Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I am quite sad that it took me this long to read this novel, especially after seeing how much fellow book bloggers love it and recommend it.  I can see that there was not one bit of exaggeration in this, because I absolutely adored this book.

Novik has created something so rich here, as deep and vast as the Wood that surrounds the Valley where Agnieszka and Kasia live.  The story world is developed without being bogged down by excessive narration or description, and the characters are so fully realized that I felt I was watching Agnieszka’s story unfold in front of me.

The relationships between the characters are something that I found absolutely fascinating.  Agnieszka and Kasia’s

By Steendraws on tumblr

By Steendraws on tumblr

friendship seems to unburdened and easy at the beginning of the story, despite the assumption that Kasia will be selected by the Dragon to go and live in his tower for ten years.  However, when Agnieszka is chosen and Kasia *SPOILER ALERT* taken by the Wood, the secret resentment and underlying hate that comes out when trying to save one another was so heartbreakingly realistic and somehow beautiful, that their friendship not only survives but becomes stronger.

The Dragon, Sarkan, is grouchy, set in his ways, and easily frustrated, but he still is likable despite all of these traits.  I do find him unbearable at the moments where he is rude to the main character, but I think it comes from the confusion he finds in her magic, and the confusion in his feelings for her. Agnieszka took him by surprise, and it is obvious that he resents that very much.

Story-wise, Uprooted is very much in the vein of the old epic poems, which are mentioned a handful of times in the novel, and it flows like a beautiful song.

I was blown away by this novel, and it was a perfect beach read for my vacation, one that helped me forget the heat and the humidity, but took me away to a beautiful tower, village, and enchanted Wood.

Highly recommend.

4.5 Bards

four.fivebards




Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

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Release Date: January 3, 2017

All Etta Spencer wanted was to make her violin debut when she was thrust into a treacherous world where the struggle for power could alter history. After losing the one thing that would have allowed her to protect the Timeline, and the one person worth fighting for, Etta awakens alone in an unknown place and time, exposed to the threat of the two groups who would rather see her dead than succeed. When help arrives, it comes from the last person Etta ever expected—Julian Ironwood, the Grand Master’s heir who has long been presumed dead, and whose dangerous alliance with a man from Etta’s past could put them both at risk.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Sophia are racing through time in order to locate Etta and the missing astrolabe with Ironwood travelers hot on their trail. They cross paths with a mercenary-for-hire, a cheeky girl named Li Min who quickly develops a flirtation with Sophia. But as the three of them attempt to evade their pursuers, Nicholas soon realizes that one of his companions may have ulterior motives.

As Etta and Nicholas fight to make their way back to one another, from Imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, time is rapidly shifting and changing into something unrecognizable… and might just run out on both of them.

 

 

Book Review: Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

28698224Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series “I Am Jazz” making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence particularly high school complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy especially when you began your life in a boy s body.

So, I super enjoyed this book, even though you can tell it was written by a fifteen year old. At first, the writing style of speaking to the reader sort grated on my nerves (because it was teenager-speak and I am clearly old and crotchety). However, she has a lot of important and meaningful things to say, so eventually I got used to it and I just enjoyed the book. She’s funny and sincere and once I got over my original annoyance, I realized she does have a great voice (I mean, people have been listening to her tell her story since she was tiny).

I really appreciated how she always insisted that she lives a normal life. She also emphasizes that she is really lucky to live that normal life because of her family, and how they’ve supported her for her entire life. She uses her privilege and her platform to remind readers that not every trans person is that lucky. Multiple times throughout the book she throws statistics out there about the number of trans lives that are lost every year. She uses those statistics to remind herself that she is lucky, but also to remind herself of why she has this public platform: to save other trans folks and to educate others about trans issues.

I also really loved that she normalized her mental health issues, as well. She made sure to say they were separate from her dysphoria, but that they were still a part of her. I think it’s important to normalize mental health and getting help and emphasize the fact that it literally happens to anyone and there is no shame in getting help.

I think this is a great book for literally everyone, but most especially parents of trans kids who want to have some kind of perspective on what their child is going through, and for trans kids just so they can see that they’re not alone. Overall, I’d give it 4 bards.

fourbards




Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

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Release Date: January 17, 2017

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not — their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power — something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuve, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive — no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive — or to destroy one another.

Book Review: American Girls by Alison Umminger

She was looking for a place to land.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she’s had it with her life at home. So Anna “borrows” her stepmom’s credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn’t quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn’t the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

There are a few things that I found a bit weird about this novel, but I will tell you that the first thing that threw me off about this book is the title.  “American Girls,” just really didn’t seem to fit with the overall narrative of the story, and I definitely prefer the UK title, “My Favourite Manson Girl,” as that phrase is uttered multiple times throughout the story.  Plus, the cover for that novel is way more fitting.  Although it does feature the popular rounded sunglasses of the 60’s much like the cover of The Girls by Emma Cline, and they were being released on the same day, so I understand if the publisher decided to go a different way because of that.

I basically decided to pick up this novel because it was influenced heavily by the Manson family murders and found it interesting that two novels, one a cross-over adult novel (The Girls) and a young adult novel (American Girls) featuring details about some of the most infamous female criminals in history.  Now, where The Girls is set during the summer of 1969 and leads up to the family murders, American Girls tries to parallel some of the basic human aspects of these women and the narrator and her sister.

