Paris Adrift by E.J Swift

Image result for paris adrift    
Paris was supposed to save Hallie. Now… well, let’s just say Paris has other ideas.

She’s linked to a hole in time and chosen by fate to prevent a terrible war. Tumbling through Paris’ turbulent past and future, Hallie changes the world—and falls in love.

But with every trip, she loses a little of herself, and every change she makes ripples through time, until the future she’s trying to save suddenly looks nothing like what she hoped for… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February 4th.

What first interested me in this book was its comparison to Midnight in Paris, a movie that I love. I can’t say I see much of a resemblance, aside from the obvious (they both involve Paris), but I’m grateful for that blurb because otherwise this book might have passed me by.

Hallie is our main character, a woman who feels out of place in her own skin. She’s decided to travel to Paris, more to run away from something than to run toward anything. There, she gets a job at a bar and joins an eclectic group of friends. She finds a sense of family, a boyfriend, and-oh yeah- a time anomaly in a taproom. Soon, Hallie is traveling through both the past and future, making changes. Whether she’s fixing things, or causing irreparable damage remains to be seen.

On the surface, my description probably makes this book sound like a lighthearted romp. It isn’t at all. It explores the idea of small changes having big impacts, discusses problems in our present, and touches on themes of self-acceptance and change. It does all that in a fast-moving, unique way. I loved it.

There were several things that set this book apart from other time-traveling books. There wasn’t nonstop action, the futuristic gadgetry wasn’t everywhere, and a good chunk of time spent was actually traveling to the past as opposed to the future. I tend to shy away from books involving time travel because it’s hard for me to handle the problems that tend to arise when writing about that subject. This book handles those stumbling blocks with aplomb.

I liked the bohemian feel of the group of friends, how they were all dissatisfied with how the world works and desperately wanted to affect change, but were unsure how to start. I think many people can relate to that (and no, I’m not going to start a religious or political argument, I promise). I actually think the conversations Hallie had with her friends were some of the most interesting parts of the book. You know a writer is talented when the musings and dialogue are just as interesting as any action scene, if not more so.

While there was a climax of events, what I most enjoyed was how things got there. The ending, while good, almost didn’t matter because the meat of the story was so well done. I definitely recommend reading this one.

Prosper’s Demon by K.J. Parker- ARC Review

Prosper's Demon by [Parker, K. J.]
   In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.

The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out—he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.

Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 28th.

This novella is…odd. I mean, really, really odd. I was originally drawn to this book by the amazing cover (okay, okay, I know: don’t judge a book by its cover. But I did, so there).  The premise is intriguing: an exorcist who has an encounter with Prosper, a self-proclaimed genius and close friend of the king, who also happens to be possessed by a very tricky demon.

The exorcist, who narrates the story,  is morally bankrupt, and extremely unlikable. Of course, he warns the reader of that right away. I liked that he was an unreliable narrator with a cynical streak. It wasn’t enough to endear me to the character or the story, however. There were too many problems.

The first problem is the length. Being that it’s very short, it needed to get going sooner than it did. The first scene was interesting, but afterward things slowed way down. I kept getting distracted from what was happening because it was moving so slowly.

Another issue I had was the fact that we never learn the identity of the narrator. That’s something that either works for you, or it doesn’t. I tend to dislike never knowing a narrator’s identity. I’m totally fine waiting until the epilogue to learn who the storyteller is, but I like to know at some point. It’s never revealed.

In many ways, the story felt incomplete. The idea was cool, and the writing had serious potential but, probably due to the shortness of the novella, it wasn’t fully realized. I would have liked this better if it was longer.

Heart of Flames by Nicki Pau Preto- ARC Review

Image result for heart of flames nicki pau preto

You are a daughter of queens.

The world is balanced on the edge of a knife, and war is almost certain between the empire and the Phoenix Riders.

Like Nefyra before you, your life will be a trial by fire.

