July 12, 2017

Book Review: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Gold Fame Citrus

by Claire Vaye Watkins

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Length: 339 pages
Published: September 29, 2015
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Thank you to Riverhead Books and Goodreads for sending me an advanced copy of Gold Fame Citrus! It's fun to get your hands on a book before it hits the shelves. 

My Goodreads Rating: 2 out of 5 stars (Did Not Finish) 

Official Book Summary:

In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.

Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own.

My Review:

Before I start my review, I just have to confess that while I try not to judge books by their covers, that does not mean that they don't grab my eyes and that I don't appreciate them. Isn't the foil cover lovely?

OK, I did not finish reading this book. It's an interesting premise--struggling to survive in a drought-ridden world--but the main character, Luz, was very passive and dependent upon her male paramour for absolutely everything. I had no desire to follow her story any further. I like strong female characters: they can be complicated, make mistakes, or even be the villains, but if they are passive and resigned to be weak, no thank you.

I was also put off by romance immediately taking center stage in the plot. As readers of Jactionary know, I do not tend to enjoy contemporary romance novels. In young adult novels it's often secondary and thus more welcome. Gold Fame Citrus isn't marketed as a romance so this threw me and ultimately acted as strike two in why I set it aside. Having not finished it, maybe things shift in the plot later on, I don't know. I do have a couple of friends who really liked the novel, but I just wasn't the right audience for it. 

Book received from the publisher.

July 10, 2017

Book Review: Always by Sarah Jio

Always

by Sarah Jio

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Chick Lit
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Length: 288 pages
Published: February 7, 2017
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Thank you to Ballantine Books and Goodreads for sending me a copy of Always! 

My Goodreads Rating: 1.5 or 2 out of 5 stars (Did Not Finish)

Official Book Summary:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter and The Violets of March comes a gripping, poignant novel about the kind of love that never lets go, and the heart's capacity to remember.

While enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with her fiance, Ryan, at one of Seattle's chicest restaurants, Kailey Crane can't believe her good fortune: She has a great job as a writer for the Herald and is now engaged to a guy who is perfect in nearly every way. As they leave the restaurant, Kailey spies a thin, bearded homeless man on the sidewalk. She approaches him to offer up her bag of leftovers, and is stunned when their eyes meet, then stricken to her very core: The man is the love of her life, Cade McAllister.

When Kailey met Cade ten years ago, their attraction was immediate and intense everything connected and felt "right." But it all ended suddenly, leaving Kailey devastated. Now the poor soul on the street is a faded version of her former beloved: His weathered and weary face is as handsome as Kailey remembers, but his mind has suffered in the intervening years. Over the next few weeks, Kailey helps Cade begin to piece his life together, something she initially keeps from Ryan. As she revisits her long-ago relationship, Kailey realizes that she must decide exactly what and whom she wants.

Alternating between the past and the present, Always is a beautifully unfolding exploration of a woman faced with an impossible choice, a woman who discovers what she's willing to save and what she will sacrifice for true love. 


Excerpt:

"Ryan rolls down his window. 'Kailey, is everything okay?'

I nod and take a step back, then numbly walk to the car, get in.

I don't tell Ryan that I am not okay.

I don't tell Ryan that I know this man.

I don't tell him that his name is Cade and he used to be the love of my life." 

My Review:

I did not finish reading this book. The first chapter is only a handful of pages long and by the time I  finished its last few lines (see the excerpt above) it was clear how the novel would end so I figured there was no point to reading it. Clearly, it's a story of second-chance romance. Perhaps this would interest other readers, but contemporary romance novels at not my jam. Yes, I should have known this about myself before starting it--my bad.

Book received from the publisher.

July 5, 2017

Book Spotlight: The 13th Continuum by Jennifer Brody

The 13th Continuum

by Jennifer Brody

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fantasy
Publisher: Turner Publishing
Length: 404 pages
Published: April 19, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Thank you to Turner Publishing and Jennifer Brody for sending me an autographed copy of The 13th Continuum! This book is the first installment in The Continuum Trilogy. Book #2 Return of the Continuums was published November 1, 2016 and book #3 The United Continuums will hit shelves July 11, 2017.

