Book Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Book: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Published September 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire|324 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

I really loved the magic, traditions and culture in Labyrinth Lost.  When I first heard about it, I knew I wanted to rea it, because it seemed really different.

Los Lagos was a really vivid setting- it had this Wonderland feel to it, and I think, if it were to be adapted into a movie or t.v. show, that Los Lagos would be really pretty to look at.  I thought things were pretty interesting leading up to Los Lagos, and as pretty and vivid at it seems, it was also the point where I started to lose a little bit of interest.

I think it’s mostly because the stakes never felt really high.  I know Alex is trying to get her family back, but there was never the sense of urgency that she would never get them back if she didn’t comply with the Devourer’s wishes.  It was pretty predictable that she’d be reunited with them, and I kind of felt like the book never really made me feel like it was a distinct possibility.

There were also a lot of the tropes you’d see in a book like this.  The girl who’s the most powerful in a while, but doesn’t want it and would do anything to get rid of it.  There’s the best friend who has no idea her best friend is a bruja but goes after her anyway, and the bad boy with a troubled past who, in the end, does the right thing by trying to help our heroine.  It wasn’t annoying enough to make me dislike it, but just annoying enough for me to bring it up. So keep that in min if you’re thinking about reading it.

The magic and folklore were really different, and I liked the idea of a Deathday celebration.  There was something very old and traditional about the magic, like it was passed down from generation to generation.  I also really liked the contrast between Brooklyn and Los Lagos and Brooklyn and the magic we see in the book.

I did think Alex was a little bit on the bratty side- her family really cared about her, as did a lot of other people, and it seemed like she threw it right in their faces at her Deathday celebration.  I am curious about why her mom didn’t really put her through their magical training a little more.  I wonder if maybe that’s part of Alex’s problem.  Maybe not, but I do wonder if it would have made a difference.

And the cover!  It’s really unique and I’d definitely pick it up based off of the cover alone.

4 stars.  I can’t wait to read the next book, because I am curious to see where things go.  Especially with how the book ended.  It is really unique, and worth checking out!

Book Review: City Of Saints And Thieves by Natalie Anderson

Book: City Of Saints & Thieves by Natalie Anderson

Published January 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books For Young Readers|401 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

The more you see, the less you know.

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who does not exist.

Tina and her mother first arrived in Kenya as refugees from Congo desperately searching for a better life. Trading the peril of their besieged village for the busy metropolis of Sangui, they can barely believe their luck when Tina’s mother finds work as a maid for the Greyhills, one of the city’s most illustrious families. But there’s a dark secret lurking behind the family’s immense fortune, and when Tina discovers her mother shot dead in Mr. Greyhill’s private study, she knows he pulled the trigger.

With revenge on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving the streets on her own, working as a master thief with the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job with the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving a long-awaited chance for vengeance. But once Tina returns to the lavish home, she’s overcome by memories of her painful past, and the girl who does not exist is caught red-handed, setting into motion a breathless and dangerous cascade of events that will expose not only the truth behind who killed Tina’s mother, but even more harrowing secrets from Tina’s past that will change everything.

I thought City Of Saints & Thieves was a great book!  This is most definitely a book about getting revenge on the person who killed Tina’s mother, and I thought it went in a really interesting direction.

At first, Tina very much wants revenge on the man she believes killed her mother.  When she returns to the place where her mother died, a series of events leads her to realize that she didn’t know for sure what happened the night her mother died.  What really happened that night ends up being far different than what Tina thought happened, and she uncovers a lot of family history.  Everything from who her father is to why they left Congo.

What happened isn’t the whole story, and I liked how we uncovered what really happened that night.  I think it would be interesting to go back and re-read City Of Saints & Thieves knowing what I know now.

I liked the rules of being a thief that we see at the beginning of some of the chapters.  It added something special to the book, and I think it gives a peek into Tina’s life as part of the Goondas.

It did take a little while to get into the book, and I thought the pacing was a little uneven.  It was fast-paced, and then really slow.  I still wanted to know what happened next, but I felt like I had to wade through some parts of the book.

I also loved the setting!  I’ve read a few books set in Africa, but I don’t think I’ve read any set in Congo or Kenya before.  There is a sense of danger, and I felt like you really understand why Tina and her mother left Congo for Kenya.  You see the danger they’re in, and why people might seek a better life somewhere else.  You also see why people stay, even when it might be easier for them to leave.

