Book Hangovers and YA Reviews

Basically I’m still book hungover from reading Sweetbitter last week – I’m trying to find the words to review it soon.  In the meantime I’m trying to get over feeling I was lost in New York in Sweetbitter by throwing myself into Celtic lore in The Last Days of Magic and maybe imperial Russia in The Crown’s Game.  I’m also going between smutty romance in Washington DC in Sustained and even Charlotte Bronte’s Fiery Heart.  While I’m trying to do justice to my new obsession here are quick reviews of two new YA series I enjoyed.   

Tell the Wind and Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan

Published April 5th 2016 by Clarion Books

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.

Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?

In the interest of full disclosure I haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities – but I was so intrigued by the idea of a Dickensian retelling I had to request this book.  Lucie is a child of the two cities – one light magic and one dark. She’s in love with a boy – both light and dark.  I’m all for young love but the way this relationship was treated was a bit much for me.  I know teen relationships are intense and have real feelings – but really they are teen relationships and I just don’t get it when they’re treated as adults by adults.  That being said Lucie and Ethan were sweet – but his dark side is where the promise was!  

This felt like a mash-up of urban fantasy and dystopian and I am very curious about whether it will stick more in one genre in the future.  I was really impressed with the depth of the emotion I felt in the end of this book.  I was nearly in tears as things played out between light and dark.  I will definitely continue with this series – I just have to make sure I read some Dickens before this sequel comes out!  

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The Shadow Queen, C.J. Redwine (Ravenspire #1)

Published February 16th 2016 by Balzer + Bray

Hardcover, 387 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

Dragons and ogres and witches – Oh my!   When you see that cover you know this is going to be a creepy version of Snow White.  This evil queen and her apples were deliciously rotten.  I would have enjoyed some deeper world building – when did magic become such an issue in Ravenspire?  Why are the ogres attacking Eldr?  But my curiosity was piqued and I stuck with the book.  I really liked Lorelai.  She was brave and loyal and definitely kicked some booty.  Kol grows up quickly from a party boy to a king and I loved his dragon side!  I want more dragon books!  Again, the evil queen was just fantastically evil.  I think she could have been deeper – but overall this was a great light read.  I flew through the Shadow Queen.  I hope the next Ravenspire book follows the story to Eldr for this dragon – ogre business to be resolved.  Basically all the dragons for me!

Thank you Clarion Books and NetGalley and Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for these advance copies in exchange for an honest opinion!

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Review: Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly

Published April 5th 2016 by Ballantine Books

Hardcover, 496 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley
25893693New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

I have to confess, I had a very rocky reading relationship with Lilac Girls.  I almost quit more than once, but I am glad I stuck it out.  I admit that I really am not familiar with what happened at the concentration camp at Ravensbruck.  The attention to Sarah Helm’s book last year Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women caught my eye and I think was the first time I really learned there was a camp that was just for women.  When I was offered a chance to read Lilac Girls with a fictional account of one prisoner’s story I jumped for it.  Lilac Girls follows three very different women; New York socialite Caroline, Polish Girl Guide Kasia and frustrated German medical student Herta.  Caroline and Herta were real women while Kasia is based on one of the Ravenswood Rabbits – healthy women that the Nazis performed horrific medical experiments on.

I know not to judge a book by its cover – but I feel like the cover of Lilac Girls suggested a story that didn’t happen.  I’m not complaining that I didn’t get that story – but I am complaining a bit that I was misled!  Maybe that is part of why I couldn’t connect with this book to begin with.  I simply couldn’t see how a Polish resistance member and a Nazi believer would connect.  That being said, I think the contrast between Herta and Kasia’s stories was very powerful when they were both in the camp.  

Hall Kelly clearly put a ton of love and research into this book so I just wish it had been more consistent.  The first third, I felt Caroline was totally underplayed and made me almost ready to quit the book.  Once I did get into this book I was IN and didn’t want to put it down.  Caroline Ferriday was clearly an amazing woman, but she’s played as such an airhead until the final third that it was kind of shocking to see what she was capable of.  Even her dialogue was weaker than the other characters which made her annoying.  I would love to read more about her actual life.  I think the fictional romance created for Caroline almost weakened her real life story.  

