CALL DOWN THE HAWK by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater – the first book in the new trilogy about Ronan Lynch, the boy who could bring his dreams to life in The Raven Boys.

My thoughts: Ronan remains super cool though I did feel the author told us how cool he was more than was necessary (we know, Maggie). His relationship with Adam, now king of the gay nerds at Harvard, was realistically strained as their lives move in different directions. Declan Lynch, the uptight oldest brother who constantly cleans up after his younger siblings, finally got a story line and it was deeply satisfying. We meet a new dreamer who is half crazed from trying to keep herself awake, fighting off a repeating nightmare. And we meet some Visionaries – time travelers, of a sort, whose shifts through the time line are as destructive as the messages they carry. Throw in a secret black market, a global assassins guild hunting down paranormals, a shit ton of references to artists (art majors will be delighted by the name dropping in this), a painting that makes you dream of the sea, a forest filled with trees that speak in Latin, and one very very chatty ethereal voice who likes to give cryptic speeches while our hero dreams and you’ve got yourself a pretty cool book.

It wasn’t as good as The Raven Boys. Could anything ever be as good as that piece of perfection? I loved all four of those boys and Blue and her entire family by the end of the first book in that series. I felt deeply connected to their stories. This is not to say that Call Down the Hawk isn’t good – cause it’s good. But I am really only invested in one of the new characters and mildly curious about the rest. Thankfully it’s got the solid foundation of the Lynch boys to carry it’s narrative and it’s more than enough to provide readers with a fun, wonky, dangerous and romantic (I am so on board with Declan’s slowly melting icy heart) adventure.

Rating: Four Stars.

Now… if you want to get into spoiler territory… we can further discuss….

 

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THE STARLESS SEA by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern…

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which was so good it’s almost painful. I will not be able to properly express how much I loved this book and why. It’s a daunting task, like trying to explain… “What does sunlight feel like when you’re in the shade?” So I will do what most people do when trying to describe an abstraction like love and attempt the delicate process of comparison.

In many ways The Starless Sea reminded me of Galilee (or even The Great & Secret Show or Imajica or Weaveworld) by Clive Barker – full of twisted myths and terribly beautiful otherworlds, immortal heartbreak and observation, the spark of love making everything new again. It’s lighter than Barker’s work, though – filled with young people hunting old legends, like The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Secret libraries like The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Sly cats keeping secrets and hidden doors and transformative magic, like The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle.

It’s like all my favorite books in one book.

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JUST KIDS by Patti Smith

When I finished Just Kids by Patti Smith, I started crying. For Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS, for Sam, his patron and lover who also died of AIDS. For all the artists and patrons before them, who lived and worked restlessly, many of which walking the same streets, living in the same building, drinking coffees in the same cafes. William S. Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Ginsburg, Jim Carroll, Lou Reed. The misfit icons and legends, their stories mixed in with those who did not become famous – but whose lives were just as bright, just as fleeting. The hazy storm of memory always breaks into bright points of precision – lightning strikes of details – moments burned into your mind.

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Reading of Patti’s Smith youth – of the sharp, wild years of her late teens and early twenties – I felt as if I’d fallen into the past. A world of second hand stores and records, of poverty and purpose, of obsessions and confusion. The struggle to find authenticity against the reflections of others, if I am not this then perhaps I am that. Drastic actions and bold decisions made in an instant, real fear something only known through abstraction. Nothing can really touch you when you have your hands full of everything within reach. And every song and work of art is a special message written just for you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about impermanence lately. The passage of time, of human lives always rising up and ebbing out, over and over. I’ve finally entered into the comfortable stage of life, my once frantic mind now more of a slow but steady churn. Sometimes I feel a deeper understanding and other times I feel as if meaning is too elusive a goal.

I don’t read many autobiographies because, honestly, I prefer the cryptic autobiographies of fiction. By that I mean that all storytellers reveal themselves through the stories they tell, and I prefer the charade of costumes and imagined characters. Dozens of imagined lives stemming from one. Autobiographies always strike me as somewhat arrogant, for who can really remember their lives accurately, let alone the details of others? Still, some people have a gift for it. And some lives are practically theater already, their experiences and situations so far from the norm you can’t help but separate them into a fantasy genre all their own. Artist with a capital A and the like.  Even if you discover Andy Warhol ate the same breakfast cereal you do, you’ll never quite feel connected with him, you know? But now I feel a connection to Patti… and to Robert Mapplethorpe.

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Robert Mapplethorpe & Patti Smith

Patti Smith’s book makes you feel young again. She’s brought the stars down from the sky and blown on them, revealing dusty, pock-marked rocks in her hands. They were beautiful in the blinding light of fame, but she revels in showing the reader how desperately fragile, how flawed and horribly delicate their hearts were.

