NOLA Review: Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan



Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s. And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru — a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline’s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.

This week is focused on the City of New Orleans. A caveat of this novel specifically is that it’s actually set in a smaller parish outside of New Orleans, but it deals with some characters from NOLA and the implications of evacuation pre and post-Katrina.  I figured that counts towards it!

Between Two Skies is beautifully simplistic and heart wrenching at the same time. Don’t mistake simplistic for poorly written, it is just easy to read considering the subject matter. The narrative follows the Riley family as they navigate the times before Katrina – where they struggled to stay afloat financially, to post-Katrina where they struggle with their lives after the devastation and with the idea of returning home.

Home is such an important aspect of this novel.  While some narratives really emphasize that home is where the heart is in a family or romantic sense, Evangeline feels this on such a basic and physical level of being connected to the land and the water of the Mississippi and the Gulf. She’s a champion fisher, although I really don’t know what kind of competitions there are for fishing other than maybe the size of the catch? I’ve only fished like twice in my life though, so that’s probably why I have very little knowledge of this. But anyway, being a fisherwoman would help explain why she felt so connected to the water and the land around her town.

O’Sullivan touches on the depression and anxiety that came from the relocation of the Riley’s to Atlanta, and how adjusting to a completely new school without any roots, any of their major belongings, or their friends. This is mostly shown through Evangeline’s sister, Mandy, so it really is just touched on.  I do think this should have been more of a focus, but I understand that it wasn’t the main point of this story.

I do think the love story was a bit distracting from the family narrative that I found to be the best part of the book, and the death of the family matriarch should have been more important and a focus on the transition to the new generation.

Other than those drawbacks, I really enjoyed reading this book! I read it in one sitting, and I suggest everyone pick up a copy!

4 Bards.

Between Two Skies


New From: $5.75 USD In Stock
Release date April 25, 2017.

NOLA Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

 


It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

Holy hell was this book a roller coaster of action and heartbreak.

Now, I mostly decided to feature books set in or about New Orleans for this week because I will be visiting for the first time in a week. I’m quickly realizing that I’m in for some moving work.

Out of the Easy provides such a portrait of New Orleans in the 1950s that I feel like I could have been walking alongside Josie and taking a ride with Cokie through every page.  Sepetys is such a historical fiction genius.  She weaves the story of this incredibly intelligent teenage girl with a penchant for books and a heart of gold alongside a rough and tumble life of prostitutes and mob violence. Honestly, there were so many vibrant characters that jumped off the page.  From Charlie to his son, Patrick, to Charlotte (who only physically appears twice), to the brooding Jesse, to the fierce and unapologetic Willie…New Orleans is my favorite character in this book.

The version of New Orleans that Sepetys has created shows the darkness and the light sides of the city in such a subtle way.  She doesn’t hammer us over the head with the details or even using too much of the southern dialect or Creole vocabulary.  I don’t really know how to explain it, but it made me fall in love with the dichotomy that is this historic city.  I also appreciate that while the novel mentions Mardi Gras, it doesn’t focus on it or spend a whole lot of the narrative on it.  I think I’ve just come to expect that with anyone who mentions NOLA, so I was super happy that the narrative was much more character focused.

Side note: Sepetys actually mentions a good number of places in New Orleans that are still famous today and places that myself and my best friend have actually discussed visiting next week.

Commander’s Palace (which has .25 cent martinis at lunch!), Antoine’s (with famous Baked Alaska), and Galatoire’s (NYT Top 10 Best Restaurants)

This book stole my heart.

5 Bards!

#ReadADessen Revew: This Lullaby

 

 

When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn’t mess around. After all, she’s learned all there is to know from her mother, who’s currently working on husband number five. But there’s something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy’s rules. He certainly doesn’t seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can’t seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy’s starting to understand what those love songs are all about?

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a review of This Lullaby just because it is extremely hard for me to try not to gush about how much I love this novel and try to give it an actual critique-type review.  I am going to try though, but be forewarned: this is one of my favorite books of all time, so be prepared for gush.

Let me start off by saying that Dessen does an excellent job of establishing Remy’s, the narrator, voice immediately.  Not only is Remy a bit snarky, but she has some serious sarcastic and bitchy moments that really help characterize her for the rest of the novel.  Remy has a rock solid group of girlfriends to spend the summer with before college, and a typical place to hang out and sneak drinks underage.  I had all of these things as well.  Probably one of the reasons when I read this originally when it came out I felt like Dessen was writing about my life and my initial love for the novel.

After reading it again, I find that I am impressed by Dessen’s story telling ability and the subtle growth that Remy makes as the book continues.  Not only does Remy’s attitude start to shift, but she begins to become the person she needs to be in order to succeed in life.