Herta is nearly forgotten until the end which was also disappointing.  It would have been interesting to learn more of how her life was after Hitler died.  Despite being the fictional character Kasia’s emotions came across the most powerfully.  Her story was heartbreaking and made me all the more determined to read more about Ravensbruck.  

It was eye opening for me to read a World War II and Holocaust book that was not about the atrocities against the Jewish people – this is a lot of what made the book for me.  Lilac Girls left me thinking about the Nazi occupation of Poland and the Iron Curtain in a way I never have.  Our great-grandparents came from Poland and I’m curious now about what might have happened to the family they left behind.  My next step is to get my sister working on genealogy to understand where our history might lead.  

3 stars
Thank you Ballantine Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Blackhearts

Blackhearts, Nicole Castroman

Published: February 9th 2016 by Simon Pulse

Hardcover, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There’s just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents’ deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to Curaçao—where her mother was born—when she’s stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.

How awesome is that cover?   I knew going in that this was a pre-piracy Blackbeard story. Castroman is very clear when talking about the book that she’s laying the foundation for his story – not venturing to sea with him.  So while the cover seems to promise drama on a pirate galleon, what we really get is drama in the drawing room that leads our future Blackbeard to his ship.  Was there ever drama.  

We have Anne, who is the illegitimate daughter of a British merchant and his Curacao born slave.  When her parents both die Anne is sent to work in the home of another wealthy merchant.  Anne crosses path with Edward “Teach” Drummond – the young and handsome son of the master of the house.  Let’s get out of the way that “Teach” was the lamest nickname possibly ever. It felt to me like a complete anachronism and just grated at my nerves every time I read it.  

While I like how Anne and Edward sparked at each other, I could not get past the inherent imbalance of power that was present in their relationship.  Anne was fantastic and I loved that Castroman’s main character was the daughter of a slave trying to set her own path.  But this was set in the late 1600’s and we’re talking about 1) a relationship between a servant and her boss’s son and 2) a multiracial relationship which was made way less than the big deal I would think it had to have been.  I just couldn’t get past those two issues to want these two to be together.  Then there was the rest of the background dramatics like unfaithful housemaids and Edward’s petty fiance.  It seemed like it was too obvious where each plot point was going.  

I was ready to stop this book, but I kept reading comments about the ending being completely brutal.  So for some perverse reason I kept reading – and I loved the ending!  I won’t spoil it – but really how can two people settle down in love and have the story lead to one of the most infamous pirates in history?  The ending was brave and honestly bumped this up a star for me.

2.5 stars

Thank you Simon Pulse and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover, Isabel Allende

Published November 3rd 2015 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: ARC from publisher

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In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

I am a huge fan of Isabel Allende.  I started in college with Daughter of Fortune and started reading everything I could.  The House of the Spirits is magical.  The book about her daughter, Paula broke my heart.  Her family history completely fascinates me.  Allende’s stories have moved from Chile to the United States – which makes sense as she’s now settled in California and an American herself.  I admit that while I love her earlier works the most I was still extremely eager to dive into the Japanese Lover.  

The Japanese Lover definitely tells a good story.  We bounce between Alma, a resident at a San Francisco home for seniors, and her assistant Irina, an immigrant with a mysterious past.  We also follow Alma’s grandson Seth, who is in love with Irina and in cahoots with her to try to understand where Alma disappears to on weekends.  The setting was great – there could have been so many more stories to tell in Lark House about all of the aging residents and the staff.  As Allende takes the reader into Alma’s past arriving in California after fleeing the Nazis in Poland we meet her young friend Ichimei and his family.

