-year-old niece. As an adult, I found it a fun, quick read, and I think that it’s got just the right amount of mystery, horror, and spunky humor that it will easily catch the attention of even the most reluctant reader.  It begins with a bit of a grotesque prologue, but nothing that isn’t too overbearing, and the horror aspect of this novel is quite mild, in my opinion. Our four heroes, Bobby and the gang, make up a modern day Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and J.M. Kelly even uses the sleuthing genius’s last names as homage to the great Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters. Bobby Holmes, and his cousin Brenda Watson, plus friends Stevie and Michael, make up the team as they begin searching for clues concerning the awful slayings happening on the Moors of England, leading them on many an adventure as they work to decipher Bobby’s visions and save those who would be the “monsters” next prey.

While Monster on the Moors is technically the second book in the Bobby Holmes Mystery series, you do not need to read the first novel prior to this one, as each book can stand alone.

I think the characterization was spot on throughout this novel, with many tidbits to giggle over as the four friends work to make heads or tails of their situation. From train rides to chases amongst the ruins, Bobby and his friends, and their trusty adult side-kick, take the reader on an adventure that they’re not soon to forget. I was impressed with the quick pace and Kelly’s ability to make sense of a strange situation, creating a world where it worked to have four younsters running amuck by themselves, while many of the adults went about their business. In other words, I didn’t find it far-fetched, and that is always a plus for me as a reader. I also liked that I didn’t always know what was going to happen next. Some MG books that I’ve read are extremely heavy on the foreshadowing, but I did not find that to be the case with this read. While I would think that I knew what was going to happen next, Kelly kept me guessing, which is another reason I think this is a great read for tweens and even teens. It’s lighthearted enough, with just enough scare to it that I think it’s the perfect read for this Halloween night. Four stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher, Publications, Ltd, in exchange for an honest review.

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From Goodreads: There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.

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“When we go to tell our stories, people think we want it to have gone differently. People want to say things like “sore losers” and “move on already, quit playing the blame game.” But is it a game? Only those who have lost as much as we have see the particularly nasty slice of smile on someone who thinks they’re winning when they say “Get over it.” This is the thing: If you have the option to not think about or even consider history, whether you learned it right or not, or whether it even deserves consideration, that’s how you know you’re on board the ship that serves hors d’oeuvres and fluffs your pillows, while others are out at sea, swimming or drowning, or clinging to little inflatable rafts that they have to take turns keeping inflated, people short of breath, who’ve never even heard of the words hors d’oeuvres or fluff. Then someone from up on the yacht says, “It’s too bad those people down there are lazy, and not as smart and able as we are up here, we who have built these strong, large, stylish boats ourselves, we who float the seven seas like kings.” And then someone else on board says something like, “But your father gave you this yacht, and these are his servants who brought the hors d’oeuvres.” At which point that person gets tossed overboard by a group of hired thugs who’d been hired by the father who owned the yacht, hired for the express purpose of removing any and all agitators on the yacht to keep them from making unnecessary waves, or even referencing the father or the yacht itself. Meanwhile, the man thrown overboard begs for his life, and the people on the small inflatable rafts can’t get to him soon enough, or they don’t even try, and the yacht’s speed and weight cause an undertow. Then in whispers, while the agitator gets sucked under the yacht, private agreements are made, precautions are measured out, and everyone quietly agrees to keep on quietly agreeing to the implied rule of law and to not think about what just happened. Soon, the father, who put these things in place, is only spoken of in the form of lore, stories told to children at night, under the stars, at which point there are suddenly several fathers, noble, wise forefathers. And the boat sails on unfettered.

If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive to not find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger. Look no further than your last name. Follow it back and you might find your line paved with gold, or beset with traps.”
― Tommy Orange, There There

Y’all. This book. It packs a punch like no other, and I was captivated by it as the stories began to intertwine and come to a head, to one final moment that brings the characters all together in this gripping tale transcending multiple generations. Gripping is an understatement… when all was said and done, and the novel stopped, I felt myself continue to lurch forward with momentum. I don’t think I can express how deep and beautiful this novel is. I can’t do it justice. But let me back up.