It turns out the author has worked with refugees in Africa, and that really comes through.  It felt very well researched and I felt like there was a lot of attention to detail.

4 stars.  It was a little slow at times and it was hard to get into at first, but overall, I really liked it.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part One!

I’m back…sort of!  I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post, and I’m trying to get back into reviewing and blogging again.  I’ve been reading, but not up to reviewing.  But I still wanted to talk about the books I’ve been reading, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the books I haven’t talked about yet.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of them, since it’s been a while…but that’s not going to stop me from talking about them!

Book #1: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

Here’s what I thought:

  • It’s a middle grade contemporary about a kid who runs track, which I thought was cool.  I feel like track doesn’t come up a lot, as far as sports novels go.  Cross country, yes.  Track, not so much.
  • I don’t know that I remember enough to say anything else, but I remember thinking it was okay.  Then again, All-American Boys was such a great book that I had really high expectations.
  • I did like the parallels between running and what was going on in his life.  Especially with how running turned out to be a really good thing for him.
  • I don’t know that I’d read the rest of the books in the series- it looks like this is the first one of…I’m not sure how many.
  • It’s definitely a must read if you like stories about sports.  And also how to move on and deal with your past.
  • I think my rating would be 2 stars.  It’s okay, and not a lot stuck with me.

Book #2: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

My thoughts:

  • I really liked this book!  It’s a YA contemporary about Amanda, who transferred schools.  I felt for Amanda, who tried so hard to fit in, and who had to deal with a lot- bullying and transphobia are the first things that come to mind.
  • I really like that it’s not a coming out story- both are important, but I really liked seeing Amanda move to a new town and transition to a new phase in her life.
  • I liked the friendships she had too- people can be horrible, but I’m glad Amanda found some amazing people.
  • I can’t remember anything about the romance, other than I liked it…but that’s about it!
  • I loved the author’s note at the end of the book.  Don’t skip over it, because it really does add to an already awesome book.
  • I feel like I’m not doing this book any justice.  At all.  Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I remember next to nothing.  But it’s such a great book and really important and I doubt I’d do it much justice regardless.  But waiting months to do some sort of half-hearted attempt isn’t helping.
  • Part of why it’s important is because of what the book is about, but it is worth mentioning that the author is also trans.
  • And I’m not sure if it’s true, but the cover model is trans as well.  For some reason, that feels really important as well.
  • I know I got really emotional and starting crying at one point.
  • My Rating: 4 stars.  Had I reviewed it right after finishing it, my rating probably would have been 5 stars.
    • But I may re-read it at some point so I can properly talk about it.
    • I still really liked it though.

Book #3: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is another hardcover from the library.

What I Thought:

  • I liked seeing how much Strayed changed during the hike.
  • She did seem ill-prepared for the hike, and I can see why some reviewers think she’s whiny and self-absorbed
    • and also why some people thought she made poor life decisions
    • There’s no judgement from me, though, because she did have a lot of things she had to work through, especially with the death of her mother
  • Hiking- especially since she was by herself for most of the hike- seemed to help her
    • there was a lot of opportunity for her to reflect on her life
    • she did randomly meet up with other people along the way, though
  • I think my favorite part was seeing her not give up, even when it would have been easy for her to do so
  • I can’t imagine doing such a big hike, especially with no hiking/backpacking experience whatsoever
  • It really felt like I was hiking with her, and it never felt boring or repetitive
    • I can’t imagine being alone with my thoughts for that long, but props to her for sticking with it
  • It’s a memoir of her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, so if you’re looking for more information or history about the trail itself, this is not the book for you
  • I’ve heard of it before- because it was adapted into a movie, but I mostly picked it up because it was mentioned in one of the Gilmore Girls revival episodes
    • I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I really liked it
  • I think my rating would be 4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it was an easy read, and there is something about the way she writes

Book #4: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a hardcover from the library.

