Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger, Rae Carson (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1)

Hardcover, 432 pages

Published September 22nd 2015 by Greenwillow Books

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

I completely loved Rae Carson’s first fantasy series, Fire & Thorns, and was ecstatic when I heard she had a new series out.  If you think you don’t read YA, I have two words for you to explain why you need to try Walk on Earth a Stranger – OREGON TRAIL.

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Yes, that Oregon Trail.  Leah Westfall has a secret ability.  She can feel gold in the earth.  No one but her parents know, and her family certainly doesn’t live like they are collecting gold by magic.  Then poor Leah faces a terrible family tragedy in Georgia and decides the best place to go is to California.  Leah becomes Lee and starts the long journey to the West.  Just like the game!  We have oxen and wagons and sadly have dysentery and other misfortunes.  But most importantly, we have Lee.  She’s a great character!  She’s brave and she’s strong, even though she’s had horrible losses and she is afraid and alone.  She isn’t waiting to be rescued – Lee is always ready to help rescue someone else. Carson made me feel like I was right there on the journey as Lee makes new friends and definitely some enemies.  It wasn’t just Lee though!  I felt really strongly (both good and bad) about her traveling companions as well.  I will say that Jefferson needs to man up a bit if he is going to hold up to Hector from Fire and Thorns (swoon!).  I was so anxious to see who would make it through each day of the journey or not.  

The research Carson did on the period completely shines through.  I did see commentary when the book came out about how Carson handles the racial issues at the times – Lee is white but her best friend Jefferson is half Cherokee to start.  There is also interaction with Indian tribes along the Trail which made me really emotional to read.  I was glad that Carson confronted the issues and forced Lee to think about what her comrades were doing.  I hope to see more discussion come from the next book.  For more – with spoilers – check out Debbie Reese’s discussion chapter by chapter.  

For being a book about a magical girl, there is definitely not a lot of magic in Walk on Earth a Stranger. This reads almost like straight historical fiction -almost.  I hope the next book goes further into what Lee can do – maybe even a why?  Is she the only person with magic?  Especially with her particular magic?!  This is an adventure I will be following closely and I’m thankful to be following it via kindle and not a wagon train!

4 stars!

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

Nonfiction Review – Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik

Published October 27th 2015 by Dey Street Books

ebook, 240 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.

A few things I took away from this delightful book that should convince you to read about an amazing woman.

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  • RBG is in her 80’s and does 20 push-ups a day.  20 PUSH-UPS A DAY.  If that doesn’t tell you she’s a bad-ass that you should want to read about, read on.  
  • This woman was a mother of a 1 year-old, 1 of 9 women in her class at Harvard law when her husband Marty was diagnosed with cancer.  Marty was also a law student, a year ahead of RBG at Harvard.  RBG came home from law school every day, spent time with her child, typed up the notes she had other students take for Marty while he was being treated and then did her own law school work.  She’s super human.
  • RBG cooked her last meal in 1980.  Her daughter is quoted as saying “Mommy does the thinking and Daddy does the cooking.”  
  • RBG is an opera lover (something she shares with Justice Scalia in a truly fascinating friendship) and has said “If I had any talent that God could give me, I would be a great diva.”  Notorious RBG, Supreme Court Justice to opera diva, amazing.

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  • RBG and Marty had what appears to have been a true partnership.  What an amazing couple.  I cried an embarrassing amount on the train while reading his last letter to her after more than 50 years of marriage.  I think everyone can only hope to be so lucky in love and friendship.

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  • As an attorney she argued for equal gender rights not just for women, but for men – and this book shares her written opinions with legal commentary, not just her personal life.  This is a fast read, but not all fluff.  She taught law and worked for the ACLU before donning her judge’s robes.  RBG has done amazing work to help to empower everyone – not just women.
  • You can’t spell Truth without RUTH.

Read this!  If you haven’t had enough RBG check out the Tumblr site that was the inspiration for the book.  You will soon find yourself shopping for Notorious RBG merchandise like me!  My daughter calls my RBG tote my “King Bag” I need to work on reminding her that RBG is way cooler than a king!

5 stars!  