Tommy Orange’s novel is difficult to start. When I first began listening via audiobook, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it. It didn’t make sense to me. The prologue, which is part of the novel and absolutely should and needs to be read, begins with a candid retelling of history as North Americans know it–laying bare what the history books don’t teach us, shedding light on the part of history that we’d like to forget and sweep under a rug, never to be seen again. I wondered to myself, “is this novel a history lesson?”. No. But yes. Though fictitious, it has many truths, and the experiences of many of these characters are unfortunately all too real, because those affected by our nation’s bloody history in the past are still affected by it in our present, which Orange makes explicitly clear as his novel commences with the first story from our twelve narrators, Tony Loneman. Truth be told, the first story, Tony’s story, through me off. I was trying hard to connect to the character, but was struggling, and I wasn’t sure where Orange was going with the novel. Then the second narrator took over, and I didn’t see any obvious connections, so I wondered “is this novel just a grouping of short stories?”. The stories were just there, and they didn’t entice me… yet, because I hadn’t yet seen the beauty of what Orange was doing. Initially, they were just unhitched stories to me. But as I continued, I began to see the connections methodically woven between the characters, all of which is leading us, the narrators and the reader, to one final moment at the powwow; all of these twelve characters are perfectly interconnected, though they don’t know it as of yet. And as they continue their stories, adding to what we already know, and beginning to converge on Oakland’s Coliseum, the novel takes hold, creating feelings of intense foreboding through Orange’s employ of dramatic irony. The interlude, from which I quoted a particularly stunning section above, floored me, and it was then that I knew, without a doubt, that this novel is a five star read. Orange is matter-of-fact, and he’s hitting on topics that we, as a nation, have fought about for far too long, still attempting to sweep truth under the rug in order to not face the reality of our current world, or who we are, and our sordid history. And while the interlude above is just that, and the narrators barely touch upon what is explicitly stated above–it’s not a novel steeped in politics or in your face–it’s there, calling to the reader, reminding us that privilege exists, that some are luckier than others, and that if we are to survive this harrowing world, we must come together, to understand one another, and to stop the fighting. To stop the hate. This novel is fierce.

When There There ended, I was speechless. One, I couldn’t believe Orange left us the way he did, but two, it’s just so unspeakably beautiful, thought-provoking, and intense.  Five amazing stars!

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library, but then purchased my own paperback copy from Amazon, because this powerful novel is a must for my shelves. And I just found out Tommy Orange is going to be a keynote speaker at NCTE in a few weeks! Stay tuned for a possible signed book giveaway at the end of the month!! 

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From Goodreads: Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

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This novel was my book club’s pick for October, and it’s quite fitting, given that Halloween is in just a few weeks. From the beginning, I found myself extremely interested in the three main characters: Franny, Jet, and Vincent. The novel begins when they’re just teens, aware that they aren’t like other people, but unable to exactly pinpoint why they’re different… until Aunt Isabelle calls for them. Meeting the teens, learning about their parents’ rules, and seeing what they choose to do with their lives and abilities made for a fun read, though Hoffman definitely speeds through this prequel to her famed Practical Magic. On many an occasion, I found myself wishing the novel would slow down. One moment, they’re teens, then in their twenties, forties, and then old old old (no idea of the age). The family curse was intriguing, and though an overall sad tale, it does have uplifting themes of family and love, which peppered the novel enough to keep it a relatively light read. It definitely held my attention, though rushed, and though I haven’t read (nor seen) Practical Magic, I bet this novel would tickle those who have, as they get to know the aunts and the mysterious uncle when they were young. Four stars.

I borrowed a copy of this novel from my library.

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Look at those covers! Aren’t they beautiful? Which one if your favorite? Personally, I’m really feeling the sleek magical black Canadian cover, though the American version has a more fun, artsy air to it, and I love that, too! But because I couldn’t decide, I ended up buying both for my collection, because that’s how I roll (and the Hardcover American cover version is on sale for only $2.99 at the time of this posting)!

Have you read Sleight? If not, it’s time to put it in your que, because it’s a must read! Jennifer Sommersby (also known as Eliza Gordon) is one of my favorite authors, and her YA novel Sleight wrapped me up and held me tight the first time I ever read it. I’ve had the privilege of reading it multiple times over the years as Jenn tweaked it for publication; Originally self-published in 2011, Sleight was then picked up and published by Harper Collins and Sky Pony in spring of 2018, and I’m not lying when I say this book gives me all the feels; I’m so excited that its final version is now published for all to enjoy, and I’ve just finished reading it — PHENOMENAL!