And now, my thoughts:

  • This book deserves a lot more attention.  I feel like it didn’t get a lot of attention, despite the fact that it was an Oprah book club pick.  The publication date also got moved up because of it.  And I know it was recommended by Obama, so I had really high expectations.
    • It lived up to all of the hype…at least the hype that I heard.
    • It’s totally worth reading
  • I admit that I didn’t like it at first, and it took me a while to get into it.
    • I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I really liked it
  • It is a hard read, because you see what it might have been like for slaves on the Underground Railroad
    • I’m not sure what to call them, but there are ads and wanted posters for runaway slaves, which really added to the journey Cora takes
  • The Underground Railroad is quite literal in this book but it was terrifying to see what it was like during that time period
    • so many people risked everything to be a part of it- whether they were a stop along the way, or the one trying to escape slavery
    • I know I said it already, but it really highlighted what it might have been like
  • It really is mind-blowing that people were willing to take a chance to have freedom than spend one more second as a slave
  • My rating: 4 stars.  It was hard to get into at first, but worth reading.

ARC Book Review: Black, White, Other And A Girl Named Mister

black-white-otherBook #1: Black, White, Other by Joan Steinau Lester

Published January 2017 by Blink|225 pages

Where I Got It: I received this book as an e-arc from netgalley.com in exchange for a fair and honest review

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

What It’s About: Identity Crisis.  

As a biracial teen, Nina is accustomed to a life of varied hues—mocha-colored skin, ringed brown hair streaked with red, a darker brother, a black father, a white mother. When her parents decide to divorce, the rainbow of Nina’s existence is reduced to a much starker reality. Shifting definitions and relationships are playing out all around her, and new boxes and lines seem to be getting drawn every day.

Between the fractures within her family and the racial tensions splintering her hometown, Nina feels caught in perpetual battle. Feeling stranded in the nowhere land between racial boundaries, and struggling for personal independence and identity, Nina turns to the story of her great-great-grandmother’s escape from slavery. Is there direction in the tale of her ancestor? Can Nina build her own compass when landmarks from her childhood stop guiding the way?

Rating/Review: 2 stars.  It was okay for me, and I wanted to like it, but I had a hard time with it.  I found myself skimming through the part where she’s reading about her relative.  I liked the present-day story a little bit more, and the message was really obvious- but it’s also really important.  She really does struggle to fit in, and you see how much things change her and how she feels caught in the middle on so many different levels.  I did really like seeing the relationship with one of her friends and her reaction to Nina hanging out with other people.  I think it’s something we can all relate to, feeling like we don’t fit in, but I feel like I understand Nina a little better.

a-girl-named-mister-coverBook #2: A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes

Published January 2017 by Blink|233 pages

Where I Got It: I received an e-ARC from netgalley.com in exchange for a fair and honest review

What It’s About: Nikki Grimes, a bestselling author known for titles such as Dark Sons, Barak Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, and Voices of Christmas has written a gripping book from the perspective of a girl named Mister (Mary Rudine) who finds herself momentarily distracted from her faith commitment to purity by a handsome boy named Trey. After one night of weakness, Mister finds her entire life has changed, even if she can’t yet accept all the changes occurring within her are real. When the emotional scars of losing her innocence are more lasting than she imagined, Mister turns to a book of her mother’s, which contains poems from Mary’s perspective. As both Mister and Mary’s voices play out in the story, a full and meaningful portrait of Christian faith, trust, and forgiveness emerges, along with the truth that God can use even the most unplanned events in our lives for his greater glory.

Rating & Review: 2 stars.  This one was okay for me.  It was a quick read, which I think is because the entire book is told in verse.  It was okay, but sometimes it felt like things were broken up to give the appearance of poetry, because there were times where it didn’t feel like I was reading poetry.  Then again, I don’t read a lot of novels told in verse, so maybe unfamiliarity is where my problem lies.  There is a whole diary feel to the book that didn’t quite work for me.  The comparison to Mary, Jesus’ mother, did not work for me at all, and I felt like the comparison was trying to compare apples and oranges.  I’m also not sure what the book was going for abstinence, maybe?  That’s the impression I got.  I’m also not quite clear on who the book is actually meant for- definitely not me, but maybe a teen who’s questioning her faith is the target audience for this?  The ending was also abrupt and left a lot of questions.

Book Review: A World Without You by Beth Revis

a-world-without-you-coverBook: A World Without You by Beth Revis

Published July 2016 by Razorbill|372 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

What would you do to bring back someone you love? After the unexpected loss of his girlfriend, a boy suffering from delusions believes he can travel through time to save her in this gripping new novel from New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis.

