the bookish life

my geeky love for books and bookish things

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 8)

Novel Editions – September Unboxing

I’ve been drifting away from YA these last few months. I’ll still occasionally read the genre, but have really been gravitating toward adult fiction – and enjoying it a lot more. As much as I love Owlcrate, I’ve been itching for an adult book box to try out.

Not surprisingly, most of my book and box recos come from my fellow bookstagrammers.  So, when Novel Editions appeared in my feed a few weeks ago, I just had to give it a shot. It’s local (!!) and features a paperback adult novel each month. September’s theme is Old Hollywood, with nods to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Great Gatsby and The Seven Year Itch.

Old Hollywood

I love how some of the items reference an Old Hollywood classic without being overly obvious. Like the eye mask being the same one Holly wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Or how the Green Light candle doesn’t mention Gatsby on the label at all. They’re like cool little winks to those who have seen the movies and read the books. And all the items come from small Etsy shops – I like that.

The book itself came with a letter, explaining why it was selected. I’ve been eyeing The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo for awhile so I’m excited to jump into it. It was also wrapped in kraft paper with ribbon – a nice touch that protected the book in transit.

Overall, I’m impressed. Novel Editions is a thoughtfully curated box at a price point on the level of other popular boxes (especially once you consider the exchange rate and shipping). Single month purchases don’t roll over each month, but you can buy 3 or 6 month packages too. Right now it only ships within Canada, but they do hope to eventually open internationally. It looks like the September box is still available, and October has been opened up as well. October’s theme is Falling for Mystery. I’m an Agatha Christie nut, so I’m all in! If you do happen to order a box, drop my name (or Instagram handle) in the notes section of the order form – they have a referral program!

Happy reading!

 

Book Review – The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Sun-mi Hwang

Hwang packs a big punch in this slim book. It’s absolutely beautiful and tragic and perfect.

Dog Who Dared to Dream

This is the story of a dog named Scraggly. Born an outsider because of her distinctive appearance, she spends most of her days in the sun-filled yard of her owner’s house. Scraggly has dreams and aspirations just like the rest of us. But each winter, dark clouds descend and Scraggly is faced with challenges that she must overcome. Through the clouds and even beyond the gates of her owner’s yard lies the possibility of friendship, motherhood and happiness – they are for the taking if Scraggly can just hold on to them, bring them home and build the life she so desperately desires. – Goodreads

The Dog Who Dared to Dream is a very quick read, and is the kind of story that sticks with you long after you’ve read the last page. Told from the dog’s point of view, the language used is plain and straightforward – and quite touching even in it’s simplicity. Scraggly’s life is far from easy, and she experiences pain and heartache a lot in her short years. The world Hwang has created is raw, where hunger, violence and loss are not glossed over with fluffy language. It definitely isn’t appropriate for younger readers. And if you are a dog lover, be prepared to shed a few tears over Scraggly and her pups.

This review makes the book sound really glum! But it’s actually a beautiful story and I would share it with anyone looking for a good read. Hwang has written another story called The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly and I’m definitely interested in reading it as well.

5/5

Book Review – S. by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst

is a hard book to define. Which made this review kind of hard to write…

S front cover

S inside book

S back cover

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown. – Goodreads

is actually three semi-interlinked stories: the actual novel Ship of Theseus, the conversation and eventual romance between the readers writing to each other in the margins, and the mystery of the identity of the author and his editor. Everyone seems to have a different way of reading the book. I decided to read a chapter of the novel (along with the footnotes), then go back and read the notes in the margins and inserts contained in that chapter. Some readers go even further and read the margin notes in a certain order based on ink colour, but I didn’t bother. Reading it this way worked pretty well – I was able to keep track of each storyline without issues.

Ship of Theseus was well written and entertaining. It read like an enduring classic – which I guess was the point. I would have happily read just the novel on it’s own. The romance story in the margins was interesting but kind of petered off as the book went on – as if they weren’t sure where to go with it. The mystery of the author and his editor was the most interesting out of all three stories – it really is what kept me engaged through the whole book. Unfortunately, all three threads seemed a bit light on actual story, and really could have used further development.

The book was also chock full of curios  – letters, photos and documents used to try and solve the mystery. I absolutely loved that part of the whole experience. The curios were detailed and very realistic at times – it made it all very immersive. Really, S is more of an experience rather than just a book to read, and it is the biggest selling feature of the book. It’s just unfortunate that more effort wasn’t taken to create a more solid story to accompany it.

