Book Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander

Blade never asked for a life of the rich and famous. In fact, he’d give anything not to be the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. Or to no longer be part of a family known most for lost potential, failure, and tragedy. The one true light is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her parents have forbidden their relationship, assuming-like many-that Blade will become just like his father.             

In reality, the only thing Blade has in common with Rutherford is the music that lives inside them. But not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing Chapel forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret, one that leaves him questioning everything he thought was true. All that remains is a letter and a ticket to Ghana-both of which could bring Blade the freedom and love he’s been searching for, or leave him feeling even more adrift.

Told through bestselling author Kwame Alexander’s and Mary Rand Hess’s expressive and engaging style, Solo is a melodic exploration of friendship, love, heartache, reconciliation, and what it means to finally come home.

I’m a big fan of Kwame Alexander’s verse novel The Crossover, a Newbery award winning book which deals with elements of family and coming of age. Compared to Solo, The Crossover is short but powerful and intimate. I brought that with me as I was reading Solo and I wish I hadn’t. In comparison, Solo is a sprawling story that dips its metaphoric toes into too many waters.

The story is divided into two parts Part One: Hollywood and Part Two: West Africa.

Part One: Hollywood

When we meet Blade Morrison we learn the basics of his life: his mother (Sunny) died suddenly about ten 10 years ago, his father (Rutherford) is a famous musician struggling with addiction, his sister (Storm) is trying to find her way as an adult, his girlfriend (Chapel) has parents who have forbidden their relationship, and Blade is currently struggling with, as one of his friends so succinctly puts it, first world problems. Some of these include his relationship troubles with his girlfriend, his father crashing his graduation, and his inability to navigate his sister’s social scene.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there struggling with the things Blade has as conflicts in the opening parts of the book, what I am saying is that it was superficial to me. I felt no connection to Blade, had little sympathy for him as a character, and considered abandoning the book. Initially I thought Alexander and Hess were going to clearly pursue more of the continuing grief the family is experiencing after the death of Sunny or the complexities of addiction. Blade’s memories of Sunny’s death and the impact her death has had on the family were by far the strongest part especially when compared with Blade’s angst over his relationship with Chapel. However, as the text seemed to digress further into angst with no other major plot evolution I couldn’t help but think there were too many plot elements occurring at the same time. This is perhaps best illustrated in the incident that catalyzes the second half of the book.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

In the middle of Storm’s big party, she’s insulted by one of the guests, prompting Blade to throw everyone out. As everyone is leaving, with Storm clearly upset, Rutherford arrives home having left his rehab facility before completing treatment. Disappointed in the life choices of both his father and sister, a fight breaks out between them which leads to Storm angrily telling Blade he’s adopted and not a real Morrison.

Like much of the plot surrounding Rutherford, this scene is helter skelter. It’s supposed to show how “Rock and Roll” they are since Blade’s life is just a series of increasingly erratic moments as Rutherford battles addiction. Instead, it just gives the opening section a scattered and unfinished feeling.

For me as a reader, when that scene unfolded, I empathized with Blade, but I also assumed that Storm was joking or attempting to hurt Blade by lying. It was so abrupt that after it’s confirmed that Blade is adopted I had to reread the fight to realign my reaction to the moment. The revelation sends Blade spiraling and I hoped that the novel was finally getting on track with Blade beginning a search for his birth mother, but Blade still dithers in Hollywood. With his relationship with Chapel now floundering (having been caught by her parents twice), Blade opts for a dramatic gesture before setting out on his journey. He gets a tattoo of her name and arrives to show her, just in time to catch her cheating on him. The tattoo and cheating on top of the forbidden love was too much for me. It also finalized my second major reaction to Part One: Chapel felt unnecessary to me as a character, she was vapid and shallow, a caricature, and the relationship was fraught with cliches that only weighed down other elements of the plot.

As Part One closes, our protagonist receives life changing knowledge, gets a regrettable tattoo, and sets out on his quest. In Blade’s case, this quest leads him to Ghana.