Thank you Dey Street Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes taken from an uncorrected galley copy in advance of publication.  

Review: The Scorpion Rules

The Scorpion Rules, Erin Bow (Prisoners of Peace #1)

Published: September 22nd 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Hardcover, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace – sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals – are raised together in small, isolated schools called Preceptures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Precepture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace, even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

Enter Elián Palnik, the Precepture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Precepture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

I thought I was done reading any new dystopian series, but for some reason I felt compelled to request Erin Bow’s debut from NetGalley. Such a smart decision on my part!  This book was excellent!  I was having a really bad day and thankfully Stormy at Book Blog Bake was tweeting about this book and I decided to start reading.  I nearly couldn’t put this book down!

We meet Talis in the beginning.  Talis is the artificial intelligence who decides that “he” has had enough of watching humans blow each other up and takes everything under his own control.  Talis has control over the Children of Peace – the children of every world leader.  When two nations decide to go to war, their kings, queens, presidents or living deities do so with the knowledge that they first have just put their own child to death.  Talis sounds like a horrible evil entity but he’s really thoughtful, and trying to actually save as many lives as possible.  At the same time Talis kind of made me think of this….

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Then we meet Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, who has been raised knowing her death could come at any time along with the death of one of her friends.  I was reluctant at first to like Greta too much – knowing she could die basically from page 1 – but she was so brave despite her fears, strong in the face of terror, loyal, and so damn smart.  I loved that the Precepture she’s been raised at is full of children from all over the world.  These kids are all hopefully future world leaders so it’s only fitting that they’re of all race, religion and political beliefs.  

The description about this book sets you up to think Greta is coming into an epic love story with a new student in the face of a war but oh no there was so much more!   This book went way deeper into questions of love than I expected and choices were made that I never saw coming.  I would not have thought I would become so emotionally wrapped up in questions of artificial intelligence ever but Bow had me enthralled.  This book was about friendship and sexuality, about sacrifice and duty all in a terrifying future in which we fight over water.  

I cannot wait to see where Bow goes with the next book!  What is Talis going to do next?  I need to know!  Read this because I need someone to talk to about this book!  

5 stars!

Thank you Margaret K. McElderry Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Girl Waits with Gun

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart

Published September 1st 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hardcover, 416 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

Seriously, don’t you want to read this book just looking at the cover?  It’s fabulous!  

When a wildly driven car crashes into her family’s buggy Constance Kopp starts her sisters down a path that alters their lives completely.  The Kopp sisters have lived independently on their farm since their mother’s death.  They’re stretched fairly thin, but wouldn’t have it any other way.  Everyone they meet is sure they must need a male protector to rescue them – but they most definitely do not.  Marriage is not an option for the older sisters; and though their older brother continually offers them a place in his home they turn him down each time.  

Constance realizes that the loss of the buggy is more than she and her sisters can afford and sends a letter to the driver of the car, Henry Kaufman, requesting that he pay $50 for repairs.  When her letters are ignored Constance travels to his silk dyeing factory and learns Kaufman is a powerful bully with a gang of drunken followers and that she has put herself and her sisters directly into his sights.  As I read I had to keep reminding myself that this was really Constance Kopp’s life – and what a life!  Union busting, the Black Hand, kidnapping threats and bricks thrown through windows.  I kept thinking – I’d back out of this NOW and she kept bravely forging on ahead.  

There was no gripping mystery to be solved, but I was still caught up in the book to see if Constance could out maneuver Kaufman.  Could she get her $50 and keep her sisters safe?  Would the Kopp sisters leave the farm that they were so determined to keep for themselves?  I won’t spoil these questions for you, but you should read to find out!  I appreciated the thorough afterword that laid out what was fact vs. fiction and I think Stewart added well where she did.  The use of the newspaper headlines was really great – especially when they were about Constance herself! 

Constance Kopp was a woman ahead of her time and I really enjoyed her story.  The pacing was a bit slow for me at times, but this didn’t happen over a short period of time and perhaps that’s reflected in the way Stewart did pace it out.  I am very curious about how Constance’s life continued after she became the first female deputy sheriff and I wonder if there’s another book in the works?  

