Overdue Reviews: Nevernight

I have 22 books on my Goodreads shelf that I still intend to review.  Oops.  Here’s my first try with a book that I devoured last year.  

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Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Published August 9, 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley 

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Let me just say Nevernight was bad ass.  I loved it so much I’m rereading it right now to get ready for the sequel.  I am not going to minimize things,  Nevernight was violent and it was vulgar but it was fabulous.  Kristoff himself sums the book up on twitter as #stabstabstab.  That’s accurate.   As I am remembering what’s coming in the book I’m cringing a bit waiting for the blood to start flowing. 

Mia is on a mission for revenge over her the deaths of her parents which takes her to assassin school out in the desert.  This is no Hogwarts – the teachers will kill the students as soon as help them in some cases.  Mia is also a darken – which brings powers she doesn’t fully understand herself – but one thing Mia can do is to manipulate shadows.  She can seemingly manufacture the dark and pull off some scary things.  She has her own shadow companion with the misleading name of Mr. Kindly.  I didn’t know I could like a cat so much!   Mr. Kindly lives off Mia’s fear which enables her to be both extra brave and extra stupid at times.  She needs to be brave while living among assassins but I did question her judgement quite a few times as well… 

So in a brief summary Nevernight has a young woman learning mad murder skills, friendships and kissing, backstabbing and gore, all in a world with three suns and fabulous new magic.  I was obsessed while reading and I loved it!  I cannot wait to see what Mia goes on to do and who she goes on to kill in the future.

I thought about trying to be clever and footnoting this – but that just seemed silly.  I’ll simply say that the footnotes made me snort laughing on a few occasions.  It seems snarky footnotes are a way to my heart – see also Jen Lancaster, Kevin Kwan.  

#stabstabstab

Thank you NetGalley and Thomas Dunne Books for this review copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler

Publication: May 24th 2016 by Knopf

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: ARC gifted from a friend

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“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”

This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.

These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

I think this is my favorite read of 2016 so far.  I don’t think I’m ever going to feel the same way dining out at a nice restaurant.  Tess leaves her childhood home and her life as she’s known it behind at 22 and heads to New York to find her adult path.  She almost never looks back.  She lucks into an apartment to share and a job at an unnamed restaurant in Union Square where she’s hired as a backwaiter.  The training, the hazing, the bar towels, the wine, the food, the semi-incestuous staff relationships, the management, the FOOD, the drugs.  So many things are going on in a restaurant and I had no idea!

Tess navigates new friendships and toxic relationships with the bravado and bluster every 22 year-old should have.  She’s brave and she’s thoughtless and I just loved her story.   The writing is intense and enthralling.  I loved the slips into stream of consciousness as Tess lived out her days at the restaurant.    

Once you admit you want things to taste like more or better versions of themselves – once you commit to flavor as your god – the rest follows.  I started adding salt to everything.  My tongue grew calloused, abraded, overworked.  You want the fish to taste like fish, but fish times a thousand.  Times a million.  Fish on crack.  I was lucky I never tried crack.

Read this with a glass of wine – skip the crack.  Then come talk to me about it!  I’m going to be reading this again soon and then hoping to be out at a great restaurant watching the staff.

Review: Jane Steele

Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye

Published March 22nd 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Kindle Edition, 427 pages

Source: Penguin First to Read

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“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

“Reader, I murdered him.”  

Who doesn’t want to read this book based on that line?  So let me tell you, Reader, it was amazing.  I was a bit unsure at first as I read, wondering just how beloved Jane Eyre could be turned into a murderess.  Then Jane Steele herself holds Eyre up as a model of nearly all goodness and I realized how very different these characters would be.  Jane Steele is orphaned and is sent by her aunt to away to school, these facts and that she later becomes a governess are pretty much where her similarities to Jane Eyre end.  Jane Steele is funny!  She’s smart.  She’s quick on her feet.  Most importantly she realizes violence is necessary to save herself at times.  

As excited as I was to read this book I did not think I would get too attached to our murderess but I really did.  I was expecting a cold-hearted sociopath.  What Faye delivers is a child who is lost without her mother, preyed on by a creepy cousin and then delivered into a school that sounds like hell.  No wonder she turns to murder!  Really when you consider what she’s been through she is very brave!  Jane is also loyal and remarkably honest.  She grows into a remarkably thoughtful young woman, despite her views of herself.  