Veronyka finally got her wish to join the Riders, but while she’s supposed to be in training, all she really wants to do is fly out to defend the villages of Pyra from the advancing empire. Tristan has been promoted to Master Rider, but he has very different ideas about the best way to protect their people than his father, the commander. Sev has been sent to spy on the empire, but maintaining his cover may force him to fight on the wrong side of the war. And Veronyka’s sister, Val, is determined to regain the empire she lost—even if it means inciting the war herself.

Such is your inheritance. A name. A legacy. An empire in ruin.

As tensions reach a boiling point, the characters all find themselves drawn together into a fight that will shape the course of the empire—and determine the future of the Phoenix Riders. Each must decide how far they’re willing to go—and what they’re willing to lose in the process.

I pray you are able to pass through the flames. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February 11th, 2020.

Be aware: this is a sequel, so there will be spoilers for book one (Crown of Feathers). You can read my review for that book here.

*** Spoilers for Crown of Feathers Below ***

I was angry when I finished this book. I would have slammed it shut if I hadn’t been reading an ebook version. I’m going to try to explain why, but first let me remind you all that the things I dislike about a book might be the very things that you love. As Levar Burton says, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” So, deep breath: I’m about to dive in.

This book suffered horribly from Sequel Syndrome. You know, when the first book in a series is incredible, but the second book just falls flat. It’s possible for this series to regain its footing in the next installment, but this one was just bad.

First of all, all the characters acted in ways that made no sense for who they were. Commander Cassian, who showed determination, stoicism, and intelligence in Crown of Feathers, made the most ill-conceived and stupid move possible in this book. It made zero sense both from a characteristic standpoint, and a story standpoint. And he wasn’t the only one who acted contrary to how he was written in the first book.

Tristan and Veronyka entered into the dreaded angst-ridden relationship. I was so bummed about this! It could have added a really interesting facet to the interactions of the Phoenix Riders. Unfortunately, it just became annoying.

What bothered me more than even that, though, was Veronyka’s 180-degree turn. In Crown of Feathers, she was fierce, determined, and had a strong moral compass. She worked so hard to become a Phoenix Rider in the hope of joining a patrol. In this book, she was wishy-washy, threw all her hard work away for no reason, and dragged Tristan down with her. She basically snapped her fingers and he came running, leaving all his fellow Riders in the lurch.

Another odd choice that was made was how things were revealed. Often, Val’s internal dialogue would explain something to the reader, only to have it explained again at length to another character a chapter or two later. I understand that characters need to be given information in some way, but why explain it twice? Just reveal it to the reader as it’s revealed to the character. The amount of reiteration in this book was a bit much.

Okay, moving on to the things I did like.

Sparrow and Elliot were fantastic. Neither of them was in the book much, but they shone in every scene they were in. I love Sparrow in general. She’s such a wild-child, but wise beyond her years. In some ways, she reminds me of Luna Lovegood. I also liked Elliot’s desire to redeem himself after the events in book one.

I liked that the other Phoenix Riders were as annoyed by Tristan and Veronyka’s shenanigans as I was. I felt so bad for them in this book. They were completely messed over by Tristan’s lack of maturity.

I loved the phoenixes, of course. I’ve read a lot of fantasy lately that is bereft of fantastical beings, so I love seeing them making at least a bit of a return. I also liked that each of them had their own personalities.

Nicki Pau Preto knows how to turn a phrase. She’s a talented author, but I feel that she got in her own way with this book. I’m not giving up on the series. Rather, I’m hoping that the next book will return to the strengths that made me love Crown of Feathers.

The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Image result for the tiger and the wolf"In the bleak northern crown of the world, war is coming . . .

Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye also hides a deadly secret. All can shift into their clan’s animal form, but Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She refuses to disown half her soul so escapes, rescuing a prisoner of the Wolf clan in the process. The killer Broken Axe is set on their trail, to drag them back for retribution.