Seventeen-year-old Bo has always had delusions that he can travel through time. When he was ten, Bo claimed to have witnessed the Titanic hit an iceberg, and at fifteen, he found himself on a Civil War battlefield, horrified by the bodies surrounding him. So when his concerned parents send him to a school for troubled youth, Bo assumes he knows the truth: that he’s actually attending Berkshire Academy, a school for kids who, like Bo, have “superpowers.”

At Berkshire, Bo falls in love with Sofia, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Sofia helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofia, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age. 

But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofia escape her deep depression. After she commits suicide, Bo is convinced that she’s not actually dead. He believes that she’s stuck somewhere in time — that he somehow left her in the past, and now it’s his job to save her. 

In her first contemporary novel, Beth Revis guides readers through the mind of a young man struggling to process his grief as he fights his way through his delusions. As Bo becomes more and more determined to save Sofia, he has to decide whether to face his demons head-on, or succumb to a psychosis that will let him be with the girl he loves.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I have so many thoughts about A World Without You!

So, I have to admit that I knew I wanted to read this book, but that I didn’t know what it was about going in. At first, I didn’t realize it was a contemporary, because of the whole school-for-kids-with-special-powers aspect.  As the book went on, I realized that, in fact, the book was not sci-fi or paranormal or fantasy- basically, whatever genre you classify kids-with-special powers as.  That was when I realized the book was more contemporary than anything else.

I was a little disappointed that it was a contemporary novel, because I think it had a lot of promise if it had stuck to the idea that Sofia was trapped in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, and not the aftermath of her suicide. I do think the books works better if you don’t know that going in, because the paralyzing fear that something is wrong is much more palpable.  I kind of liked that I didn’t realize something was wrong at first, because everything seemed so normal.  But it was frustrating at the same time, because it became a story I wasn’t as interested in.

I think, had I known going in that Bo had severe mental illness, I would have spent the book frustrated knowing what was going on, and waiting for him to catch up and figure everything out.  There is an undercurrent of fear and confusion and you really see Bo lose all sense of time and reality.  It’s also the most severe case I’ve seen in any YA book that deals with mental illness- I think Identical by Ellen Hopkins is the only other one I can think of that comes remotely close, and it’s pretty similar in that you don’t realize what’s going on until the end of the novel.

I did really want the story where Bo has to go back in time to save Sofia- partly because that part of the novel really interested me, but I’m also curious about how Revis would tell that story.

I feel like the blurb gave away way too much.  I know I mentioned that this a book that may be better if you don’t know what’s going on, and you’re figuring things out right alongside Bo.  But I still think it works better if you know nothing.

We also get a few chapters narrated by Phoebe, who is Bo’s sister.  I feel like her chapters were meant to show how different they are, and how everything that is going on with Bo affects her.  Her chapters were boring and flat, and I feel like all she did was complain about how no one paid attention to her because she’s the good student who’s going off to college.  It’s clear that her parents seem to be focused on Bo- which is understandable- but I do understand that her parents probably don’t give her a lot of attention because she’s the one they DON’T have to worry about. And given everything going on with Bo, she probably feels like she has to do well.

It is hard to say for sure, though, since most of the book focused on Bo, and we only get a few chapters focusing on Phoebe.

The last chapter- an epilogue- was really weird for me.  It did leave you wondering if maybe Bo did have some sort of power or ability but no one realized it because it presented as something else.  It’s ambiguous enough that you’re not sure, but…I am not a fan of the epilogue.  I know it’s trying to wrap up with what happened the previous chapter, and that if the book had ended with that chapter…it would have been a hell of a cliffhanger.  But I felt like the epilogue took away a lot of the fear and confusion that we saw in the chapter before it, and it really lost the darkness and edge that it would have had otherwise.

The moment between Bo and Phoebe was weird- if Bo does have a mental illness, then was it just a coincidence? It did feel off, like maybe he did have some sort of supernatural ability, but no one believed him.  I wonder if maybe he did, but it wasn’t said outright, because it would have contradicted everything in the book?  Maybe I’m wrong, but I felt like you could see it that way.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I do think it works better if you don’t read the blurb, but it’s also a really good look at mental illness.  It’s just not for me.

Book Review: The Flame Never Dies And Behold The Dreamers

the-flame-never-dies-coverBook #1: The Flame Never Dies By Rachel Vincent

Published August 2016 by Random House Children’s Books|241 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Well Of Souls #2

Genre: YA Dystopia/Paranormal/Post-Apocalyptic

What It’s About: For fans of Cassandra Clare and Richelle Mead comes the unputdownable sequel to The Stars Never Rise, a book Rachel Caine, author of the bestselling Morganville Vampires series, called “haunting, unsettling, and eerily beautiful.”