Part Two: West Africa

On the whole, I enjoyed Part Two infinitely more than Part One. Taking Blade out of his comfortable Hollywood setting and having him confront major world issues in Africa gave him the opportunity to grow more as a character. In Ghana he encounters poverty, communities impacted by natural disasters and disease, and some harsh realities about charity (there’s a wonderful exchange where Blade’s new friend Joy tells him that everyone who comes to the village tells them what they need instead of asking what they need). However, while I enjoyed this part of the novel more, I still felt that the plot was spread too thin and there was an overtly didactic tone. While focusing on the realities of life in Ghana the book also introduces the impact of malaria on the people, but it does it in a way that feels heavy handed: death. It was inevitable. I could tell it was coming from the many mentions of the disease, but it, again, felt like another example of too many plot points for one story.

That being said, there were some interesting moments of character development as it becomes clear that, barring issues with the death of Sunny and learning of his adoption, Blade has NO IDEA how to treat women. His strange relationship with his ex in Hollywood seemed like a teenage fluke in Part One; in Part Two when he tries to kiss Joy after they have been hanging out she says, “Blade, you can’t just come kiss a girl because you miss a girl.” It was an incredible moment that really brought out that to this character there are only two roles for women: mother figures and potential girlfriends. He truly struggles with this and Joy makes it clear that, even if she does have feelings for him, he has to learn to be her friend first.

It’s also in Ghana that Blade continues his attempts to repair his relationship with Rutherford, who arrives in Ghana with a luxury bus and a sober coach. Paired with his physical search for his birth mother, the novel finally finds a clear purpose. Blade becomes a more compassionate and empathetic character who finally seems more at home in his own skin as he confronts his problems, although the cliche of needing nature and exoticisim to do so comes to mind.

Finally, as Blade reaches the culmination of his journey, meeting his birth mother, the verse legitimately brought me to tears. It was beautiful in a way that I had not experienced while reading any other point of the novel and reminded me of the powerful emotions depicted in The Crossover.

Alexander and Hess mention that this book is a love letter to Rock and Roll and considering the inserted track titles, dogs named Mick and Jagger, and Blade’s guitars, it succeeds in that. However, my final reaction was that the book had too many plot lines for a novel told entirely in verse, relied too much on tropes, and failed to capitalize on its premise. It was a fairly quick read though and I came to like characters such as Joy, so for me Solo was a solid three bard tale, worth reading but not a masterpiece.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

 

 

Libba Bray’s The Diviners is the first in a four-book series. The third book, Before the Devil Breaks You, has an expected publishing date of October 3, 2017. I read The Diviners back when it first came out in 2012, but grad school and my dissertation got in the way when book two came out and I never got around to it. Libba is one of my favorite authors, so in order to prepare for Before the Devil Breaks You, I decided to re-read book one, read book two, and then review them both here before it’s time for book three!

In case you’re wondering, this is a pretty spoiler-free review. I’m confident that nothing I say here will ruin any aspect of the story for you.

The book starts off quickly; a Ouija board, a spirit named Naughty John, and more chills and goose bumps than you can shake a stick at.

… Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on…

… Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ‘em off for a coupla stones…

I did mention chills, didn’t I? This book gave me the heebie jeebies. I can quite honestly say that I have never felt this sort of dread from a book before. I enjoy horror, I’ve read far and wide in the horror genre, but for some reason, the creep factor just worked for me here. In fact, embarrassingly enough, I was a bit nervous to step outside of my bedroom and into my house one morning, as it was still dark and I had just finished a particularly harrowing plot point.

There are many moving parts within this book – different characters, each with their own lives, different murder scenes (and their delightfully macabre murder descriptions), and many asides from other characters that we only meet once. It’s honestly a lot to juggle, and the shifting point of view can make you go back to re-read something that you had already gone over once.

This time around, as it was my second time with The Diviners, I listened to the audio book. January LaVoy is an incredible narrator, and she had incredibly distinct voices for each character, which made the point of view switching much easier to take.