Alma, Irina and Seth are all entwined researching history for a book that Seth will write and chapters are interspersed with letters from Ichimei to Alma over the years.  The young friends are separated when Pearl Harbor is bombed and Ichimei and his family are sent away.  The contrasts between Alma’s family’s fortune and Ichimei’s journey to a Japanese internment camp are stark – as are the differences in upbringing for young Irina and Seth.  It was definitely unsettling to read about the Japanese camps at a time of so much hate in the news.  Scary really.  That being said, I enjoyed the back and forth between the stories – I feel like I could have read a book focused on just one of these couples.  I definitely didn’t like Alma’s choices all the time, but she was entertaining to read about.  

Again – Allende always tells a good story.  I just feel like this time I was simply told a story rather than having been immersed into one.  The characters were interesting, but could have had much greater depth. Allende touches on so many topics – World War II, racism, child abuse, immigration and poverty, living with disabilities and aging – but she could have gone so much further into any of them.  

I’m going to find myself rereading the House of the Spirits soon to find that Allende magic.

3 stars

Thank you Atria for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black, E.B. Hudspeth

Published May 21st 2013 by Quirk Books

Hardcover, 208 pages

Source: Publisher for review

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Philadelphia, the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages—and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?

The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from a childhood spent exhuming corpses through his medical training, his travels with carnivals, and the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia, a Gray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts—dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus—all rendered in meticulously detailed anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.

This was a crazy book – and I often really like crazy books!  This was a really, really fast read as the actual story of Dr. Spencer Black was less than 100 pages.  I was intrigued by Dr. Black and his whacked out story – but I feel like I just read a novella more than a BOOK.  Dr. Black goes down a scary road from investigating birth defects to chasing tales of mythical creatures and even trying to create his own.  From the size of this striking hardcover I just expected a lot more.  I enjoyed the fictional biography as it was, but I would have really been into a lot more detail about Dr. Black and his poor family so I’m a bit bummed this was so short.  I know the ending was meant to be a mystery – but I want to know more!

Clearly so much work went into this book.  The illustrations in the Index are really cool – The Siren, Cerebus or the Canis Hades, and the Pegasus to name a few.  These were really amazing to flip through.  Looking at the illustrations definitely left me wondering about what the history of the mythical creatures could have been.  But in the end I would have loved more story about Dr. Black and even the mythical creatures versus pages of drawings.  This was an impressive read just for being so different and I’d recommend reading it because of that, just know what you’re getting into.   I would also check out anything else Hudspeth publishes because this was obviously a product of a lot of love and work!

3 stars

Thank you Quirk Books for this copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Speed Kings: The 1932 Winter Olympics and the Fastest Men in the World

Speed Kings: The 1932 Winter Olympics and the Fastest Men in the World, Andy Bull

Publication: October 20th 2015 by Avery

Hardcover, 304 pages

Source: e-ARC from publisher

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A story of risk, adventure, and daring as four Americans race to win the gold medal in the most dangerous competition in Olympic history.

In the 1930s, as the world hurtled toward war, speed was all the rage. Bobsledding, the fastest and most thrilling way to travel on land, had become a sensation. Exotic, exciting, and brutally dangerous, it was the must-see event of the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, the first Winter Games on American soil. Bobsledding required exceptional skill and extraordinary courage—qualities the American team had in abundance.

There was Jay O’Brien, the high-society playboy; Tippy Grey, a scandal-prone Hollywood has-been; Eddie Eagan, world champion heavyweight boxer and Rhodes Scholar; and the charismatic Billy Fiske, the true heart of the team, despite being barely out of his teens. In the thick of the Great Depression, the nation was gripped by the story of these four men, their battle against jealous locals, treacherous US officials, and the very same German athletes they would be fighting against in the war only a few short years later.

Billy, in fact, went on to talk his way into the Royal Air Force—despite their Brits-only policy—and was there to fight the Nazis during the Battle of Britain. King of speed to the end, he would become the first American fighter pilot killed in WWII.

The exploits of Billy and his teammates make up a story that spans the globe, from Golden Age Hollywood to seedy New York gambling dens, to the most fashionable European resorts, the South Seas, and beyond.