Sleight is a Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Book for Kids & Teens (Fall 2018) and an Ontario Library Association Best Bets Honorable Mention Book for Young Adults (2019), while Jenn herself is a British Columbia Arts Council Grant Award Recipient for 2019!

From Goodreads: Delia smiles at the shadow only she sees—

Something slams into her. The lyra whirls like a half-dollar spinning on its edge.

My mother is thrown backward.

And she falls.

Growing up in the Cinzio Traveling Players Company, Genevieve Flannery is accustomed to a life most teenagers could never imagine: daily workouts of extravagant acrobatics; an extended family of clowns; wild animals for pets; and her mother, Delia, whose mind has always been tortured by visions—but whose love Geni never questions. In a world of performers who astonish and amaze on a daily basis, Delia’s ghostly hallucinations never seemed all that strange . . . until the evening Geni and her mother are performing an aerial routine they’ve done hundreds of times, and Delia falls to her death.

That night, a dark curtain in Geni’s life opens. Everything has changed.

Still reeling from the tragedy, the Cinzio Traveling Players are also adjusting to the circus’s new owner: a generous, mysterious man whose connection to the circus—Geni suspects—has a dark and dangerous history. And suddenly Geni is stumbling into a new reality of her own, her life interrupted daily by the terrors only Delia used to be able to see.

As the visions around her grow stronger, Geni isn’t sure who she can trust. Even worse, she’s starting to question whether she can trust her own mind.“

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A mastermind storyteller, Sommersby’s recently released YA debut, Sleight, does not disappoint. I was hooked from page one as the mystery, deception, tension, and comic relief unfolded, and I was amazed by how vivid and real the characters were.  Through her pristine use of prose and characterization, Sommersby captures the true nature of humanity as she creates characters that come to life right off the page. It is obvious from the get go that each character in this novel is crafted with love and care, and as you read, they become extremely real. Geni’s spunk and determination, Henry’s charm and humor, and Baby’s protective fatherly nature, all help to create a tale that exudes humanity and realness, endearing them to my heart. I fell in love with them immediately, and having just finished the novel, I can say that I truly feel like I know them. All of the characters are given true attributes of human nature, even Daegen, the worst of the worst, making it hard to draw an exact line between good and evil, though it blatantly exists.  I was enamored by both the characters and the writing as I read, and I adored how Sommersby uses ghostly visions of flashbacks to help Geni, Henry, and the reader begin to fill in the gaps concerning the past in order to determine the correct course of action in the present, helping Geni solve the mystery of what, exactly, she must protect.

Sommersby has a wonderful gift with words, and she does an excellent job explaining all the intricate details of circus life and magic, all while weaving a tale from which I just couldn’t look away. I gobbled up this novel in less than 24 hours, and I’m dying for more. Everything circus in this novel is beautiful, and I could literally see the big top in my minds eye, as well as the vast Elephant enclosure housing Gertrude and Houdini; I loved the relationship that Geni has with her elephants and her extended “family” of the circus, and truth be told, the synopsis for this novel just doesn’t do it justice, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, which comes out in April 2020 under two different titles: Scheme, which is the American title, and The Undoing, which is the Canadian title. Though it’ll be the same story, I’m feeling the cover love for the sequel, too, and I can’t wait to add them both to my collection as well.

Sommersby is an up-and-coming author to watch!! Five stars for this beautiful story!

I purchased my copy of Sleight from Amazon (US) and Chapter’s Indigo (Canada).

Kindle | Paperback | Hardcover for only $2.99

Visit Jenn:

 Website: http://www.jennsommersby.com

Twitter: @JennSommersby

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From Goodreads: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

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Wow.

This novel, just, WOW.

This is Where it Ends is a very powerful read, a shocking, palpable read that takes place over the course of 54 terrifying minutes while a school is locked down by a student with a gun; every parent, student, and educator’s worst nightmare come to life.