Would I read S again? I hesitate to say yes – it wasn’t a light or simple read and took forever to get through. Would I recommend it to others? Yeah. Even with my low review rating, I think I’d still encourage others to check it out.

2.5/5

 

Book Review – The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

I love when random library picks turn out to be total gems. I downloaded The Witches of New York based on the cover – it’s pretty and a little mysterious. And happily, the book itself is a solid bit of historical fiction.

Witches of New York

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? – Goodreads

McKay hit the nail on the head for all of the important stuff: the plot was quick, entertaining, and full of engaging characters (with a rather unsettling villain). I loved her descriptions of the setting and time period – I could picture it all easily. And much of the story is centred around Cleopatra’s Needle, which was freaky timing! A couple months ago, I received a box from The Mysterious Package Company that focused a lot on Cleopatra’s Needle – it even included a tiny model of it (see the picture above). The Needle came from Egypt and was brought to New York in the late 1800s – the history of the obelisk (and it’s sisters) is fascinating and fun reading if you’re at all inclined. Ok, backing off from the slightly off-topic tangent!

The three witches central to the story practiced witchcraft that seemed closer to modern day Wicca than any fiction I’ve read before. It was actually pretty refreshing to see a positive and nature-based portrayal of a witch – I’ve gotten a bit tired of today’s pop culture interpretation (especially in YA fiction). It’s funny, I’ve been leaning more toward adult/literary fiction lately – perhaps I’m in need of a YA break.

This book is one of those solid reads that leave you wanting a sequel. It actually ended with a bit of a mystery so that McKay certainly could pull it off. If she does, I’ll definitely read it.

3.5/5

Book Review – Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Zentner's The Serpent King absolutely destroyed me. It was fantastic and I completely ugly cried while reading it. That was actually a nice surprise, because the title and summary were kind of underwhelming. I avoided it for months before cracking it open, and I'm so glad I finally did. Seriously – go read it.

And guess what – Zentner has written a second novel! Be prepared for some more heart stomping in Goodbye Days.

Goodbye Days

One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts. The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.

Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.

Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison? – Goodreads

This book is absolutely beautiful – definitely equal to Zentner's first book. I've been trying to pin down exactly what it is that makes his books so damn good. His world building is fantastic and the plots are solid – but that isn't what makes his books great. It's his characters.

Zentner has a talent for creating characters that are deeply flawed and incredibly realistic. I felt Carver's grief for his friends, and his fear for the future. I understood the rage of Mars' father and felt so much sadness for Blake's grandmother. These characters leap off the page and breathe.

I suppose it goes without saying that this book is incredibly emotional. I didn't ugly cry this time, but I felt so drained by the end. I don't regret reading it though. A book or author this good is rare, and I encourage everyone to pick up Zentner's books. Just grab tissues too.

5/5

Book Review – The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

I have been fascinated with Albert Einstein and his work since I was in high school – I’ve read a lot about him over the years. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when they announced the TV series Genius. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it. Last week my local library featured the ebook The Other Einstein on their homepage and naturally I snapped it up. It’s a fictional retelling of his first marriage and I was definitely intrigued.

Other Einstein

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever. – Goodreads

This book bothered me – a lot. It’s well written, with a solid narrative through the voice of Mileva, but that’s where the good parts end. Benedict has taken the barest outline of history and created a rather nasty bit of fiction, portraying Mileva as a martyr and Albert as a monster. There is no historical basis for her claims (which she fully acknowledges in the afterward) and states that this is simply an innocent reimagining. But this is far from innocent. The average reader will finish this book and assume that much of it is based on fact. So what’s inaccurate about it? Where to start!?

Benedict centres much of the conflict around the four papers Albert Einstein wrote as a young patent clerk – the papers that made him famous. Benedict posits that Mileva discovered the theories on her own, with Albert just helping to polish them. Then in a fit of cruelty, he published each under his name alone. There is no historical basis for this fiction – letters between Mileva and Albert have survived and while Albert would touch on his latest theories in them, Mileva stuck to more practical topics. The only reference to collaboration between the two occurred during their school years – long before those 4 papers were conceived. Mileva failed her university exit exams twice and never got her degree. Historians agree that she seemed to give up science to raise her family instead, and that Albert likely used her as a sounding board while establishing his theories.