Bobsledding, king of the Winter Olympics – who knew?  I admit I don’t think a lot about bobsledding in the years in between Olympics, but I was sold on this book from the description above.  You have to love a story of athletic determination and beating the odds to get to the Olympics – even if that wasn’t quite what this team’s story was.  It turns out that the bobsled course was a millionaires’ playground and the biggest challenge to the gold medal winning team was a paper pusher with a grudge.   This did read in parts like a society column (thanks Sarah),  but when balanced with the stories leading up the the Games I didn’t mind that.  

A sport “for those rich enough to afford it and bold enough to brave it.”  The men that made up the Olympic bobsledding team definitely were bold and overall – wow really rich.  The connections between these men and Hollywood and Tammany Hall were fascinating to me and I definitely could have read more about those links.  I liked the in depth looks at the bobbers – but I was frustrated that it was most in detail for Billy Fiske.  He was a heroic man and deserves the attention completely, but for being a book about the team, it felt like in the end it was Fiske’s story with his teammates as footnotes.  I was particularly fascinated with Eddie Eagan – from birth on a Colorado ranch to a Rhodes scholar to Olympian- and I would have loved to have read more about his post-sporting life.  While the story of how the Olympics came to Lake Placid was interesting, I would have like more of the book to have been about the Games themselves rather than the maneuvering necessary to get an Olympic bid into place.   Maybe the length of nonfiction books like Romantic Outlaws has spoiled me – I just would have liked more depth overall.  In the end this was an interesting story and will give me something to think back on when I watch the next winter Olympics.  

For the oddness of the story about the Dewey family and their involvement in Lake Placid alone this was worth the read – I’ll never look at this cataloging system the same way again.  

3 stars

Thank you Avery Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition.

Review: The Scam

The Scam , Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg (Fox and O’Hare #4)

Published September 15th 2015 by Bantam

Hardcover, 304 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Nicolas Fox is a charming con man and master thief on the run. Kate O’Hare is the FBI agent who is hot on his trail. At least that’s what everyone thinks. In reality, Fox and O’Hare are secretly working together to bring down super-criminals the law can’t touch. Criminals like brutal casino magnate Evan Trace.

Evan Trace is running a money-laundering operation through his casino in Macau. Some of his best customers are mobsters, dictators, and global terrorists. Nick and Kate will have to go deep undercover as high-stakes gamblers, wagering millions of dollars—and their lives—in an attempt to topple Trace’s empire.

It’s a scam that will take Fox and O’Hare from the Las Vegas strip, to the sun-soaked beaches of Oahu’s North Shore, and into the dark back alleys of Macau. Their only backup—a self-absorbed actor, a Somali pirate, and Kate’s father, and an ex-soldier who believes a rocket launcher is the best way to solve every problem. What could possibly go wrong?

Fox and O’Hare are back along with their eccentric crew, over the top villains, and flirtatious banter.  If you’re not familiar with the series, Kate O’Hare is an FBI agent who appears to be on the hunt for top con man Nick Fox.  In reality Fox is her secret partner helping the FBI to con other criminals who seem untouchable and to bring them down.  Are these complicated stories?  No.  Are they totally entertaining and perfect for when you need a light read – Yes!  

So Kate and Nick are after a corrupt casino owner first, because he’s just an icky guy and second, to stop him from laundering money for other criminals.  This series is kind of like watching a crime show on tv, there’s basically nothing Fox & O’Hare can’t pull off and it all comes out just right in the end.  I love that Kate is nearly unaware of her own femininity and is happiest going after the bad guys versus Nick who is all about enjoying the finest things in life with simply ingenious plans to con everyone who crosses his path.  I enjoy reading Fox winding Kate up just as much as I enjoy when she shoots him down.  Honestly though, Kate’s slightly crazy dad is still my favorite – okay he’s totally crazy.  And hilarious.

I won’t say if the flirtation finally comes to more than a few smooches – but I will say that if you enjoy this series at all you’re going to be clamoring to get your hands on book #5.  

Thank you Bantam and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!