The beginning of this novel is a little difficult to follow. There are four narrators and a few twitter feeds, and the text switches constantly between them, so until you have good grasp on who’s who, it’s a tad frustrating. But don’t give up. Please don’t give up. High school is made up of many individuals, and one narrator wouldn’t have done this story justice. Neither would have a third person omniscient narrator. This story has to be told from multiple perspectives, and it works, though perhaps difficult to follow in the beginning (and also something that I bet the audible would easily fix as it has multiple narrators). It’s definitely a book where you have to think and pay attention; this is no beach read, and in my opinion, Nijkamp tells this story exactly how it has to be told, through the lens of many.  Here’s a rundown of what you need to know to help keep them straight:

AUTUMN: High school senior bent on getting out of town by applying to Julliard and other dance schools. She is a talented dancer, and she wants so badly to be like her mother–who was a professional dancer before her death. Autumn is dating Sylv,  has one disapproving brother, Ty, and an abusive father who blames Autumn for her mother’s death, forbidding her to dance.

SYLV: High school junior trying to keep her head above water. Her mother is currently ill and doesn’t always recognize Sylv or her twin brother Tomas. She lives with Tomas and her mother on their grandfather’s farm, and her older siblings come back to help as often as they can. Sylv is dating Autumn and would do anything for her, including lying about their future and the threat that Ty poses to their relationship, in order to keep Autumn happy.

TOMAS: High school junior and self-proclaimed “bad boy.” He’d rather cut his classes and is often in trouble. Twin to Sylv, he would do anything for his sister, including fighting Ty over his bullying nature towards Sylv.

CLAIRE: High school senior. Track and field and JROTC student. Former girlfriend to Ty. Has an older sister, Trace, who is in the army and overseas serving, and a younger brother in 9th grade, Matt. He is on crutches and has a compromised immune system due to Lupus.

Four narrators. And they don’t all survive. As an educator, someone who has literally spent ten months of every year in school since the age of 5, this novel terrifies me. I’ve read a lot of reviews where people say that Nijkamp’s characters don’t wow them, that they don’t connect with them like they wanted to. That’s valid, to each their own, but from my point of view, I definitely connect with them. I have students just like Autumn, Sylv, Tomas, and Claire. I don’t know these kids in this novel, but I don’t have to. They are children, they are dealing with their own fallout of their lives while trying to stay sane in school; they are in pain, and now there is an active shooter picking off random students in an auditorium that he locked from the exterior, during a school-wide assembly. I feel for them, and their stories are poignant, all of their stories are poignant, even though some of the dialogue is awkward and perhaps not always how a high schooler would speak, or think. But regardless, our four vividly real narrators lead the way, allowing the reader to feel their abject horror and fear as the 54 minutes slowly, painstakingly tick by.

What’s the culminating factor for these four main characters? Ty. He’s the school shooter, and he’s here to be heard.

Tyler. What happened to Tyler to push him to this point? I think Nijkamp does a wonderful job showing the reader that this story is not just black and white. It doesn’t just have good characters and evil characters, though Ty’s final choice to murder is pure evil, and some of his other actions are as well. Through our four narrators, we learn about their pasts and how they intertwine with Ty, and we see him through their eyes are he began to break down, from his choices, yes, but also his abuse at the hands of his father, the sudden death of his mother, his fear of losing his sister… and he projects in the worst way possible, choosing to murder, for which there is absolutely no excuse. But psychologically speaking, there is no black and white here.

Nijkamp’s novel was published in early 2016, back when the mantra of “run and hide” during an active shooting was the advice we were given. But what do you do if you’re locked in the room with the shooter? I wish the school of Opportunity (yes, it’s a cliche name for a school), had have practiced ALICE. In 2018, my district began training educators in ALICE: Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. It’s the run, hide, fight idea, which has been around for at least a decade if not longer, but not something that’s often taught in school, I mean, my district just started making ALICE training mandatory for teachers–it’s not something students are taught. Ty murders many in his 54 minute rampage; many of those murders happen in the locked auditorium, and as I was reading, I kept thinking, FIGHT. I wanted them to fight. I wanted them to take him down; yes people would have died, but I don’t believe as many would have died if the student body, or all the teachers on stage, had of reacted immediately. But then again, it’s so easy to tell people what they should have done when on the outside looking in. I just, I just cried.

This novel is unfortunately all too real in this day and age, and many people are lucky to not have to think, to really think about it, or connect to it, because it hasn’t happened to us, and for many of us, it won’t ever happen. But that doesn’t mean we should write it off. Yes, it’s awful that we have to be prepared for it, in any setting, not just school, in today’s climate. But I think that’s also why this novel is so incredibly powerful. Five stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and SOURCEBOOKS Fire in exchange for an honest review.