ONE SPARK WILL RISE. Nina Kane was born to be an exorcist. And since uncovering the horrifying truth—that the war against demons is far from over—seventeen-year-old Nina and her pregnant younger sister, Mellie, have been on the run, incinerating the remains of the demon horde as they go.

In the badlands, Nina, Mellie, and Finn, the fugitive and rogue exorcist who saved her life, find allies in a group of freedom fighters. They also face a new threat: Pandemonia, a city full of demons. But this fresh new hell is the least of Nina’s worries. The well of souls ran dry more than a century ago, drained by the demons secretly living among humans, and without a donor soul, Mellie’s child will die within hours of its birth.

Nina isn’t about to let that happen . . . even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.

What I Thought: I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would.  I think a lot of it is that things were resolved pretty well in the first book, and it did work well as a stand-alone.  I don’t regret reading it, because The Flame Never Dies answers some questions and resolves some loose threads that came up in The Stars Never Rise.  But at the same time, it worked so well as a stand-alone that while I liked it, I’m also sort of meh about it.  What I think surprised me with this book is that, like the first book, things are resolved, with some loose threads and unanswered questions. From what I can tell, there will be only two books, so at least the overall story is resolved.  But things are open enough that there really could be another book in the series to answer those questions.

I was kept on the edge of my seat, though, and there were several times where you’re reading it, knowing that something is about to happen, and you’re just waiting for it to actually happen.  There weren’t a lot of surprises, but there were a few, and she does have a way of making you WANT to keep going.  There is part of me that wants more, but at the same time, I feel like, with this series, Vincent knew her stopping point and where things were headed.  It is nice knowing that the idea won’t get old because it’s being spread out over all of these books, and it easily could have gone that way.  But it didn’t, and I really appreciate that.

My Rating: 3 stars.  It’s enjoyable and fun, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first book.

behold-the-dreamer-coverBook #2: Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Published August 2016 by Random House|380 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction/Adult Literary Fiction

What It’s About: Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

What I Thought: I ended up really liking it! Behold The Dreamers was a really good look at what it’s like to be in immigrant in the U.S. Things like the Great Recession and the collapse of Lehman Brothers really does have an effect on EVERYONE, and that was something I never thought about before. They came here for a better life, and they ended up not being able to stay, for a lot of different reasons- the biggest reason being their lawyer. Their lawyer didn’t seem all that great, or interested in truly helping them. I can easily picture families or people like the Jongas hiring a lawyer who seems more interested in the money they’re getting than actually helping their clients.

I felt for them, and how hard they both worked to have a better life for them and their children, only to have it change so much. They do end up going back to Cameroon, and it seems like they’re set financially over there, but they tried so hard to stay here. I felt like Behold The Dreamers showcased how desperate people are to come here and stay here, and how they will do anything to have a life here.

I definitely thought Jende and Neni were a lot more sympathetic than Jende’s employers.  I get they were affected by it to, but it was hard to sympathize with a family who seemed to be more interested in maintaining their lifestyle than actually trying to work on themselves.  They do seem to have their issues, but they were far more unlikable. The Edwards family were much meant to contrast the Jonga family, and you see how different things are for the privileged and those who come here, hopeful and wanting a better life.  Perhaps that is what Mbue was going for, and I did feel for all of the characters, even when it was hard to care about them and like them.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked seeing Jende and Neni come to the U.S., full of hope and optimism, only to have their dreams dashed.  It’s such a great read, and I really recommend it!

Audio Book Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahira

the-namesake-coverBook: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahira, narrated by Sarita Choudhury

Published August 2006 by Random House Audio|10 hours, 5 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations.

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged marriage, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along a first-generation path strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I liked The Namesake more than I thought I would!  It really made me think about immigrants, and the power of names and being a first-generation American.

It’s been quite a while since I finished this book, so it’s definitely not fresh in my mind.  But there are a few things that stood out, particularly with pet names and good names.  It’s sad that the staff at Gogol’s school didn’t understand the concept of the name, and Gogol seemed particularly confused by it as well.  I really liked that you saw how different things were for Gogol and his parents, and I felt like I was experiencing things alongside Gogol and his parents.  He didn’t choose his name, and you see that he has a really complicated relationship with it.