Official Book Summary:

One thousand years after a cataclysmic event leaves humanity on the brink of extinction, the descendants of the chosen survivors take refuge in thirteen contingency shelters buried deep underground, at the bottom of the ocean, and in the far reaches of outer space. In the underwater 13th Continuum, sixteen-year-old Myra Jackson has heard rumors and whisperings all her life of a magical place called "The Surface” where people could breathe fresh air, feel the warmth of something called sunlight on their skin, and see things known as stars and trees and mountains. Myra has never dared to ask whether the stories are true, since the act of speaking such words aloud is an offense punishable by death. But after she discovers that the air supply aboard her underwater colony is running out, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to find this mysterious place. To get there, she must first recover the only guide to the Surface—the Beacon, an ancient device that also connects her to Captain Aero Wright, a dashing young soldier from one of the only remaining space colonies. With the fate of all humankind depending on them, Myra and Aero must escape the tyrannical forces that rule their colonies, journey through the black depths of the ocean and across the cold void of space, to find each other on the Surface that their ancestors once called home.


Excerpt:

"It was well past midnight when Sari woke to the alarm blaring through the White House. Frightened, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

A strobe light pulsed in the darkness and illuminated the room. On and off, she could see her backpack slumped astride the foot of her bed, a mess of clothes and toys strewn across the floor waiting to get her into trouble with her mother, and her desk with the shiny, new tablet computer that was a gift from her father for her tenth birthday last week (or so the card said, though it was probably selected and purchased by his staffers).

But the angles and corners of the room felt all wrong, just like the strangers in suits who now followed her family everywhere they went. "Mr. President," they called her dad. Those men gave her the creeps. Her pulse quickened as she regretted how much her life had changed over the last year, ever since her father won the big election.

New city. New house. New bedroom. New school. New teachers. New friends."

Book received from the publisher.

July 3, 2017

Book Review: Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

Spontaneous

by Aaron Starmer

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Length: 368 pages
Published: August 23, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Thank you to Dutton Books for sending me a copy of Spontaneous! 

My Goodreads Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars (Did Not Finish)

Official Book Summary:

A darkly funny and spectacularly original exploration of friendship, goodbyes—and spontaneous combustion.

Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It's an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye.


Quote: 

“And as long as the world spins on, we can still dance. No matter who we are, we can always dance." 

My Review:

I did not finish reading this book. I do want to, however, give sincere praise for the original concept which I found very cool: students at the Mara's high school keep spontaneously combusting and no one knows why. That is a phenomenal premise: strange, interesting, immediately engaging, and metaphorical: Props to the author for that.

That being established, I began reading this novel with really high expectations, curious as to how these random explosions would play out in regards to finding a cure. Sadly, the text was profane and the narrative seemed to not only depict but also condone teen drug use, and eventually I decided to set it down. It is a shame because I was definitely curious to see what happened. I still think the premise holds a lot of promise and I'd like to read someone else's summary to see how it all plays out, but it wasn't worth it for me to continue.

Book received from the publisher.

June 29, 2017

Book Spotlight: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

 

I See You

by Clare Mackintosh

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Sphere
Length: 372 pages
Published: April 4, 2017
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Thank you to Goodreads and Penguin Books for sending me the audiobook of I See You by Clare Mackintosh!

Official Book Summary:

You do the same thing every day.

You know exactly where you're going.

You're not alone.

When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it's there. There's no explanation: just a website, a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it's just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.

Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make . . .

I See You is an edge-of-your-seat, page-turning psychological thriller from one of the most exciting and successful British debut talents of 2015. 

Excerpt:

“How fast can you run?

When you really have to?

In heels and a work skirt, with your bag banging against your side: how fast?

When you’re late for your train and you have to get home, and you race down the platform with seconds to spare: how fast can you run?

What if it isn’t a train you’re running for, but your life?

If you’re late home from work, and there’s no one in sight. If you haven’t charged your phone and no one knows where you are. If the footsteps behind you are getting closer, and you know, because you do it every day, that you’re on your own; that between the platform and the exit you won’t see another soul.

If there’s breath on your neck, and the panic is rising, and it’s dark, and cold, and wet.

If it’s just the two of you.

Just you, and whoever’s behind you.

Whoever is chasing you.

How fast could you run then?

It doesn’t matter how fast.

Because there’s always someone who can run faster.” 

Audiobook received from the publisher.