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From Goodreads: A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt, while brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that comprise the novel’s framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel’s heart—motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

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Overall, Jesmyn Ward creates extremely vivid, real portrayals of life, her words floating off the page, creating mostly beautiful imagery as her stories unfold, though truth be told, some of this imagery I could do without. This is the second novel of Ward’s that I’ve read, and I truly to believe her prose is poetic, though some of it might be just a bit too overpowering. Ward has written three novels to date, and while I have not yet read the third, the two I have read both begin with blood, and in this vivid tale of abject poverty and woe, it begins with the birthing of puppies. While extremely important to the story, Wards descriptions of afterbirth and squelches definitely made me a bit ill. Dry wretching ill. I was lucky enough to borrow the audible of this novel from my library, and let me tell you, driving down the highway at 5 in the morning listening to the audible narrator, Cherise Boothe, describe a pitbull giving birth was an experience. Ward definitely has a way with words. A gift.

Salvage the Bones is Ward’s first novel, and it’s the only one she’s written that deals specifically with hurricane Katrina, though all her novels take place in Mississippi around the same time. It is a very poignant novel, one that stays with you for days after all is said and done, but at the same time, I felt that too much time was spent leading up to the storm, building up the characters and focusing on things I was less interested in, such as dog fighting, and not enough time assessing the severity of Katrina or how the family attempts to survive throughout–it is a storm that none of them take seriously, save pop, until it is too late. The characters are all extremely realistic, and Esch broke my heart, but at the same time, I wanted so badly to reach through the pages and knock sense into these children running amuck. They don’t know any better, their father is distant and their mother is dead, but between Esch’s search for “love” in all the wrong places and Skeetah’s sole care in the world being his pitbull that he forces to fight, I found myself getting angry with them. Perhaps it’s projection, because as the reader, there is literally nothing I can do to help any of them, but I still wish I could.

Personally, I don’t care about dog fighting, and Ward spends a lot more time fleshing out that sordid world than I would have liked. When the storm comes raging against their shack, I expected the novel to come even more alive, but it was over just as quickly as it began, and I was saddened by this. Now, I enjoyed this novel, don’t get me wrong, but I definitely finished it wanting more. I feel like the story just isn’t over, all this time and effort went into fleshing out these characters, but in the end, nothing changes. There is no win for anyone, and that made this one tough on me. Three stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: Go west. Capture Apollo before he can find the next oracle.
If you cannot bring him to me alive, kill him.

Those were the orders my old enemy Nero had given to Meg McCaffrey. But why would an ancient Roman emperor zero in on Indianapolis? And now that I have made it here (still in the embarrassing form of Lester Papadopoulos), where is Meg?

Meg, my demigod master, is a cantankerous street urchin. She betrayed me to Nero back at Camp Half-Blood. And while I’m mortal, she can order me to do anything . . . even kill myself. Despite all this, if I have a chance of prying her away from her villainous stepfather, I have to try.

But I’m new at this heroic-quest business, and my father, Zeus, stripped me of all my godly powers. Oh, the indignities and pain I have already suffered! Untold humiliation, impossible time limits, life-threatening danger . . . Shouldn’t there be a reward at the end of each completed task? Not just more deadly quests?

I vow that if I ever regain my godhood, I will never again send a poor mortal on a quest. Unless it is really important. And unless I am sure the mortal can handle it. And unless I am pressed for time . . . or I really just don’t feel like doing it myself. I will be much kinder and more generous than everyone is being to me—especially that sorceress Calypso. What does Leo see in her, anyway?

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I don’t know; this might be where I call it quits with Riordan’s Apollo series. While I did find myself snickering a lot more with Apollo’s quibs and sarcasm in this one than I did in the first installment, I also found that my interest was waning as the book cycled on. I like the story enough, and I enjoy the characters, as well, but it just seems to be the same arc over and over again:

1. Get in a jam

2. Lament about it

3. Prepare to die

4. Be saved by someone while the not too smart bad guys divulge their plan.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. After a while, it just kind of takes the joy out of it for me. I also, personally, felt like not a whole lot happened in this book, aside from Apollo constantly being upset about his average body (body shaming much?), his past loves, both male and female, and his predicament of not being a god. I get that Apollo was a self-absorbed god and all that, but I need him to calm it down in the whole “whoa is me” category.