One scene that bothered me was when Gogol was at a dinner party, and one of the guests assumed that he didn’t need immunizations when he traveled to India with his parents because, and I’m paraphrasing, he’s from India. It was either his girlfriend or his girlfriend’s mother who said he was from the U.S. but even she didn’t seem sure. They were together for ages, and they were all living in the same house, and yet she had no idea where he was born.  Yes, he is Bengali-American, but they didn’t seem to grasp the concept that he still needed immunizations to travel to India because he has never lived there.  I felt angry on his behalf that people lacked understanding.  It was probably just an innocent question for them, and they likely didn’t think anything about it, but it still really upset me because it seemed so insensitive.

Since I went for the audio book, I’ll talk about the narration!  I honestly don’t remember much about the narrator, but I do remember she did a great job with the narration.  I felt like she was Gogol, and she really brought him to life. I don’t think I’ll necessarily seek out any books narrated by her, but if I were listening to a book narrated by her, I wouldn’t mind.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I really liked it, and I think, now more than ever, it’s important to read books like The Namesake.  I feel like I learned so much just from reading it.  What it’s like to be a child of immigrants is something I’ve never thought about- and never had to- but that’s why I’m glad I read it.

Book Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

the-sun-is-also-a-star-coverBook: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Published November 2016 by Delacorte Press|384 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

After reading Everything, Everything, I knew I couldn’t wait for Nicola Yoon’s next book. Unfortunately, this book was not for me. I wanted to love it but I couldn’t.

I did like that chapters alternated between Daniel and Natasha, and we see how both of their stories unfold. We also get chapters narrated by the people around Natasha and Daniel, and we see the history and stories of people on the periphery of their lives. I don’t know how I feel about those chapters. They made me feel even more removed from what was going on, and we see how the choices others made led to this moment in their lives.

If you don’t like insta-love, this is not the book for you. Even worse, this book tries to SCIENTIFICALLY EXPLAIN insta-love. My reaction to this: no. Please, no. Do not try to scientifically explain insta-love. That is the last thing I want to read. I thought they had no chemistry and it was creepy how obsessed Daniel was with Natasha, and how much he believed that they were meant to be together. You only caught a glimpse of her, and you decided that she was The One? Thanks, but no thanks.

I felt so bad for Natasha, who had to go back to a country that didn’t feel like home to her. I get why they had to go back, and the thing with the lawyer? She went to him for help, and he couldn’t even do that because he was too focused on his paralegal. I liked that she had hope, yet didn’t want to say something until she knew for sure what was going to happen. I did feel for Daniel, and the pressure his parents (especially his father) put on him. Something about Daniel’s family in particular seemed very stereotypical to me but at the same time, that was much more interesting to me than the romance between Natasha and Daniel. I really wish the story was more about them and their families then their romance.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

2 stars. I liked it a lot less than Everything, Everything, and the romance (and scientific explanation of it) were not for me. I did like the family dynamics and the thing both Natasha and Daniel were facing.

Book Review Round-Up: World War Z, A Torch Against The Night, And Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

I have a lot of books I want to talk about, so I thought I’d do some shorter reviews of a few of them!

world-war-zBook #1: World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War by Max Brooks, Narrated by Full Cast

Published May 2013 by Random House Audio|Length: 12 hours, 8 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio cd’s from the library

Series: None

What It’s About: World War Z: The Complete Edition (Movie Tie-in Edition): An Oral History of the Zombie War is a new version of Max Brooks’ episodic zombie novel. The abridged versions of the original stories are now joined with new, unabridged recordings of the episodes that were not included in the original (abridged) version of the audiobook. These additional episodes feature a star-studded cast of narrators to coincide with the upcoming release of the film.

New narrators include Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, Spiderman star Alfred Molina, The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont, rapper Common, Firefly star Nathan Fillion,Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg, and members of the casts of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and more! Max Brooks will be reprising his role as The Interviewer.

The original abridged edition, released in 2006, won an Audie Award for Best Multi-Voiced Performance. Original cast members include Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Carl & Rob Reiner, and John Turturro.

In this new classic of apocalyptic fiction that feels all too real, the Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. The documentary-style oral history records the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time.