The Wolf chieftan plots to rule the north and controlling his daughter is crucial to his schemes. However, other tribes also prepare for strife. Strangers from the far south appear too, seeking allies in their own conflict. It’s a season for omens as priests foresee danger and a darkness falling across the land. Some say a great war is coming, overshadowing even Wolf ambitions. A time of testing and broken laws is near, but what spark will set the world ablaze? (taken from Amazon)

I received this book as winner in a contest, courtesy of the author and Dave at the Write Reads.

Bleak in some ways, yet utterly compelling, this book is a masterpiece. It’s unlike many other fantasies that I’ve read. Instead of a linear story, where I have an idea of where things are going, this felt more like a window into a world. The story was less important than the book as a whole, if that makes sense.

In this world, humans can shift into animal shapes. It feels very tribal, in that there are clans and each clan can shift into only one shape (that of the clan’s animal totem). Maniye is an exception. She’s the daughter of the Wolf clan’s chief, but her mother was of the Tiger clan. Maniye can shift into both forms. This is an ability she hides, only known to herself and her clan’s priest, who is most definitely not on her “side.”

Instead of discussing where the story goes, I’m only going to say that in many ways it’s a coming-of-age tale. Maniye struggles with her identity, her messed-up relationship with her father, and finding her place in the world. The fact that the world features shape-shifters, and many fights, is a benefit to the reader.

The strength in the writing, for me, comes down to the excellent world-building. While the characters and story are interesting, the world is engrossing. I loved reading about the different tribes and how their lifestyles varied from each other. I especially liked the Laughing Men. The idea was so original!

This book will not be for everyone. It’s not your usual fantasy. It’s stark and without fantastical frills (if that makes sense). It is, however, incredibly good.

I highly recommend this book to fantasy readers who like fully-realized worlds, and don’t mind slower builds.

One? by Jennifer L. Cahill

Image result for one by jennifer cahill

                   It’s London in the mid-nineties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future. One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

After reading the blurb about One?, I was expecting a bit of a FRIENDS vibe. Instead, it felt a bit more like the show Sex and the City. There is a difference, and it does come into play in my review, so please bear with me.

This book felt like gossip between friends, which is the feeling I got from the (maybe one) episode of Sex and the City that I’ve seen. It seemed sort of bubbly, for lack of a better term. It’s about four roommates as they navigate life. There’s Zara, the new girl; Penelope, who’s a bit of a partier; Gerry, who’s supposed to be hot stuff; and Charlie, a musician.

The theme of the book is relationships. It focuses on the relationships the roommates have with each other, as well as those they have with others. It’s not quite my bag, but I can absolutely see the appeal of this book to those whose taste lean toward the sweet and romantic.

My biggest pet peeve with this book happens to be the punctuation. Commas were often used in place of periods, which frustrated me. There was also a liberal smattering of exclamation points. I think an editor could easily help with that, but it was irritating.

My end verdict is that if light romantic contemporary fiction is a genre you gravitate to, you’ll enjoy this book.

                                                              About the Author

Jennifer was born in Dublin in Ireland and was educated at University College Dublin. She honed both her ability to write, and her love of writing, in UCD while studying Spanish, which was one half of her International Commerce degree. She went on to Business School in Dublin and moved to London after graduating, and life has never been quite the same for her since. When she is not writing she works with individuals and blue-chip clients to help them navigate and master change. She spent ten lovely years living in Clapham and now lives in Notting Hill in West London.

                                              About the author, in her own words:

I write contemporary fiction and try to capture the essence of a place and time in my books. Above all, my aim is to make you laugh, and hopefully learn a little, as you recognise yourself, your friends and your exes in my books. I love hearing from my readers, and you can contact me via my website, or @JLCAuthor on Twitter.