I just wasn’t feeling this book, so I think I’ll take a break before heading on to book three, where I hear some of the bigger past characters from the other series make a sizable appearance, and maybe that’s what I’ve been craving. Two and a half stars — because it was “meh,” but also I liked it enough to probably go back to it in a few weeks.

I borrowed this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

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Jesmyn Ward is a beautiful writer, her words flowing off the page like poetry. Her characters are deeply realistic, and I found myself really enjoying this novel. Even though I hated Leonie, and wished her ill many a time as she narrated her story of selfishness and drug riddled episodes, the story is raw and real, one from which I could not look away. Jojo’s story is heartbreaking, and I felt surges of both sadness and anger for him as he narrated his story of growing up too fast in an inhospitable post Katrina world.  I really felt for Jojo and his toddler sister, Michaela. I just don’t understand how people can be so incredibly selfish that they put themselves before their own children. Yet, it happens everyday in the real world; the news is cluttered with instances of parental shortcomings.  It’s disheartening, but real, and Ward’s novel expertly captures these poignant and raw relationships.

While the writing and characters are extremely well written and vivid, the one aspect that I wasn’t so much in love with in this novel was the magical realism. Magical realism and I have never been good friends, and while I do understand its purpose, I felt that Ritchie’s story blending into Jojo’s was more so confusing than insightful in the very end. I’m not 100% positive, as Ward doesn’t explain it, but I believe Jojo has “the sight.”  Without giving too much away, what I will say is that Jojo’s mother and he both see ghosts, but not the same ghosts, and not for the same reasons. Leonie’s ghost is that of her deceased brother, Given, who only shows when she is in the throws of a high, born out of guilt. However, Jojo’s ghost, Ritchie, shows up for the first time halfway through the novel seeking answers that only Jojo’s Pop can provide, if only Jojo can convince Pop to finish telling him the story of his time at Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. Ritchie’s story is powerful, laying bare the life of Jojo’s idol, Pop, and the soul-crushing choices one must make when faced with impossible decisions. Up until this point, Pop has repeatedly told Jojo the beginning of the story of Ritchie, but he never verbalizes the end, an end that Ritchie, like Jojo, needs to hear in order to move on. This I do understand, but the story doesn’t end there, when I thought it would. Instead, more ghosts show up, and I’m not sure why or what is really happening there at the end–like I said, Magical Realism and I aren’t good friends. Regardless, though, the story itself is beautifully told, and if you get the chance to listen to this novel via audio book, I highly recommend it! Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chris Chalk, and Rutina Wesley give the novel life with their bold and emotional narration, bringing the story, the lyrical prose, and the characters to life in a way reading off the page cannot. Four stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go… an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

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I was really excited to start reading this novel; the Percy Jackson series was amazing, and I didn’t realize that Riordan had written a new series that takes us back to Camp Half-Blood! Apollo, now a mere mortal after angering Zeus, has a very interesting story, and once again, Riordan does a wonderful job allowing readers to pick up here without the need of reading the other ten books in the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles (the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series), though I think it would help with a few of the references that Apollo makes as he narrates his tale. I believe that this novel picks up 6 months after the conclusion of events in The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus #5), but as I haven’t yet read that novel, I can’t be too certain — but it makes sense in my mind based on the conversation that Percy Jackson and Apollo have towards the beginning of the novel.

Now, this is not a novel about Percy Jackson. While he makes a few appearances, as do some of the older characters from the prior series, readers are mostly given a whole new cast of characters to love and enjoy. For example, Apollo and his newest friend, a demigod named Meg, are a fun pair, and I relished their trials and tribulations as they attempted to set the world aright. Although a tad juvenile here and there (Meg is only 12 years old, afterall), I enjoyed their banter and the story overall, though I did find the foreshadowing a bit overbearing… as I called all the main plot-points well before they happened. Much like the Heroes of Olympus series, Riordan continues his crossover of Greek and Roman mythology, and regardless of the heavy foreshadowing, the story itself is still entertaining and definitely worth a read if you’re into Greek and Roman Mythology. I’m happily about to begin the second book in the series (with book four just coming out a few days ago), and think that, like the Percy Jackson series, this series, too, is a great addition for reluctant readers and, of course, any lovers of MG and YA novels. Three stars.

I borrowed the audible version of this novel from the library.

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et cetera
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