4 stars!

Thank you to TJ at My Book Strings for bringing this book to my attention earlier this year!  

Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.  

We’re Reading Mortal Heart

It’s time to revisit everyone’s favorite teenage assassin nuns! By that, we mean the characters of Robin LeFevers’ His Fair Assassins  trilogy. We have already read and reviewed Grave Mercy (here, here, and here) and Dark Triumph (here, here, and here). In a nutshell, we’re in 15th century Brittany, following the stories of three novitiates at the convent of Saint Mortain, a.k.a. the god of death.

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Yeah, it’s bizarre. Just go with it.

The third book of the series follows Annith, who has grown up at the convent after being dropped there as an infant. She is bright, deceptive, and deadly – and she’s determined to find out why her two less skilled friends Ismae and Sybella have already been sent out on missions to save the Duchy of Brittany while she remains on a tight leash at the convent.

Until she sneaks out to find some answers.  

Amanda: Did you start Mortal Heart?

Holly: Yes! While I was slow to warm up to the first book, I’m totally hooked by now. I want to know what Annith is going to find out! And, I love her. She is smarter than Ismae and has much better people skills than Sybella. Game on.

Amanda: I tried to explain this book to J, and he was not happen with my description. There is no Catholicism, right?

Holly: No. There is something about “the 9” which reminds me of Game of Thrones because they have “the old gods” and “the seven” But anyway, I found this handy explanation on the author’s site.

Amanda: Cool. How far are you? [Trying to see if my sister has already gotten to where Annith has snuck out of the convent and is running around with the hellequin.]

Holly: I wish I could remember some details about the first two books since there’s some overlapping. I am trying to remember if we should know these hellequin.

Amanda: Check out these awesome recaps. [Thank you @Recaptains! and @ChristinaJuneYA for telling me about them]

Holly: [Has not read these yet. Don’t tell my sister.] I am worried about the hellequin. I think they might be dead guys.

[Reads furthers and googles]

(Thanks Wikipedia)

The name Harlequin is taken from that of a mischievous “devil” or “demon” character in popular French passion plays. It originates with an Old French term herlequin, hellequin, first attested in the 11th century, by the chronicler Orderic Vitalis, who recounts a story of a monk who was pursued by a troop of demons when wandering on the coast of Normandy at night. These demons were led by a masked, club-wielding giant and they were known as familia herlequin (var. familia herlethingi). This medieval French version of the Germanic Wild Hunt, Mesnée d’Hellequin, has been connected to the English figure of Herla cyning (“host-king”; German Erlkönig) Hellequin was depicted a black-faced emissary of the devil, roaming the countryside with a group of demons chasing the damned souls of evil people to Hell.

Yes, these are definitely dead guys.

Amanda: Well I’m a bit more nervous about the hellequin I have to say.  I think Annith is awesome and I can’t wait to see her get a chance to kick some ass!

Now I really don’t want to talk anymore – I really need to get back to reading this. (Alternating with Dumplin’ and I’m doubly in love!)

Review: The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins

Published June 16th 2015 by Crown

Hardcover, 388 pages

Source: Blogging for Books

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From Goodreads…

Carolyn’s not so different from the other human beings around her. She’s sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.

After all, she was a normal American herself, once.

That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.

Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.

In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn’t gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient Pelapi customs. They’ve studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.

Sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.

But Carolyn can win. She’s sure of it. What she doesn’t realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she’s forgotten a great deal about being human.

I’ll be honest, if you give me a book and compare it to a Neil Gaiman book then I am most likely going to take a chance on it. So when I heard Gaiman comparisons and read that this was about a creepy library I couldn’t pass up a chance to read The Library at Mount Char.  I think this is the strangest book I have ever read – stranger than a Gaiman book for sure!  I mean, we have a male murderer who wears a tutu all the time – and that is no where near the strangest thing in this book.   I don’t know that I agree with the comparisons to Gaiman, it wasn’t on that level for me, but it was a really entertaining read.  