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

 

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air Book 3) by [Black, Holly]

He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And, when a dormant yet powerful curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity… (taken from Amazon)

**Spoilers for books The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King below**


        Here’s the thing: I’ve read several other books by Holly Black. My son and I read the middle-grade Magisterium series that she co-authored with Cassandra Clare. We both loved it. I’m bummed to say that this book just didn’t butter my biscuit. Not to say that Holly Black can’t write: she’s a very talented writer. I just didn’t care for what she did with this book.

That being said, she did make a few choices that showed her writing chops. I think the best way to write this particular review is to list the things I liked, followed by the things I didn’t. Spoiler-free for this book, but it does have spoilers for the first two books in the trilogy. Here we go:

Things I liked:

-I liked the wickedness and capriciousness of Faerie. Faeries in lore tend to range between mischievous and downright nasty, so this sat well with me.
– I enjoyed the riddles and prophecies that needed to be puzzled through. It was fun trying to figure them out before the characters did.
-The nasty critter that showed up was pretty stinking cool (that’s all I’m saying, so as not to spoil anything).

Things that didn’t work for me:

-The mush, gush, and angst. Zoinks! It became very tiresome very quickly.
– Locke is my favorite character ( I know, he’s a jerk. But he’s an interesting jerk), and I wanted to see more of him in the series, not less.
– In many places, the dialogue was so bad it was ridiculous. It tended to descend into absolute obnoxiousness any time Jude and Cardan spoke together. If they were separate, it wasn’t too bad. Again, this goes back to the mush and the gush. It just became too much for me.
– There was a lot of time spent on describing different outfits and hairstyles. I mean, a lot. And since my idea of dressing up means wearing a skirt with ye random nerdy t-shirt, I got bored long before the descriptions stopped.

I’m assuming it’s obvious at this point that this book was not one I loved. However, I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this one.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Admission: I’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula three times throughout my life and I still don’t like it. I find that it drags. But Dracul looked so enticing, I had to give it a go. I was not disappointed.

While Dracul is written in the vein (pun intended) of Dracula, I found it to be much more interesting. Its gothic atmosphere and slow build worked in its favor, making it eerie fun. The authors chose to follow firmly in the Dracula mythos, eschewing Anne Rice’s additions to the genre (she’s a brilliant author, by the way).

Why did I enjoy this book, when I don’t like Dracula? Honestly, I think it’s because the female characters in this book have spunk. They aren’t helpless at all, and they move the story along. In fact, without Ellen, there would be no story.

The switch-off between different character’s points of view was a fascinating…

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Little Red and the Crocodile by Suzan Johnson, illustrated by Ayessa

Image result for little red and the crocodile"
Meet Zara! She’s a smart, friendly, and curious girl who loves to visit her Auntie. This is a FRACTURED version of a famous tale. This retelling of Little Red Riding Hood takes the reader to the Louisiana swamps where we meet a new character in Cory the Crocodile. Will Little Red follow her mother’s rules? Will Cory the Croc succeed? Find out what happens when they meet on a journey. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

As you can probably tell from the above description, this children’s book is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood. Instead of Red, there’s a sweet little girl named Zara. She is supposed to bring her goodies to her aunt Moshee. Her mother warns her to go straight there, without getting distracted or talking to strangers. Of course, she doesn’t listen. If she had, there wouldn’t be a story. Instead, Zara befriends a sneaky (and hungry) crocodile.

I read this to my toddler, seeing as it’s intended for kids. He enjoyed the twist on the classic fairy tale, as did I. It was charming, and the fact that the crocodile doesn’t get cut open in this version is a win in my book.

It is a bit longer than I would expect a young child to sit still for. I’d recommend this one for ages 4 through 6ish. It’s a good tool to use when talking to your kids about stranger danger. The lesson was taught in a fun way.

I do wish there were more illustrations because they were so incredibly cute. However, this was a great book overall, and one that I think most kids would enjoy.

Have you read this to your little ones? What did they think?