I’ve seen some complaints in reviews about the second half of the book where Jane returns to Highgate House being slow.  I thought this half was nearly faster than the beginning and the gothic feel much lighter.  I loved the addition of the Sikh party at Highgate House and how comfortably teaching Jane about their religion and history in India flowed with the story.  The romance was sweet and completely appropriate for the book.   I was nervous for Jane while she wrestled with the question of how to meld her past and  her hopes with  Mr. Thornfield (and I loved Thornfield!).  In the end I was just delighted and completely entertained.

Now that I’ve read my second successful Jane Eyre related book (Re Jane was another great book!) I am definitely going to have to go back to the classic.  

4 stars!

Thank you GP Putnam and Penguin First to Read for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: The Serpent King

The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner

Published: March 8th 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House

Kindle Edition, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

I’m soon going to have to revise my feelings on reading YA contemporaries if I continue to get so lucky with my reading choices.  Generally if I’m reading something contemporary I want adult but I kept seeing buzz about The Serpent King on Twitter – thanks to Eric Smith in particular – I was convinced to request a copy.  The Serpent King joins some other excellent YA reads like All the Rage, Made You Up and Dumplin’.  This book had me smiling and then crying within pages.  

Dill, Lydia and Travis stand out from the other kids in their small Tennessee town, and though they are none too alike themselves they are the best of friends.  Lydia has a popular fashion blog and supportive family that have her ready to head to New York for college, Travis has a Game of Thrones-like fantasy world to escape to and an online community for friendship. Then there’s Dill; Dill has to visit his father in prison and a plan to go full time at the local grocery store after graduation.  Dill’s father was a snake handling preacher before he was sent to prison on the worst of charges and he and Dill’s mom- along with nearly everyone else- blames Dill for his sentencing.

The Serpent King begins as these friends are starting their senior year of high school both with dread and an eagerness to be done.  Zentner’s excellent storytelling put me right into a cruel high school experience in rural Tennessee.  I cringed as Dill and Lydia approached the parking lot each day.  But he wrote this beautiful friendship as well so the terrible was balanced with humor.  I loved how Zentner took the story right up to the edge of hopelessness and then showed how brave you have to be to move forward.  These three friends made me cry and they made me hope.

As a side note, absent or terrible parents are par for the course in YA, which made Lydia’s amazing parents stand out all the more.  I loved them!  Even if they were a bit over the top, it felt good to read about a real and loving parent-child relationship; especially to hold up against the other parents in this book.   

If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave and beautiful things

This book was all of those things – painful, brave and beautiful.  Read it!

5 stars!

Thank you Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for this advance edition in exchange for an honest opinion!

Quotes taken from unedited copy in advance of publication.

 

 

Review: The Girl from Everywhere

The Girl From Everywhere, Heidi Heilig

Hardcover, 464 pages

Expected publication: February 16th 2016 by Greenwillow Books

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question…

Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.

Time travelling pirates?!  Could a book sound any cooler than this?  Nix sails on her father’s ship, The Temptation, and as long as he has a map the captain can sail to any place – and any time.  The past?  Then to the future? Mythical ports?  All doable!  Oh and partly set in Hawaii?  Give me more!  

Nix helps her father find the maps required for their time traveling sails, but the one map he desperately wants might wipe Nix off page entirely.  Nix and Captain Slate don’t sail the Temptation alone – they have a unique and hilarious crew to help – including ghosts and tiny dragons.  So poor Nix loves her father, but to help him find happiness she risks her own life.  And as much as the story is about Nix and her father, there’s so much more; love, addiction, treason and adventure on the high seas!  

I loved Nix, I loved Kashmir and I loved the mythology that Heilig wove into their journeys.  I knew I was head over heels for this book when the Chinese Terracotta warriors came up…

…‹http://www.chinatour.com/xian/xian-attractions/terracotta-warriors.htm

…‹http://www.chinatour.com/xian/xian-attractions/terracotta-warriors.htm

If you’re looking for an adventure I highly recommend this fast and fun read.  I am dying to get my hands on a finished copy of The Girl from Everywhere so I can see the maps!  This was such an awesome concept and I cannot wait to see where the series goes.  