To go back to the beginning – the Library is inhabited by 12 librarians – each of whom has a separate catalog- and their Father. To name a few of the librarians: David’s catalog is war and fighting, Jennifer’s is healing, Michael speaks with animals of all kinds, Margaret can talk to the dead, and Carolyn’s catalog is all of the languages on Earth ever spoken.  No one is allowed to delve into a subject that is not in their catalog, if you do the punishment is terrible.  The books in the Library are even color coded by subject so there can be no innocent mistakes – though I’m not sure there are any innocents in the Library.  

When we meet Carolyn she is “blood-drenched and barefoot” and she’s smiling about it.  Her Father is missing and the Library has locked everyone out.  Carolyn has to work with her siblings to figure out who might be acting against their Father and how to find their way home.  This is not a book for the squeamish.  Once you get past the gore and the violence (and the tutu) though there’s humor and hope, bravery and kindness, and a library that sounds kind of amazing despite the scariness.  

I’ve realized the best comparison I can think of – The Usual Suspects, a movie I completely love.  

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Something about the feeling of “WHAT THE EFF just happened” that you have at the end of the movie combined with the realization that every piece of the plot was nearly perfectly orchestrated – that’s kind of how I felt at the end of The Library at Mount Char.  No one realizes they’re being manipulated until it’s too late.  I have to say I loved the revelation of where the title came from – loved how it came about!  I was really impressed at how Hawkins wrapped all his threads of the story around in the end – I’m very curious to see where he’d go if there is a sequel in the works.  I would love to know more about the catalogs- not David’s though. I’m done with him and his tutu.  

Shania at Shania Reads was one of the bloggers that had me curious to read this book and had a fun Q&A with Hawkins.  If you want more about this book you should definitely check it out here!

Basically to sum this up- this book was crazy, it was magical, it was violent, it was funny, it was smart.  You should read it!  I’m going to need to read it again soon so you should talk to me about it!

4 stars!

Thank you Blogging for Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun, Paula McLain

Published July 28th 2015 by Ballantine Book

Hardcover, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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From Goodreads

Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

After reading Megan Mayhew Bergman’s short stories in Almost Famous Women earlier this year I could not wait to start Paula McLain’s new book about Beryl Markham.  Circling the Sun begins with Markham flying from England across the Atlantic- the first woman to do so.  As she believes she might crash into the Atlantic she reflects back to her life in Kenya.  I deliberately had read nothing else about Markham so I really didn’t know if we were starting with her imagined final moments before her real death or what would happen in the end.  I am so glad I went in basically blind to what was to come.

Beryl’s memories take us to her childhood on her father’s farm in Kenya.  I really felt I was getting a view of British colonial Africa in the early 1900s.  I know that people really lived like this, but at times it felt like it had to be fiction!  I just cannot imagine trying to live with such excess next to the African savannah.  When Beryl was a child her mother took her younger brother and returned to England, sadly abandoning Beryl until she was an adult.  Beryl basically ran wild with the horses and with the local children – until she was about 16 and was pretty much left to fend for herself as an adult.  

While finding her way as a young wife and as the first woman to pursue her license to train horses Beryl fell in with the Happy Valley set and was exposed to yet another new world.  There was romance, big game hunting, lots of booze and lots of heartbreak.  The question asked was “Are you married or do you live in Kenya?”  The Happy Valley group are fascinating to read about but really unlikeable.  Its hard to believe that people really lived like that I suppose.  It was hard to keep track of who was having an affair with whom and even harder to determine who was actually in a faithful marriage!   

I wanted to both applaud Beryl and give her a hug as I was reading.  She was so brave and determined and at the same time came across as a sad figure who needed both a friend and a parent.  She was so young when she started breaking barriers!  McClain gives you Markham as a real person though, she’s flawed and she’s frightened at times, but she believes in herself and was an amazing woman.  I also was unfamiliar with the story of Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen – so I definitely need to see Out of Africa (or read it) soon.  Beryl’s side of this love triangle was kind of maddening for me and also so very sad and I want to see the relationship from both women’s sides.  

I very much want to read Markham’s own book about her life now, West with the Night.  I would love to hear her own words of her adventures.  She certainly did nothing by half measures.  McClain completely brought Markham to life for me and hers is a story I need more of. 4 stars!

Thank you Ballantine Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.