Dexter, oh Dexter.  What can I really say about my first laugh-out-loud enjoyment and crush on a fictional character?  This doofus would likely be the love of my life if he was real.  The whole scene where Dexter and John Miller are discussing their respective relationships while sitting outside the QuikZip is brilliant.  Kudos to Dessen to making such an endearing character so vibrant and, well, crushworthy.

I will leave you with some of my favorite quotes from This Lullaby, and an active plea for you to pick up a copy of this novel as soon as you can.  You will not regret it!

Favorite Quotes:

“Everything, in the end, comes down to timing. One second, one minute, one hour, could make all the difference. So much hanging on just these things, tiny increments that together build a life. Like words build a story, and what had Ted said? One word can change the entire world.”

“I meant what I said to you. I wasn’t playing some kind of summer game. Everything I said was true, from the first day. EVERY GODDAMN WORD.”

“Huffah.”

5 Bards to the story I’ve always loved and for the story I will always re-read.

fivebards

Review – The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer

In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life.
She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.

Now, she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.
When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it’s her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.
Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

The first thing everyone needs to know about The Chemist is that this is NOT a young adult novel. Like most people when I first heard Stephanie Meyer was coming out with another book i rolled my eyes and laughed. Out of sheer boredom I picked The Chemist and I am so glad that i did!

As someone who is a die-hard action/spy movie fan this book was brilliant. Like all of Mrs. Meyer’s books this one also had the romance, part of me thought it seemed a bit like Stockholm syndrome type of thing but in the end I enjoyed how everything played out. With influences like Jason Bourne, James Bond, or any of Tom Clancy’s novels it stays very true to the genre.  The Chemist will grab your attention and it will keep you sitting at the edge of your seat until the very end. This book was magnificently written and is very much worth the time and energy to read.  But you should know there is violence in this book just like any action movie(specifically gun violence). If you are a fan of action/spy movies, shows or books then you will love this novel!

4 Bards

The Chemist


New From: $8.68 USD In Stock

#ReadADessen Review: The Truth About Forever

Are you as excited about the release of Sarah Dessen’s newest young adult novel, Once and For All (out June 6, 2017) as I am?! We teamed up with Penguin Teen to celebrate the release by counting down the weeks with reviews of her previous novels. Check out the description of Once and For All, and then our review of The Truth About Forever.  Stick around until the end of the post, you can enter to win a full set of Dessen’s catalog in paperback!

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

 

REVIEW:

In The Truth About Forever, when asked how she is coping with her father’s death, invariably seventeen year old Macy Queen’s answer is “fine,” when nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, she is drowning in grief while maintaining a flawless façade of good grades and unblemished behavior. Though she feels lost when her boyfriend heads to “Brain Camp” for the summer, she finds herself a job with the quirky Wish Catering crew, and meets “sa-woon”-worthy Wes, whose chaotic lifestyle is in direct opposition to her own.

As the two share their stories over the summer, Macy realizes she can no longer keep her feelings on ice. Though it feels like her future ended with her dad’s death, Macy’s learns that forever is all about beginnings.

I sit here, after finishing The Truth About Forever for about the 20th time, and I am crying.  This book isn’t just important to me because of how long I’ve been a Dessen fan, but because I grew up with a lot of death in my life.  Yes, that doesn’t sound ideal or even something that you’d want to hear about, but it’s true.  I’d been to more funerals in the first 12 years of my life than I would go to in the next 12. So this book spoke to me in so many ways.

Another aspect that was important to me was the accurate representation of disease like breast cancer (my mother is a survivor) and heart disease (two of my grandparents passed away from heart attack’s like Macy’s father).  So obviously, so many ways I connect to this novel that have nothing to do with the love story, which, in my opinion is much more of a third tier narrative compared to that of Macy’s healing and her growth as someone who was no longer defined by her grief.

Sure, I love a good romance like the next person, but I think I fell in love with the friendship that Macy and Wes developed before anything romantic happened.  Honestly, I think this type of relationship development is so much more rewarding than immediate physical intimacy.  Not saying that I don’t enjoy physical intimacy (I now feel like I need to apologize to my mother), but the friendship foundation has always made any relationship worthwhile for me.

I am working on a piece that explains how much Sarah Dessen’s writing has meant to me, and how her books have always provided a light in the darkness any time I needed it.  I find picking up her books, even if I’ve read them more than twenty times, to be so fulfilling and beautiful.

I will always give this story, one of my heart (hand in heart, anyone?!), 5 Bards.

 

 

 

 

Enter to win! 

Giveaway Details:

Enter for a chance to win one (1) set of Sarah Dessen’s books in paperback (ARV: $132.00).

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on April 17, 2017 and 12:00 AM on May 29, 2017.  Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about June 1, 2017. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

 

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Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program–or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan–or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness.

