Book Review: Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All

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This book is haunting. And not because one of the main characters is a ghost- because the prose, story, the voices that it evokes are like a misty cloud surrounding the reader from start to finish. As soon as I turned the final page, I wanted to start over again because I flat out sped read the last half needing to know how it would all unfold. Now I’d like to reread it knowing the answers and just let the words envelop me.

Three words caught my attention initially: Chicago Historical Fiction. If you are a frequent reader, you’ll note that I am biased towards a Chicago setting and so I went into this excited about the fact that it spans World War 2 between 1941-1946. It’s clear that the author did extensive research to make it as accurate as possible.

Let’s begin at the beginning with the title. Every woman knows about the wolves hiding behind the doorway. They’re all different, and we all know we’ll face them. This story isn’t a hit you over the head feminism book, and I didn’t even understand the title until I was more than halfway through reading.

Our narrator is a ghost named Pearl, we eventually get her whole story, including meeting some of her ghost friends, and it unfolds in a slow, but not the frustratingly slow way. She tells us Frankie’s account of spending her teen years in an orphanage with her sister and brother. Frankie’s brother gets yanked out of the orphanage by their Dad after he remarries and thinks he needs the manpower to run his store.

Honestly, I didn’t feel anything but anger towards the father. He’s oblivious at best and abusive at worst. Her brother is kind, but they are mostly separated as he ends up going to war. That leaves Frankie and her sister Toni to navigate life in the orphanage and then later with their stepfamily.
I’m feeling all the emotions after reading this one. I do know its one of the few books that I would recommend to teens and adults equally.

book review romance

Book Review: Would Like to Meet

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A funny empowering look at how maybe Rom-Com meets can work in real life? Evie Summers needs to convince her client Ezra to finish writing a Rom Com. He thinks they are dumb and unrealistic. And so, Evie embarks on recreating moments from famous movies to show him that they do work.

It’s so funny that I happily suspended my disbelief at some of the more unbelievable moments. I also adore a holiday British setting. My only complaint was that it was hard to keep her giant cast of friends straight in my own mind. Also, this is the perfect length for an airport read which makes it’s December release all the better.

I can’t wait to see what this debut author comes up with next.

book review Cybils Nominee YA fiction

Book Review: Sorcery of Thorns

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined. 

Published June 4th 2019 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

What did I think?

Magical libraries are my love language. I can’t believe this book hadn’t hit my radar before it’s Cybils Awards nomination.
Overview: Elisabeth Scrivener was orphaned as a child, left to be raised within a library, but not just any library. The Great Library isn’t just great in size. It contains magical grimoires that whisper and rattle from their home within the shelves if provoked or damaged in any way they turn into what is known as a Malefict. (Think the Monster Book of Monsters in the Harry Potter universe)
Elisabeth hopes to one day become a warden to protect the Great Library and her kingdom from their power. Eventually, Elisabeth is forced to team up with the most unlikely of people in an attempt to clear her name.
All in all, this story is a whimsical, cozy, winter read.

book review YA fiction

Book Review: The Guinevere Deception

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Guinevere is the star of this King Arthur re-telling. This is Camelot through a girl power lens, and I am all in for that. I knew that it was the start of a series of at least two books early on without looking it up. There are a ton of unanswered questions and a massive twist towards the ending. Fair warning: parts of this book are slow, like gosh, 40%? There is a ton of back story, and in my mind, just unimportant stuff that is part of the world-building that I would have shortened. It’s worth dragging yourself through that, though, because the pay off twist is fantastic.
It’s not giving much away to tell you that this Guinevere is fake and is there in Camelot to protect Arthur. She isn’t allowed to use magic though- so that was a puzzler. So she marries him to be close enough to protect him, but for much of the time, she isn’t exactly sure what she is protecting him from. I get that as the reader, you need to immersed and committed to the storyline before specific plot points are spelled out, but again it took a long time for that to unfold. The descriptions of Camelot are neat though- the entire city carved inside a mountain, surrounded by water.
I’d hand this one off to the younger age range of YA, and I am looking forward to Book two, hoping that now we know all the things the action from the last half of this book will keep on rolling in.

book review YA fiction

Book Review: Catfishing on Catnet (YA)

UPDATE- This won a 2020 Hugo Award!!

You can also pre-order the sequel Chaos on Catnet

Considering that the plot is pretty dark, this was a fun, light read. It’ll be perfect for curling up with when it’s November release rolls around, and you can read it with some warm drink curled up on the sofa. I found the plot unguessable and was pretty much on the edge of my seat up until the end of the book. I was worried that it would be too wrapped up for a sequel, which I started hoping for pretty early on in the read.
The setting is soon, much of the tech described is either available now or in the works, and that point alone made it more deliciously creepy with plausibility.

Steph is starting her Junior year of high school at a new school (again!) as her Mom moves them around extremely often to keep ahead of her stalker/violent father. Because they run all the time, Steph hasn’t had many friends IRL, and she has friends on CatNet in her clowder- which is kind of a private chat room on a website devoted to cat pics. (It’s a great idea, I mean, I’d join a site like that) Anyhow, her virtual friends and her real friends all end up helping her to escape from her Dad after he tracks them to a small town.
The side plot is that her Mom has some computer code that he wants, and in discovering that, Steph realizes that the chat room coordinator isn’t human but is a sentinel AI. It all makes more sense when you read it. I neglected dinner and stayed up way too late reading it, so you know its good. It is the kind of YA that adults will enjoy reading also. I can see book clubs snatching this one up as well.

book review Cybils Nominee YA fiction

Book Review: Echo North

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: If she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear, and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up, otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever.