Featuring five more hours of previously unrecorded content, this full-cast recording is read by F. Murray Abraham, Alan Alda, René Auberjonois, Becky Ann Baker, Dennis Boutsikaris, Bruce Boxleitner, Max Brooks, Nicki Clyne, Common, Denise Crosby, Frank Darabont, Dean Edwards, Mark Hamill, Nathan Fillion, Maz Jobrani, Frank Kamai, Michelle Kholos, John McElroy, Ade M’Cormack, Alfred Molina, Parminder Nagra, Ajay Naidu, Masi Oka, Steve Park, Kal Penn, Simon Pegg, Jürgen Prochnow, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Henry Rollins, Jeri Ryan, Jay O. Sanders, Martin Scorsese, Paul Sorvino, David Ogden Stiers, Brian Tee, John Turturro, Eamonn Walker, Ric Young, and Waleed Zuaiter.

What I Thought: I randomly picked up World War Z at the library one day- I remember watching the movie, and I think that’s why I picked it up.

I think it worked really well as an audio book, considering how the book is told.  I like that it’s an oral history of the Zombie War, and I think that lends itself well as an audio book.  It was something that I only listened to sporadically in the car, and there were so many different stories that none of them really stood out.  I don’t know that I would have finished it had I read it, but at the same time, maybe I would have had better luck in remembering more of the stories.  It does seem like almost all of the actual fighting took place in the U.S., while all of the chapters that took place in other parts of the world were about trying to figure out what was going on, and how we ended up with a Zombie outbreak.

I was hesitant about the full cast, but it worked really well for the book because it was easier to distinguish between the different stories that were being told in the book.  It is quite the cast, and unfortunately, while I recognized some of the names, it was hard matching up the voice with the character, especially when I don’t know what their voices sound like.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I did like hearing all of the stories and global the book was, but the stories started to blend together after awhile.

a-torch-against-the-night-coverBook #2: A Torch Against The Night by Sabaa Tahir

Published August 2016 by Razorbill|464 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: An Ember In The Ashes #2

Genre: YA Fantasy

What It’s About: Elias and Laia are running for their lives.

After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf – the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison – to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene – Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own – one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape… and kill them both.

What I Thought: I was really looking forward to this book after reading An Ember In The Ashes last year, and it didn’t disappoint!  I really wish I had read the first book again, just because I could not remember anything from the first book, and I had a little bit of a hard time getting back into this world.

Like An Ember In The Ashes, I didn’t particularly care for Laia’s story, and for me, Elias was much more interesting, especially with how his story went.  His narration went in a direction I wasn’t expecting- though the same thing happened with Laia, but not to the same degree as Elias.  I also liked the addition of Helene, and her narration gave perspective on the what things were like for the Empire.  I liked seeing both sides, and the obstacles that Laia and Elias had to face.  I also liked seeing how hard it was for Helene, and the horrible position she was put in.  She went through quite a change by the end of the book, and I’m curious to see if she’ll ever go back to the character we see at the beginning of the book.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked it, and I’m glad that there are more books in the series.  I wish I remembered more from the first book, and while Laia’s story was a little more interesting, I thought Elias and Helene were much more interesting.

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-coverBook #3: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Published June 2013 by Quirk Books|382 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from a co-worker

Series: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

What It’s About: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered inMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that Miss Peregrine’s children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

What I Thought: I really liked it- a lot more than I thought I would.  Seeing the trailer for the movie made me want to read the book, so I was really glad when a co-worker let me borrow her copy.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with it, and I really liked how creepy and mysterious everything was.  I also LOVED the photographs throughout the book, and they somehow made the book more interesting.  Especially since so many of the photographs went so well with the book and the characters and what was going on.

I think maybe part of me was expecting the story to be more about Jacob’s grandfather, and I was actually a little surprised by how it was more Jacob’s story.  It’s not that we don’t learn about his grandfather, because we do, at least a little.  I wish we got a little more about the children, and why they can do what they do, but perhaps that will be explored in the rest of the series.  Speaking of the rest of the series- even though I really like this book, I’m not sure if I want to keep going with the series.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I think I expected more with Jacob’s grandfather, and I wanted to know more about why there are people who are so peculiar, but I also loved how creepy the book was.  And the photographs- they were really cool and interesting and added something special to the book.