5 stars!

Thank you Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Tender

Tender, Belinda McKeon

Published February 16th 2016 by Lee Boudreaux Books

Hardcover, 416 pages

Source: Galley from publisher

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When they meet in Dublin in the late nineties, Catherine and James become close as two friends can be. She is a sheltered college student, he an adventurous, charismatic young artist. In a city brimming with possibilities, he spurs her to take life on with gusto. But as Catherine opens herself to new experiences, James’s life becomes a prison; as changed as the new Ireland may be, it is still not a place in which he feels able to truly be himself. Catherine, grateful to James and worried for him, desperately wants to help — but as time moves on, and as life begins to take the friends in different directions, she discovers that there is a perilously fine line between helping someone and hurting them further. When crisis hits, Catherine finds herself at the mercy of feelings she cannot control, leading her to jeopardize all she holds dear.

In Tender, Catherine leaves her sheltered life in small town Ireland for her first year of college.  She studies, she drinks, she experiments but still is waiting for more.  Then she meets James.  

Extraordinary.  That was what they were.  That was a James word; that was one of the words she had got, over the summer, from James.

Catherine feels her friendship with James is the extraordinary thing she’s been waiting for her whole life.  James is funny and witty; he’s loud and attention drawing.  Catherine realizes this is what a relationship could feel like – and then James comes out to her.  Mind you, our setting is Ireland, just years after homosexuality has been decriminalized, but definitely not accepted.  Catherine claims to be accepting of James but her feelings are more complicated than she is willing to admit.  It’s not easy being in Catherine’s head all the time, her ups and downs are painful at points.  I found myself cringing in a few places as I was reading waiting to see what she’d do next.  

Tender just put my mind back to that place in college where everything is HUGE.  You can’t see beyond your own personal crises and mistakes are made – that wasn’t just me right?  As things build to a personal crescendo with Catherine and James, so too does McKeon’s writing.  I loved the fragmented quality of the text matching Catherine’s thoughts.  It was amazing how the story flowed from the beginning beautiful prose to to the stilted lines and then on again.  

I expected Tender to go out in an explosive crisis, but rather, McKeon’s quiet ending was even more powerful. There were explosions enough within the plot.  I’ve been walking around for days reflecting back on Tender and that time in my own life and will definitely read this one again.  

5 stars

Thank you Lee Boudreau Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!  

Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
Published 2000 by Picador USA
639 Pages

 


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I didn’t know very much about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay when I added it to my 2015 TBR Challenge List, other than it had something to do with comic books. The novel is divided into 6 parts, each one adding a layer of richness to the story of two Jewish cousins, and the rise and fall of their comics empire.

At the outset, teenage Joseph Kavalier is living in pre-WWII Prague, with his family’s hopes pinned on sending him to start a new life with relatives in New York. The first of the many layers of storytelling is Joe’s escape, involving his magic teacher and the Golem of Prague. At this point, I was all-in for wherever Chabon was going to take the story. (Thanks in part to The Golem and the Jinni for kicking off my fascination with golems.) Joe makes it to New York, and meets his cousin Sammy, who suffered in childhood from polio and an absentee father. Sammy’s dreams coupled with Joe’s artistic talent lead to great things – as well as terrible things – for the cousins.

Scrolling through the Goodreads reviews for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I see comments that are all across the board. Not every book is for everyone, but here’s my two cents: I’m not into comics in general, and there is a definite shortage of female characters with agency in this book, but neither of these things diminished my enjoyment of getting caught up in Joe and Sammy and their successes and heartbreaks.

Nor did Chabon’s immense vocabulary – I was happy to be reading this book on my Kindle, where I was able to look-up a words at least once a chapter. In fact, I wish I had made a list of words as I went, like I found from this reader. I’d be interested in the other 158 words that made his list.

Have you read this one, or any other Michael Chabon books?

Rosa shook her head. It seemed to be her destiny to live among men whose solutions were invariably more complicated or extreme than the problems they were intended to solve.