I read this book and spent hours looking at pictures of the old Chelsea Hotel in its decades of decline and decadence. I listened to Patti Smith songs, now feeling the life behind her wispy voice and the strong spirit behind her thin frame.  I was already familiar with Robert’s work – but now I saw the sensitivity behind the photos, felt the pacing self-inspection of each piece, caught meaning in details that before meant nothing to me – the feathers and beads, the religious iconography, the small smile.  This book has brought these two artists closer to me – made their strange lives more accessible. Small vignettes of other artists, writers, and performers I was already familiar with now got caught in a wider web – the human one – showing how people come and go, sometimes only for a instant, into others lives. A sandwich, a kind word, a bet, a dare, a jealous contempt or sincere admiration. Big pictures became smaller, and small moments became as wide as the sky, the colors changing depending on where you stand.

Highly recommended.

Rating: Five Stars.

Originally published: January 19, 2010
Author: Patti Smith
Title: Just Kids
Page count: 278
Genre: Biography
Awards: National Book Award for Nonfiction
Nominations: Goodreads Choice Awards Best Memoir & Autobiography

THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS by Michel Faber

I finished Michel Faber’s novel about a British pastor who leaves his wife behind to spread the gospel on a distant planet, Oasis. Though it is a book about aliens and their reception of The Book of Strange New Things (what they call The Bible), it is ultimately a story about human relationships. About the complexities of human nature, our beliefs and drives, and our delicate bonds with each other. The pastor’s wife Beatrice writes him letters of support – which quickly turn in tone as the world around her drastically changes in his absence.

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Though the plot revolves around this deeply religious couple, it is not slanted towards endorsement of Christian doctrine nor against it… it simply was a part of how these two people experienced the world, deeply wound around their faith, as much a part of their experience in life as their race and culture. It’s a strange, infectious story that defies your expectations of what should happen with the premise of a foreign missionary – using the tension of our expectations to build the action in the plot. It’s hard to explain, honestly, without spoilers – and so I will just leave you to muse on this idea.

Highly recommended for readers looking for an usual story. The actual book was four stars. But the lingering impressions and explorations it invites you to take on your own are five stars.

Rating: 5 stars.

Now… if you’ve read it… or you don’t mind spoilers… follow me…

 

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SAWKILL GIRLS by Claire Legrand

“Why do the monsters eat girls?” she asked at last.

“Because,” Marion answered, looking beyond Zoey to the sea, “when a predator hunts, it seeks out the vulnerable. The desperate.”

Zoey’s laugh was bitter, “Oh, and we poor delicate girls are vulnerable and desperate, is that what you’re saying?”

“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught, from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

I finished Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand yesterday – and it’s a great spooky YA book. A monster lives on a small island populated by the wealthy elite – and it feeds on the innards of teenage girls. There’s a lot going on in this book – but at its heart its about girls and how disposable they are in society. It’s about female anger and how girls fight back.

I loved this book – but I confess I wanted more from it (which I’ll dive into below in the spoilers section). Overall, it was an enjoyable, spooky book and I definitely recommend it to those who seeking a good, bloody story featuring a diverse (in color and sexuality) cast.

I desperately want there to be more books in this series. All my fingers and toes are crossed for further exploration into the pocket dimensions, powers, cults, and monsters lurking in new books. Even if it’s different characters each time, she’s opened a window into a very unique world and I want to go there again and see more.

Rating: 4 Stars.

So… SPOILER DISCUSSION TIME…

 

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SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin

“There are some things that can’t be changed with words. Some things have to be seen. They have to be felt.”

Decided to read a fun fantasy romance novel today – about a renegade witch who finds herself married to a witch hunter. The novel is told from alternating points of view – between our mismatched lovers – and overall it was a highly enjoyable tale of medieval lore, mystery, and (most of all) love.

I am a sucker for a wild girl paired with a prudish guy, what can I say? And I especially enjoy cohabitation stories where the couple is either married but not “together” or pretending to be married but not “together.” All that “oh my, wherever shall I sleep? On the floor? The couch? Should we share a bed and put pillows between us? Decisions, decisions…” it never gets old to me. There was a surprisingly detailed sex scene too (I believe the expression ‘to the hilt’ was used, as cringe worthy as ever).

Serpent & Dove has a nice dusting of French throughout, adding a little foreign flavor to our fantasy world.  There’s loads of fun characters coming in and out of the scenes, from apprentices to courtesans, witches to royals, and bakers to scorned aristocracy. And we’re also given a nice dose of feminism as well as plea for deeper understanding between all people we’ve labeled as “other” for various reasons. It was nicely done. For a debut novel, it was rich in detail and showed clear evidence of expert writing and editing, keeping the flow steady and enjoyable throughout.

I really liked it.

My only complaint was the tale was set in this historical world with corsets and daggers and metal bath tubs… but it kept throwing in modern language stylings, with our female witch in particular. I don’t mind cursing or vulgarity, those are not particular to any time period, but the turn of phrases, the expressions, the slang… it was 21st Century. And it always, always threw me out of the story setting. If she was going to write this way, the author should have just made our witch a time traveler. Everyone else is all proper and our witch is slinging punchy jokes and contemporary witticisms.

I don’t know if it will bother others as much as it bothered me… and honestly, that’s my only complaint for an otherwise enjoyable rompish fantasy-romance. Oh, and it’s set up for a sequel… with a nice twist or two at the end to leave us wanting more. There were several sets of magical creatures referred to that I would love to see explored in more detail in future books.