I read this book back when it first came out and I still really love it. However, only some things still hold up for me.

Let’s start with the good things I love about it. I know that for a lot of people, Bray’s over-the-top satire and stereotypes can be a little grating, but I really love it. It’s a super scathing look at our society in general, but especially our society’s ideas about femininity and girlhood. I loved it when I was 20, and I love it now.

I think I can credit this book with my first step to calling myself a feminist and when I first started to realize that not being like other girls was total BS. And I related to Adina so much when I read this years ago, and I found myself yelling at her the way that I yell at past me. I love her journey with unlearning internalized misogyny (and I totally relate too much to hating her mom for jumping to relationship to relationship (but that’s another story)).

What I love most about this, is that everyone learns something about themselves AND others. We all have misconceptions about ourselves and each other, but as women (especially young women) we’re taught to see each other as competition and this book hyper focuses on that. Overall, I think the heavy-handedness of the book works really well and it’s just overly ridiculous and funny and brilliant.

But there are two things that I don’t really like about it, Petra’s forced outing and the back and forth of Jennifer and Sosie’s relationship. Luckily, in these circumstances of fiction, nothing goes wrong too wrong with outing Petra. But in the real world, being forcibly outed as a trans person can be incredibly traumatic AND dangerous. In this situation of a deserted island there are no consequences for the girls that out Petra and they all learn something valuable from knowing a trans person, which is really just gross and that shouldn’t be what we’re teaching young girls.

Jennifer and Sosie’s friendship turned relationship turned friendship is really bothersome to me because, for one, Sosie doesn’t actually say that she’s bisexual, and two, it paints the stereotype that bisexual people don’t know what they want. Jennifer is a lesbian; she knows she likes girls and she went for the girl. Sosie, on the other hand, doesn’t know for sure what her sexuality is and that’s fine! It’s okay to be figuring out your sexuality, but with making Sosie the one that goes back and forth about her feelings for Jennifer, it perpetuates the stereotype the bisexual people are just confused and don’t know what they want and they’ll just leave you and that’s not okay.

So as much as I love Libba Bray, and as much as I do love this book, I can’t give it more than 3 bards.

Book Review: Wires and Nerves by Marissa Meyer

In her first graphic novel, #1 New York Times and USA Today bestseller Marissa Meyer follows Iko, the beloved android from the Lunar Chronicles, on a dangerous and romantic new adventure — with a little help from Cinder and the Lunar team.

In her first graphic novel, bestselling author Marissa Meyer extends the world of the Lunar Chronicles with a brand-new, action-packed story about Iko, the android with a heart of (mechanized) gold. When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the bestselling series.

 

The first thing that needs to be known about Wires and Nerves is, you MUST read the Lunar Chronicles.  You do not have to read Fairest or Stars Above but it does add to the story line. I loved the Lunar Chronicles so when I heard Marissa Meyer was coming out with a graphic novel extending the series I was thrilled.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

Wires & Nerves follows Iko on her journey to hunt down the last of the mutant wolf man creatures.  In this story we get to see the entire gang and figure out why Iko took up this task to help her best friend. Iko also deals with stigma because she is an android.  The general populace does not believe she helped stop the war between Earth and Luna purely because she is an android.  They believe no android could have helped save the world.  It sends out a powerful message about racism and it shows her struggles with it and how she attempts to overcome the stigma against androids.

I loved this graphic novel, I enjoyed seeing things from Iko’s perspective because we did not see her narrative in the Lunar Chronicles. I also enjoyed we got to see more of the Earthen Union. In the Lunar Chronicles we only got to see France and New Beijing. Due to the fact that this is a graphic novel it is extremely easy to read.  This book is full of adventure and Iko being a strong independent woman and a great friend. I will warn you though it does end with a minor cliff hanger but it is not as bad as other books(I’m looking at you Rick Riordan). The ending makes you want eager for more of Iko’s adventure.

4 Bards!!

Wires and Nerve: Volume 1


New From: $8.86 USD In Stock

Book Review: A Million Junes by Emily Henry

Please welcome the newest member of Team Midsummer: Liz! Liz met Lyv way back at a To Write Love On Her Arms conference and they stayed in touch.  Then, as Jess and Lyv became friends, Jess and Liz “virtually” met via Tumblr, and finally met in person at YallFest 2016.  Give a big welcome to her and help us celebrate her first official review:

About Liz:

 

Liz is a History major with a double minor in archaeology and statistics, who is currently on a hiatus from going to school. Her first love is history but her second love is reading. She didn’t get into reading until she was 21 and she found comfort and courage in the characters. The series that really started her love of books was Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas. Romance novels are her guilty pleasure but her real love is YA books. Some of her favorite books are Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester and of course literally anything Sarah J Maas writes.

 

 

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.