June 27, 2017

Book Review: Tumbling by Caela Carter

 

Tumbling

by Caela Carter

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Length: 432 pages
Published: June 7, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Thank you to Viking Books and Goodreads for sending me a copy of Tumbling! I received the book just before the 2016 Summer Olympics and was very excited to root for the U.S. athletes (yes, this means I'm a year late in finally getting around to posting the review).

My Goodreads Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

Five gymnasts. One goal.

Grace lives and breathes gymnastics—but no matter how hard she pushes herself, she can never be perfect enough.

Leigh, Grace’s best friend, has it all: a gymnastics career, a normal high-school life…and a secret that could ruin everything.

Camille wants to please her mom, wants to please her boyfriend, and most of all, wants to walk away.

Wilhelmina was denied her Olympic dream four years ago, and she won’t let anything stop her again. No matter what.

Monica is terrified. Nobody believes in her—and why should they?

By the end of the two days of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, some of these girls will be stars. Some will be going home with nothing. And all will have their lives changed forever. 


Excerpt:  

"The gymnasts gathered at the opening to the arena. From a distance, tehy looked like a mass of perfectly pressed red, blue, and bright whie warm-ups; cheerful hair ribbons; precise makeup; and genuine smiles. But the mood was somber.

Somewhere on an edge of the gym floor in the Baltimore Metroplex, the announcers blathered on about the twelve gymnasts who were embracing each other under the stadium seats in the northernmost corner. They spoke of veterans versus brand-new baby seniors. They spoke of event specialists and all-arounds. They discussed the likely makeup of the final Olympic team--which names were destined to be called at the end of the meet the next night, and which positions were still up for grabs. They talked about comebacks and international debuts and likely breakout stars. Other names they didn't mention: the few who felt luck to be present, who dared no hope to proceed."

My Review:

I thought this would be a perfect pre-summer 2016 Olympics read. It might be for gymnastics fans between the ages of 10-14, but even as a grown-up fan of young adult and children's books, the writing greatly trivialized the sport. While there were some more weighty coming-of-age themes, far too much time was spent on characters arguing over boy bands, Facebook posts, and general cattiness. A true Olympic gymnast's memoir would be a better choice.

Book received from the publisher.

June 23, 2017

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab


A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3)

by V. E. Schwab

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic
Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 624 pages
Published: February 21, 2017
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: The third in a three-part YA series, preceded by A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. V. E. Schwab also publishes as Victoria Schwab.

My Goodreads Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

Witness the fate of beloved heroes - and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED...
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.
 
Book Quote:
 
"Scars are not shameful, not unless you let them be. If you do not wear them, they will wear you."
 
My Review:
 
Just not for me. The plotting in this novel seemed more haphazard and there was a greater emphasis on romance than characterization.
 
I think where I differ from others who have loved the series (particularly regarding the ending whereas I preferred the beginning) is my difficulty in maintaining an investment in Lila and Kel as they increasingly become not the lead characters, but two of a cast. In A Conjuring of Light, Holland, Alucard, and other members of the royal family play much larger roles with the narrative focusing entirely on them for chapters or large passages at a time. I kept wanting the story to go back to Lila and Kel alone.
 
I understand the author's utilization of a larger cast--it helps complicate the story, enrich the setting, and diversify the twists and turns--but I felt  because I never felt a connection to them, I was increasingly disinterested and bothered by where the story was spinning its wheels on love scenes instead of moving strides forward with action, consequence, and character development.
 
As a last note, I will add that I absolutely adore the book covers for each installment in this series. I think they are perfectly executed and are some of my favorite young adult book covers I've seen in years. 

June 22, 2017

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab


A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2)

by V. E. Schwab

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic
Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 512 pages
Published: February 23, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: The second in a three-part YA series, followed by A Conjuring of Light (review forthcoming). V. E. Schwab also publishes as Victoria Schwab.

My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 stars


Official Book Summary:

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift--back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games--an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries--a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Quote:

"She bent most of the rules. She broke the rest." 


My Review: (spoilers ahead)

The first third was great: Lila left London and is a pirate-in-training aboard an infamously dangerous captain's ship and Kell is struggling to return to life as normal as a close associate but not full member of the royal family, his life now bound to Rhy's. Awesome. The beginning is fantastic because it starts in media res with Lila adrift in the ocean and the reader having no clue as to how she got there. As the story proceeds through her point of view, on the one hand I was intrigued by the setting and seeing what she was up to on her own adventures, but on the other hand I was really put off by how violent she is, often just for the sake of being violent.