Always Gray in Winter by Mark J. Engels

9781945247194: Always Gray in Winter
      A distant daughter. A peculiar device. A family lineage full of secrets. When werecat Pawlina Katczynski finally resurfaces, her location previously unknown to anyone close to her, the reunion is short of welcomed. Instead, she finds herself thrust tooth and nail—tooth and claw—into a feud between opposing werecat clans as her family and their enemies reignite a battle that has raged for years. Always Gray in Winter invites the reader to join the feud and see if blood is truly thicker than water… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Unfortunately, this book wasn’t for me. I don’t often read militaristic books, which could have a lot to do with it, but I spent a good chunk of the book feeling confused. The story was told from many different points of view: Hana, Mawro, Pawly, and Lenny to name a few. I struggled to keep track of what was happening to each of them.

I found the idea of feud between two clans interesting, and would have liked to know more about the origin of the feud. While it was a cool jumping-off point, I felt that it could have been explored more.

As I said above, I don’t often read military books. Many of the things that are probably completely understandable completely threw me. I had to reread a few sections to make sure I hadn’t missed something. There was also a flashback that confused me. I struggled to figure out where the flashback began and ended, if that makes sense.

I did like the idea of werecats being the subject of the book. I’m a big fan of creativity in books, and I must say that this was a very creative concept. However, I’m wondering if it would work better as a graphic novel, or maybe even an anime-style cartoon. Seeing it unfold, as opposed to trying to keep track of the many characters, might clear up some of my confusion.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Maybe I need to read it again? Let me know your thoughts!

Raising Readers: Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

I have two children, both of whom love books. My oldest taught himself to read at a very young age, and is able to read pretty much anything (he’s a big fan of the dictionary, which is also pretty cool). The Toddler Tornado can’t read just yet, but he loves to listen to me read and is constantly looking at books. Recently, I was asked for tips on raising kids who love books. I can only give suggestions based on my limited experience, but here are some things that have worked for my kids:

1. Make reading aloud a daily activity: I love reading to my kids. It’s an excellent bonding experience, as well as a good way to encourage an early love of books. I still read aloud to my oldest, even though he’s perfectly capable of reading his own books. It’s special for my kids, and it’s special for me. They won’t be kids forever; I’ll cherish my memories of reading to them. At the moment, we’re going through Alice: Through the Looking Glass.

2. Do the voices: It’s okay to be silly. Make it fun! If you’re reading about a grumpy lion, for example, give him a gruff, cantankerous voice. My toddler loves books about historical figures. I give them accents. I’m absolutely horrible at doing accents, so there are lots of giggles. Making your child laugh is the best!

3. Take trips to the library: If you’re lucky enough to have a library nearby, take advantage of it! My husband and I take the kids every Saturday. Libraries often have fun activities your kids can participate in as well. Plus, as long as you don’t accrue huge late fees, it’s free fun!

4. Let them choose: It’s easy to pick the books that you are okay reading ad nauseam, since youngsters can get hung up on reading the same thing over and over. However, if you allow your kids to pick their own books, it will spark their interest. When we take a trip to the bookstore, my oldest picks fantasy novels. My toddler chooses adult history books, especially ones about the U.S presidents. We’ve gotten some odd looks over that, but he loves them, so that’s what he gets.

5. Add activities: I think this is the homeschool parent in me making itself known, but if I can add extra fun to reading time, I’m all over that jazz. For example, after reading Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems, I found a printout on Pinterest (I love Pinterest!) that had a picture of the pigeon and a speech bubble where kids could add their own “Don’t let the pigeon…”. It was a blast! Eat strawberries after reading The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big, Hungry Bear. Things like that add extra fun.

6. Be an example: Let your kids see you reading! If they grow up seeing reading as a fun activity, they’ll realize that it is. I love this tip, because I can use it as an excuse for the amount of reading I do. It doesn’t happen often, because my toddler doesn’t like holding still for long, but I love the rare occasion when everyone is sitting and reading their own favorite book. It’s a wonderful, cozy feeling.

So, there you have it! How about you? What suggestions do you have for raising readers?