The life of Mileva Marić is fascinating all on it’s own – she overcame disability and societal limits due to her sex in order to study one of the most complicated scientific fields. She suffered depression long before people really understood what that was. She lost a child far too young and raised two others. Her marriage was rocky, with Albert’s indiscretions and his seeming inability to balance scientific pursuit and his relationships. Her life was interesting! I would have loved to have read a narrative that more accurately covered her life.

If you’re looking to explore an accurate account, take a look at Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. It’s excellent. And pass on The Other Einstein.

1.5/5

 

Book Review – Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Book mail! I was really excited about this one – I love reading about time travel.

Cold Summer

Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.

When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves. – Goodreads

This story reminded me a lot of The Time Traveller’s Wife, but with teens (obviously) and a slightly happier ending. It was an engrossing read, and I sped through it in a single sitting. The narrative immediately jumped into the story with very little background, which added an element of mystery to it that I liked. Cole’s world building was excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the WWII scenes.

Kale is a well constructed character with a lot of depth – his PTSD felt pretty grounded in reality, even if the cause was rather fantastic. But the other characters were inconsistent – idealized and a bit flat, really. It’s difficult to be emotionally invested in characters of this type, and it caused some distance between me and the story. It pulled me out of the narrative quite a bit. Kale’s WWII experiences are really what made this story a good read. I just wish it had been a great read.

3/5

Book Review – Lilith’s Brood (Xenogenesis #1-3) by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler holds a special place in my heart. I haven’t read many of her books, but my experience with Kindred blew me away and I became an instant fan. So I’ve been eager to jump into this large (and slightly intimidating) trilogy, Lilith’s Brood.

Lilith's Brood

Lilith Iyapo is in the Andes, mourning the death of her family, when war destroys Earth. Centuries later, she is resurrected — by miraculously powerful unearthly beings, the Oankali. Driven by an irresistible need to heal others, the Oankali are rescuing our dying planet by merging genetically with mankind. But Lilith and all humanity must now share the world with uncanny, unimaginably alien creatures: their own children. – Goodreads

I’m not really sure where to begin with this review – this is a complex and incredibly detailed trilogy, with some really tough themes. It explores the human need for independence and our tendency to destroy things we don’t understand or care for. The humans saved by the Oankali are given a choice – live with them in special villages on Earth and have children with them, or be left sterile and out in the wilderness to fend for themselves. How do you make a choice like that? The resulting conflict carries through the entire series – it’s quite a heavy theme. I read all three books in a row, which was mentally draining but worth it – I love books that make you think.

This series really just confirmed my adoration for Butler. Her characters are so real and flawed and her world building blows me away. The Oankali biology is an integral part of the story, and she explores it with great depth. I was immersed in this world and felt a bit lost once it was done. I wish there was more.

4.5/5

Book Review – The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

When I picked this book up, I thought The Seafarer’s Kiss was a reimagining of The Little Mermaid. But instead, it’s more like the story of Ursula – which is an awesome twist!

seafarers kiss

Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies. – Goodreads

This short little book is a quick read, with an interesting story that makes it quite the page turner. Ember has created a detailed world that really sucks you in. I loved the references to the Norse gods and that the story focused on an LGBTQA relationship. It felt fresh and unique. Unfortunately, the character development was a bit light, and I struggled to connect with Ersel and her troubles. When Ersel found herself cursed with tentacles, I was more interested in it as a plot twist, rather than how it affected her emotional state. But maybe that’s just me! Even with this shortcoming, I did enjoy The Seafarer’s Kiss and I would recommend it. This is not Ember’s first LGBTQA title, and I’m definitely interested in reading more.

3.5/5

Book Review – When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

This book was on one of those shelves with a huge sign, “If you liked The Handmaid’s Tale, check out these titles!” How could I refuse?

When She Woke

Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’s convicted of murder, she awakens to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red for the crime of murder. The victim, says the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love. – Goodreads

I read this book in a single sitting – it was heavy, but pretty interesting. The similarities with The Handmaid’s Tale are certainly there, but this book is much more focused on religion and punishment. It got a bit too preachy at times, which definitely slowed down the pace quite a bit. Hannah’s journey was emotional, gritty and full of self reflection which was great, but may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Don’t expect a lot of action!

Jordan’s world building is fantastic, and her characters are complex and deeply flawed. I found myself very frustrated with Hannah’s family, and their rigid inability to grow and change. But Hannah herself does, and comes out stronger for her trials.

The story ends with hope, but not full resolution, which is my favourite kind of ending. That left me curious and thinking about Hannah’s future long after I had put the book down. I wish for a sequel, even though I know it shouldn’t really have one!

3.5/5 

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