 

I feel like it should be known i have never been a big fan of Romeo & Juliet. Their relationship is unrealistic.  I typically try to avoid books that have the Romeo & Juliet storyline, but I received an ARC so I decided to give it a try anyway.  I am so glad I gave it a try!

A Million Junes follows June(her real name is Jack but everyone calls her June) and Saul and their desire to be together but mainly needing to know why their families hate each other. Which leads them to learning why and how their families are cursed. Finding out what the curse is, is a whirlwind adventure.  Although it might not keep you on the edge of your seat, it does keep you interested.

When I first found out Saul was 21 I was worried this would be a book about a man much older than the main character because June is still in high school. For me, I automatically get worried when a book mentions age differences specifically if one of those people are in high school.  If the characters are not consenting adults or at least both in high school, I will put a book down and never pick it up again.  But it turns out June is 18. The fact that the main characters are two consenting adults is wonderful (compared to Juliet being 13 and Romeo being an age that is never disclosed, but we can assume is older than Juliet).  

When I first started this book I expected everyone to die (how could I not?! The description said it was like “Romeo & Juliet.”).

SPOILER ALERT:
I was happy when nobody ended up dying but enough does happen where for most of the end you expect one of the characters to end up dead.  The more information you get about the curse the more you assume someone is going to die. There is simply no avoiding it. A Million Junes didn’t fall into the YA cliche of “and they lived happily ever after.”  There is still room for these characters to grow but you don’t feel like you are being left with a cliffhanger.  If the author wants to write a sequel she could, but I think where it ended is a good place.

My favorite quote from A Million Junes was :

“‘June, Moments are like cherries.  They’re meant to be relished. Shared – not hoarded.  You can clutch one terrible moment or experience all the rest.  Your life is slipping past in brilliant little bits…’”

I am someone who spends a lot of time thinking more about the bad memories than the good. This quote made me realize I am missing out on so many good memories by holding on to the bad ones. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting the bad memories go and living in the now and enjoying your life as much as possible. I feel like part of the reason I enjoyed reading about June so much was because of the journey she went on and the growth she experienced.

This book was a happy surprise for me.  I am so pleased I picked it up and gave it a chance.

3.5 Bards!

You can pre-order A Million Junes now!

 

Book Crafts: Book Cover Coasters

Finished Product!

Things you’ll need:

  1. Pictures of your favorite book covers printed on regular paper or with photo paper
  2. Mod Podge Clear Gloss
  3. Mod Podge Clear Acrylic Sealer
  4. Ceramic tiles 4×4 (found in your local hardware store)
  5. Peel and Stick Felt
  6. Sponge Paint Brush

 

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

First things first: THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. I loved this book so much that I ended up dedicating an entire BookTube video to making Strange the Dreamer themed cupcakes while I talked a bit about what I liked so much about the novel.

Check it out below and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more fun videos!

Now, let’s get to the meat of the review.

As I mentioned in the review, I fell in love with Lazlo himself within the first few chapters of this book. How pure and wonderful is my tall crooked-nosed son with his love for reading, learning, and dreaming (see what I did there?)? Lazlo may not have any idea about his heritage, but unlike some book characters, this doesn’t weigh him down with questions of “who am I,” “what is my purpose in life,” etc.  I think his acceptance of that, or even the fact that he doesn’t consider it to be a problem in his life, is what makes him such a humble and caring character that helps those who need it without expecting anything in return.

Speaking of those people who probably should given him something in return, I was extremely irritated by the golden godson and all of his nonsense.  I found myself eye-rolling through a bunch of his scenes, which is exactly what I think Taylor intended, but still. I’d kick him in the shin if I could.  At least he does have intelligence, although we all know that he wouldn’t be able to do anything without help from the best crooked-nose librarian there is (this isn’t spoilery…well, kind of).

I’ve read some reviews where people found the pacing a bit slow at the beginning, but I didn’t find this a problem at all.  I really loved the development of Lazlo as a character, and while I do think it would have been fun to see more of the journey from their home to Weep, I know this wasn’t the point of the novel.  However, the action does pick up significantly after the arrival of Lazlo and the other characters to the mythical Weep, so even if you are struggling to get to that point, push through it! I promise it’s worth it.

Since I was so fond of Lazlo and his character development, I must say that the only one of the Godspawn that I truly felt connected to, and I’m sure this is because Sarai was the other point of view in the novel, was Sarai.  She is such a complex character with an odd gift, to say the least, but it allows her to grow and have empathy for humans in a way the others don’t.  This becomes a major plot point as well.  But the others kind of felt almost like unnecessary background noise (all except Minya, of course), but I anticipate they will play a much larger part in the second book.

I loved this book and I cannot wait to pick it back up again and read carefully for clues about the twist at the end.

5 Bards!

 

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