American Girls really is more of a commentary on life in Los Angeles and the modern teen than anything else, but there are some things that just didn’t sit right with me.  I found the main narrator, Anna, to be incredibly unlikable. She basically threw a $500 temper tantrum over feeling lonely and disregarded by her mother and her stepmother.  You don’t find out until later that she is being forced to switch schools (also something that happens to the narrator of The Girls) due to being part of some significantly disturbing bullying.  She somehow ends up being able to stay in LA with her sister after her $500 runaway scheme and is handed all of these opportunities that she takes for granted and doesn’t appreciate.

Sure, she gets in the middle of the weird life of her sister, who to be honest, I found more likable due to her acknowledgement and acceptance of her mistakes and who she is as a person, despite her flaws.  There are some pretty gruesome things that happen to her sister because of her idiotic choices, and there is a stalker/creeper factor going on that I think could have been a stronger plot point than it was, but I understand that the majority of the novel is about Anna’s journey rather than anything else.

The writing was fairly standard for a young adult novel, there wasn’t anything absolutely impressive about the narrative voice, word selection, or any risks taken with style.

I know it seems that I kind of bashed this novel, but overall, despite the flaws, I still found it an enjoyable read.  It isn’t one that I’d likely re-read over and over, unlike The Virgin Suicides (another novel about the lives of teen girls and the implications of the world around them), but it is one that I’d willingly recommend.

I’m going to give this novel an average rating of 3 Bards

threebards

 

 

 

 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

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Release Date: September 27, 2016

Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men
a mysterious city stripped of its name
a mythic hero with blood on his hands
a young librarian with a singular dream
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths
and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

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Release date: October 4, 2016

Addison Sullivan has been in an accident. In its aftermath, she has memory lapses and starts talking to a boy that no one else can see. It gets so bad that she’s worried she’s going crazy.

Addie takes drastic measures to fill in the blanks and visits a shadowy medical facility that promises to “help with your memory.” But at the clinic, Addie unwittingly discovers it is not her first visit. And when she presses, she finds out that she had certain memories erased. She had a boy erased.

But why? Who was that boy, and what happened that was too devastating to live with? And even if she gets the answers she’s looking for, will she ever be able to feel like a whole person again?

Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon.

Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted.

As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

There is something to be said about a debut novel that tackles some of the most difficult aspects of life in 1969 and the delicately fragile aspects of being a young and impressionable teenage girl.

First and foremost I’m going to address the absolute accuracy of some of the observations that Cline makes about the treatment of women that not only transcends from youth into adulthood, but serves as a commentary on how gender inequality isn’t just a thing of the past.

Specifically, there is one major quote that depicts this for me, “That was part of being a girl – you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get.  If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch.  The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into.  Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.”  This is so true to the woman’s journey.  You are told how to act and how to look based on magazines and television shows (also touched on in the novel), and how you are perceived by society is something you have to accept for what it is.

Evie is a very insecure fourteen-year-old in the flashbacks, but let’s be honest, who wasn’t insecure and uncomfortable in their own skin at that age?  Who didn’t desperately seek the approval of their parents, their peers, or those they are romantically interested in?  It is a part of growing up, and for me I noticed that all of these portions of her personality were extremely realistic and I could relate to them.  This novel also explores the discovery of sexuality and sexual preference, which is something that you experience through Evie in an open way.

Not only did I enjoy how brutally honest Cline was about the experience of young teen girls and how their experiences affect them in later life, (through older Evie interjecting throughout the novel and serving as a frame story), but I did enjoy the point of view shifts.  I would argue that Young Evie and Older Evie do represent two entirely different narrators, since Young Evie is naive and desperate for any type of attention or approval, Older Evie is withdrawn and paranoid.  There are only minute differences in the writing style and word choice during these switches, but it was significant enough for it to make a major difference in my reading experience–in a positive way.

On to the other important aspect of the novel: the infamous cult factor.  Now, for anyone who knows me, I’ve read Helter Skelter by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Manson by Jeff Guinn, so I’m aware of a lot of the details of the Manson Family and their abominable crimes, so when this book was announced to have been influenced heavily by their actions, I knew I had to pick it up.  So I won’t lie to you, this was the major selling point for me.

It’s pretty obvious that the three main girls that Evie deals with in the cult are based specifically on the three Manson women, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle, and Leslie Van Houton (in that order in the picture).

The Susan character (named Suzanne in this tale) plays a much more significant role than the other two, who are relegated as outrageous background characters that flit around Evie and the rest of the cult.

***Side Note*** I did consider this interesting, since Susan Atkins is the only of the three that are no longer living, and that maybe Cline did this partially due to that fact, but it could just be a coincidence.

Anyway, Evie is absolutely entranced by these women from the very moment they appear in the narrative.  It’s absolutely imperative to her character development because she not only fancies herself as one of them but she falls in love with Suzanne, and spends much of her experience within the cult at her side.  Cline does such an excellent job at showcasing how these women could have devolved into the murderers they became, by showing Evie understand and comprehend how capable anyone could be.

It is important to remember where this novel is going, and there will be a lot of things that will make you squirm and make you uncomfortable.  This is not a novel for younger teens, but I would recommend it for anyone 16 and up.  Especially since the narrator spends a lot of time on her experiences as a young teen in this environment.

Parents: If you are concerned about some of the subject matter, then I encourage you to either read the novel first or read along with your teen and discuss. It could open a lot of important dialogues.

4 Bards for The Girls.

fourbards

Current Reads

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

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Release Date: September 6, 2016

The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

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