The next third of the novel was just really slow, boring, and there are some major plot holes and spots with poor writing. This was extremely disappointing to me. I was invested in Kell and Delilah and their stories, and annoyed by following other characters' points-of-view. These pages felt like treading water as if the story wasn't sure where it was going.

Even more disappointing, was the last third which was predictable and a bit ridiculous (some online reviews reported that some readers actually shed tears...what?). Spoiler: Do you really think the author is going to kill off one of her two main characters so easily and carry on through an entire third installment without them? This isn't LOST. I understand the need for cliffhangers, but I wasn't buying the drama in the book's final pages.

Furthermore, my real struggle with the ending is based on the fact that I find it impossible to believe that the author expects her audience to accept that Lila mastered learning magic all by herself in just a couple of months. Mastered. Magic. Alone. With no help. Quickly. And the story doesn't detail how this happened. What? Really?

Overall, I liked A Gathering of Shadows enough that I finished the series, but the majority of that motivation was based on how much I loved the first book and what I liked in the first third of this one. I borrowed the last book instead of purchasing my own copy. Check back soon to see how I felt about the series' conclusion.

If you like this, try these other YA fantasy series... 

Harry Potter, The Lunar Chronicles, The Red Queen, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Precious Stone Trilogy, The Illuminae Files, Matched, Uglies, Divergent, Percy Jackson


June 20, 2017

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab


A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

by V. E. Schwab

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic
Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 400 pages
Published: February 24, 2015
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: The first in a three-part YA series, followed by A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light (forthcoming reviews on both). V. E. Schwab also publishes as Victoria Schwab.

My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 stars

Official Book Summary:

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.


 
Quote:

"I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still."

My Review:

A really fantastic young adult novel about four parallel cities of London, each having a very different relationship to magic, and one of the last remaining men able to move between these cities. I was immediately caught up in the world of this novel. Since the ending of the beloved Harry Potter series, for me there hasn't been any other contemporary young adult or children's series about magic that has really felt well done. I tried Percy Jackson and while I could see its appeal to some audiences, I didn't feel interested enough to continue. The same was true of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel--okay, but not my thing. I was surprised and delighted by how much I enjoyed reading about Kell's world and intrigued by Delilah's rebellion and mystery regarding her past. Obviously as an Anglophile, I love anything set in London and the concept of four parallel versions of the city was really cool.

In fact, I was enjoying the book so much and so convinced that I didn't want to miss any minor detail in the storytelling, that I did something I rarely do while reading--halfway through the novel I started over again, just to make sure I was picking everything up along the way. My 5/5 star rating is high--perhaps higher than it should be--but at the time, that was how much I was enchanted by this world.

I'll follow up with my reviews of parts two and three in the series (check back soon), so you'll have to find out how I felt about the rest of the series and if it lived up to the bar set by book one.

If you like this, try these other YA fantasy series...

Harry Potter, The Lunar Chronicles, The Red Queen, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Precious Stone Trilogy, The Illuminae Files, Matched, Uglies, Divergent, Percy Jackson


June 13, 2017

Favorite Fathers in Literature

Favorite Fathers in Literature

This Sunday is Father's Day. I've seen a number of lists over the years about the best (and worst) fathers in literature, but I prefer to focus on the best. I'm convinced I have the greatest father of all time. I hope everyone feels that way about their dad, but if not, I hope they have other men in their life they admire. I put together a list of some of my favorite fathers in literature, but I would love to hear what you think--who are your favorite fathers in literature? Who did I forget? Here is my list in no particular order:

Atticus Finch
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Bob Cratchit
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Matthew Cuthbert
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Arthur Weasley
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Thomas Schell
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

William Danny
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Charles Ingalls
The Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Otto Frank
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Robert Quimby
The Ramona Series by Beverly Cleary

Narrator
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Hans Hubermann
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Man in the Yellow Hat
The Curious George Series by H. A. Rey

Papa Bear
The Berenstain Bears by Jan and Stan Berenstain

Mr. Penderwick
The Penderwick Series by Jeanne Birdsall

John Ames
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Calvin's Father
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Honorable Mentions:

Uncle Tom
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Big Friendly Giant
The BFG by Roald Dahl

Christopher Robin
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

Dickon
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


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