Book Review Round-Up: Always Running, The Vegetarian, and Sister Of My Heart

I’ve read quite a few books recently, and thought I’d do some shorter reviews on a few of them!

always-running-coverBook #1: Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez

Published October 2005 (originally published 1993) by Touchstone|288 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction, Memoir

What It’s About: The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new introduction by the author.

Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.

By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.

Achieving success as an award-winning poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.

At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.

What I Thought: I really liked Always Running!  It’s very honest, and I’m actually really glad I read it.  It’s a very raw account of his life in east L.A. and his life on the streets, and how he broke free from that life.

It was hard to read, and I was especially saddened by how people were placed in certain classes based on their race, and yet, it wasn’t that surprising, especially given the time.  It’s as much his life story as it is the history of the factors that led to the rise in gangs.  His parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in search of a better life, and it seems like they tried to give him (and his siblings) a good life.

I liked the snapshots we got of his life, but at the same time, it was a little hard to follow because as far as timeline went, he did jump around a little bit.  I also had a bit of a hard time keeping track of who was who, but overall, it’s still worth reading.  You do a clear picture of why he joined a club- for protection, because it was the only way to stay safe.

My Rating: 4 stars.  It’s very vivid, and it’s still very relevant to current events.

the-vegetarian-coverBook #2: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Translated by Deborah Smith

Published February 2016 (originally published 2007) by Hogarth|192 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

What It’s About: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

What I Thought: I’m not sure what to think about The Vegetarian.  It’s a very weird book, but in a good way.  It is interesting that she gave up meat because of a dream, and that dreams played a big role in becoming more plant-like. In a way, it seemed like becoming vegetarian was Yeong-hye’s way of gaining some sort of control over her life.  It also goes in a direction that I did not see coming, and it’s interesting that you see it through the eyes of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister.  Part of me wishes that we saw Yeong-hye narrate even a small portion of the book, but at the same time, I liked seeing her through the eyes of the people around her.

One thing I wondered was how people in South Korea view vegetarians, and if it’s something that’s very specific to her family.  I honestly assumed her family would be okay with it, and I’m not sure where that assumption came from. But something about how they reacted rang true.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I did like the first two parts, which focused on her marriage and being a muse for her brother-in-law, but I wasn’t as interested in the last part, which focused on her sister.  It’s still worth reading.

sister-of-my-heart-coverBook #3: Sister Of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Published January 1999 by Doubleday|336 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Anju & Sudha #1

Genre: Adult Fiction

Where I Got It: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni made an indelible impression on the literary world with her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, a magical tale of love and herbs. Sister of My Heart is less reliant on enchantment but no less enchanting as it tells the tale of two cousins born on the same day, their premature births brought on by a mysterious occurrence that claims the lives of both their fathers. Sudha is beautiful, Anju is not; yet the girls love each other as sisters, the bond between them so strong it seems nothing can break it. When both are pushed into arranged marriages, however, each discovers a devastating secret that changes their relationship forever.

Sister of My Heart spans many years and zigzags between India and America as the cousins first grow apart and then eventually reunite. Divakaruni invests this domestic drama with poetry as she traces her heroines’ lives from infancy to motherhood, but it is Sudha and Anju who give the story its backbone. Anju might speak for both when she says, “In spite of all my insecurities, in spite of the oceans that’ll be between us soon and the men that are between us already, I can never stop loving Sudha. It’s my habit, and it’s my fate.” Book lovers may well discover that reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is habit-forming as well. –Margaret Prior

What I Thought: I liked Sister Of My Heart.  I really liked the bond that Sudha and Anju had, and that they are more sisters than cousins.  There were times where their bond was so strong I honestly forgot they were cousins, and not sisters.

They definitely learned things that will completely change their relationship, and it’s hard to tell which secret will change their relationship more.  I have the feeling that both secrets will come out at some point.  I didn’t realize that this was the first book in a series, and at the end of the book, I was slightly disappointed that there was not more resolution.  Once I realized that it was part of a series, the ending made more sense.  It makes me wonder what will happen next for Sudha and Anju.

I will say that I found the arranged marriages to be interesting, but also hard to imagine.  Even though it’s something I know exists, it’s hard to wrap my head around it, and this book was a really good glimpse into what is one of many reasons why there are arranged marriages.  It’s also a really good look at families and the family dynamic in a different part of the world, and how different things are for people in other parts of the world.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and I may continue the series, but not anytime soon.  I did love the relationship between Sudha and Anju and how much it changed.