Published January 15th 2019 by Page Street Publishing Co.

Another gem I would have missed if it weren’t for someone nominating it in the YA Speculative Fiction category. You could say this is Beauty and the Beast retelling, or you could say it’s an East of the Sun, West of the Moon retelling. It, for sure, has elements of both, but don’t think you know this story without reading it. For a new book, it reads like a Norweigan fairy tale from a long time ago.
Echo’s father goes missing for weeks, so she goes in search of him and finds him frozen in the snow, she’s then approached by a wolf and asked if she would like to make a bargain: she can come live in the wolf’s house for a year in exchange for the magic to release her father so he can go home. The house is magical too, with rooms that can disappear, you can go inside paintings, etc. It’s spellbinding.
I’ve read a few Beauty and the Beast retellings this year, and this is my favorite because it goes further and more profound than just a reimagining of a familiar story. It has similarities, and then as a reader, you plunge into it like falling down a well. I suffered a bit of book hangover after I turned the last page. I’d buy this as a holiday gift for any 11-year-old kid on up through adult that needs a good fairy tale immersing book.

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: If she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

book review YA fiction

Book Review: We Set The Dark On Fire

Ah, this novel checks all my boxes:

Own Voices? Check

LGBTQ Rep? Check

Smashing the Patriarchy? Check

Cool Dystopian, yet realistic setting? Check

Dani hides her poor background/illegal immigration status to get accepted into a sort of Wife Training Academy (Medio School for Girls) for high-class women. While they are there, they study to be one of two roles. A graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. In this patriarchal island world, rich men buy two wives, generally from other wealthy families. 

The way the society is set up didn’t bother me in the least. Not the buying people part- of course, But, many women are stretched so thin that a dystopian fantasy of splitting it up isn’t far fetched. One woman as a business partner while the other handles the household seems like a fair split. In this case, it isn’t hard to hate Dani’s husband ( Mateo); he has like zero redeeming qualities, and her partner’s wife (Carmen) may or may not be a threat as the story begins. So things are complicated.

Without saying too much, Dani is blackmailed into helping La Voz, a rebel group, spy on the Garcia family. That part could have been plotted a little differently. I did like the story enough to set my doubts aside on the plausibility of some of that.

I’m looking forward to the sequel book in early 2020.

book review science fiction YA fiction

Book Review: Skyward

Spensa the starfighter pilot is right up there with Katniss and Tris as a girl-power hero as far as I’m concerned. I liked her and her family. Especially her Gran-Gran:

“People need stories, child. They bring us hope, and that hope is real. If that’s the case, what does it matter whether people in them lived?”

In this story, there was a battle between humans and aliens. The humans eventually landed on this planet and settled in small segregated groups. Anytime they built anything that advanced humanity, the Krell (alien race) would destroy it.

The Krell sounded very familiar to me. I knew I had heard the term before and google me that the word Krell is in Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Marvel Universe. If I ever write SciFi- I pledge to call the aliens something else. Other than that one name, I thought the World Building was terrific.

Anyhow, Spensa dreams of being a pilot and has to work twice as hard to achieve that goal, as most candidates because her Father died under mysterious circumstances as a pilot. Hardly anyone knows what happened back then until Spensa starts flying herself around in an AI-powered starship!

The author describes this plot as How to Train Your Dragon meets Top Gun and Enders Game. I think that’s an accurate description, and if that kind of book suits you- you’ll want to pick this up along with the sequel: Starsight on November 26, 2019.

book review YA fiction

Book Review: The Grace Year

Note that I wrote this back in June and just plain forgot to post a review here. If you are ever looking for a report from me, please be sure to check Goodreads also. It’ll be here or there or both- LOL. 

I’d describe this book as a Lord of the Flies if they were all girls. I’m also a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale and Vox; two books that rely heavily on the demoralizing of women and the fear that men have of the ‘weaker sex.’ The girls from the town get sorted into wives, farmhands, and prostitutes, but before they begin their “careers,” they go away to an island where they try and survive for the year. I spent a reasonable amount of time trying to figure out what the “magic” would turn out to be. 

It is all pretty gruesome, and for that reason alone, I would give it only three stars. If I could have read through my hands covering my face, I would have. If you like horror, you’ll give it a five. It’s incredibly fast-paced and is generally a fast, satisfying read for the genre. 

book review YA fiction

Book Review: Internment

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Published March 19th 2019 by Atom (first published March 18th 2019)

Set just “fifteen minutes in the future,” this portrait of what life would be like in America if something in the story called the Exclusion Act passed into law. American-Muslims go into “camps,” where they live for the foreseeable future. Layla is justifiably furious when she and her family get rounded up and bussed away to a camp. As an adult reader, I felt worried about her safety as she seemed very ready to get herself hurt as she snuck around, seeking contact with her boyfriend. At the same time, it seemed very realistic as her first reaction to such an unthinkable reality.
For a nation who has said “Never Again,” more than once this story more than anything illustrated to me just how hard actual peaceful resistance is in practice. In conversation, every one of us thinks that someone would “do something,” but, as this story illustrates- it wouldn’t be easy at all to accomplish anything.
There is so much discussion fodder in this one; I’d add it to a high school government class in a heartbeat. It would also be great in a Heroes Journey discussion.