I’ll definitely be buying the next installment.

Rating: Four Stars

Originally published: September 3, 2019
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Title: Serpent & Dove
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

RECURSION by Blake Crouch

Finished RECURSION last night, by Blake Crouch – which was very good and kept me filled with anxiety as the mystery unfolded. It’s about mysterious individuals who have FMS (False Memory Syndrome) – a new plague that affects people randomly, causing them to have an entirely different set of memories (as well as their current memories). This affliction is so startling, so confusing and upsetting to most people, that the majority commit suicide.

You follow two plotlines. The first one is set in 2018, following a cop tracking down leads on the latest FMS suicide, trying to get to the heart of the mystery. The second plotline is about ten years earlier and follows a young scientist who is desperately trying to discover a way to map and imprint memories in order to help her mother with Alzheimer’s regain her past. As you can guess, this scientist has something to do with the memory plague…

A well written, fast-paced book – I thoroughly enjoyed all the mind bending psychics (thankfully explained in a way that even a layman like me understood, for the most part, what was happening). The concepts of this novel were exceedingly fun to explore. Who are we? How much of our identity is tied to our past?

I don’t want to say more – as the mystery is key to enjoyment. And it’s an enjoyable book. And such a fabulous cover, too… love some holographic print!

A solid four stars.

Originally published: June 11, 2019
Author: Blake Crouch
Title: Recursion

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

“Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy—love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.” 
― Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Just finished “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys… it was horrible. And by horrible, I mean it was wonderful. It’s an excellent book about a terrible thing.

Here’s the basic plot: Russian troops round up all the teachers, the artists, the military leaders, the politicians and theologians and stuff them on train cars and ship them off to Siberia to work in the freezing cold and the polar night during WWII. Almost everyone died. On the trains, in the labor camps, in the cold, of starvation, in the snow dropping from starvation, of disease or NKVD cruelty… it’s rough.

There’s one scene where a little girl won’t get on the train and the soldiers shoot her doll in the head… I don’t know why, but I found that small act of cruelty just too much… the little girl then goes slightly mad and talks to the ghost of her doll for the duration of the book.

Anyways, back to the plot: The main character is Lina, an artist, who uses her art to send messages, win favors, record history and escape the world. Her mother and younger brother are also with her – while her father is segregated to another train and never seen again. The struggle for survival is brutal – and the slow progression of days is very well captured in the narrative. The flashbacks interspersed a needed reminder that once these people lived comfortable lives.

This book won tons of awards… I mean, the award list is long and international… and I must say, well deserved. But I’m grateful to be done with this book – as I hate the cold and have no desire to ever venture towards the earth’s poles, be it north or south, and if I never see snow again in my lifetime, I would not miss it. What can I say? As good as it was, I just can’t love it. I’d loved other books about miserable, cold, war experiences (City of Thieves, for example), but this one…

Going to read fantasy next… need to escape!

P.S. The movie is out now – it has been renamed “Ashes in the Snow”… to avoid confusion with 50 Shades of Gray, no doubt

RATING: 3.5 STARS

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Originally published: March 22, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction

THE WRATH AND THE DAWN by Renée Ahdieh

“This dangerous girl. This captivating beauty.
This destroyer of worlds and creator of wonder.” 
― Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath & The Dawn, how could you do this to me?

How could be… unfinished… when clearly you present yourself as a stand alone novel?

I thought we went into this relationship with clear expectations.

But noooooOOOOoooo!

No, you drew me with mischief and stories of the desert and madmen and magic. You made me love your cursed king and your wicked silver tongued heroine! The mad alchemy that created this gorgeous romance! The delicious chemistry between the lovers! The expanses of the imagination! You gave me everything I wanted and more!

And then you just abandon me in a burning city with no resolution.

Ack, the cruel betrayal!

Now I have to purchase book two?

Is it a duology? Will there be even more?

Am I happy or sad about this?!

ARRRGH!

The evil… the unspeakable evil…

(P.S. congratulations on your stunning debut novel, Mrs. Ahdieh, it deserves all its accolades and more!)

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: Wrath of Dawn
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Originally published: May 12, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Retelling

 

THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char – responsible for one of the worst sentences I have ever read in my life.

Carolyn felt a little squirt of horror at that but she squelched it.

What can I say? I liked this book… and I kinda hated this book. It’s a conundrum.

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The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is a truly original story. Not quite fantasy, not quite science fiction, not quite horror – but rather a sprinkling of all three. It’s the tale of an ancient being, god-like in power, who takes twelve children under his wing to raise in mysterious, ancient arts. Each child is assigned a certain category to study, a discipline, such as death – languages – war – animals – the future – and so on. In order to learn these arts, the god-like figure known only as “Father,” goes to cruel extremes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book’s wacky premise and characters. Unfortunately,  there were…. problems. It’s the author’s first book – and I almost feel it was the responsibility of his editor to point out the issues with the plot that tangled this story into such a mess towards the end. Hopefully Mr. Hawkin’s will continue to hone his craft and his next book will be an improvement.

SPOILERS FOLLOW…. if you’ve read it, or if you just like spoilers… please follow me into section two of of this review… . Continue reading