Another thing that I loved about the book was the 1920s lingo that Libba generously peppered throughout the prose. It is apparent that she did quite a bit of research in order to make the characters fit the time period. I can’t say enough about this – I’ve been using 1920s slang myself in the past week just because it has been so fun to listen to Evie, Theta, and Mabel.

One thing that felt missing from The Diviners that was present in the Gemma Doyle trilogy was how relatable the characters are. In the Gemma Doyle trilogy, I legitimately felt like Gemma, Anne, Felicity, and Pippa were my friends. I once found myself holding up a dress at Ross and thinking, “Man, Fee would love this,” before realizing just how nerdy I had become to think about her as a real character. The characters in The Diviners aren’t up to that level yet – though there is certainly time for them to grow on me more. Part of this could be because there are simply so many characters in Libba’s world – she spent time developing so many across the book but didn’t quite develop enough depth for my liking.

Moving into Lair of Dreams, which is the second book, I really hope that we get to know these characters more. Specifically, I am itching to learn more about Theta and Memphis. I worry about Evie getting on my nerves, as she was starting to grate on them a bit toward the end of Diviners.

Stay tuned for my review of Lair of Dreams, where I’ll fill you in on where these desires led me.

Rating: 3.5 / 5 Bards

A Court of Wings and Ruin Review by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places

 

 

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin is Sarah J. Maas’s third foray into Prythian, the continent upon which the ACOTAR series takes place. The first two books in the series (A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury) were both engaging reads for me, and I counted down the days for ACOWAR to be released so that I could see what happens next to my favorite literary couple. I read through the book twice because there was just so much to take in, and I also wanted to make sure that my feelings were validated a second time around.

 

From here on out, there will be major spoilers. I highly suggest that you do not read ahead unless you are prepared.

The Good

I really enjoyed getting to see more of Prythian and being introduced to the other High Lords. I was happy to see Tarquin again, and I loved Helion. I felt that all of these new characters each had their own depth, and I wanted more. Maas says that other ACOTAR books will be released which focus on characters other than Rhys and Feyre, and I find myself holding my breath in hopes that we will get to see more about the courts outside of Spring and Night.

I adore how Maas handled Tamlin’s character. I love to hate Tam, and I relished seeing his court ripped apart by Feyre’s devious mind. The best part about this storyline, however, was not her actions… it was the way that Maas wrote the consequences of Feyre’s actions. The fact that Spring is left with very few defenses is important, as they are the court that borders the mortal lands. It would have been easy to just let Feyre merrily run amuck, but instead we are faced with the realistic difficulties of war when one of your allies is weaker.

I also appreciated the fact that Tamlin didn’t have instant redemption. Indeed, the book’s plot does still not redeem him; though we see signs that maybe he is taking steps in the right direction. It’s no secret that Tamlin exerted every piece of the Power and Control Wheel (aside from using children), and that the relationship in both ACOTAR and ACOMAF was abusive. It would be unrealistic for Tam to suddenly have this epiphany and suddenly be a good male. I really appreciated that Maas didn’t let him off the hook for his previous deeds. Tamlin is hurting, but the way that he had handled the situation was never a positive.

THE MONSTERS. Y’all, I loved the monsters in this book. The Bone Carver, Bryaxis, The Weaver, and my old bestie The Suriel really made this book so much better. I adored every minute that I found them on my pages, and often spent time wondering when I would see them again.

I was very happy to have Lucien around so much in the beginning of the book, though I wish that he had remained one of the central characters. I thought that his character development through all three books was very strong.

The Bad

This book had much less character development than the previous books. It’s always a gamble to finally let the two main characters get together (because that’s when readers get bored), but this book skips over Rhys and Feyre getting to know each other more. I missed their sly remarks and their antagonistic flirtation. Instead of further developing other characters (The High Lords, Azriel, Cassian, Mor, and Amren), Nesta and Elain receive undeserved focus. I hate these characters for being both abusive and neglectful to Feyre for so long; instead, they’re easily forgiven and made into major players in ACOWAR. I haven’t forgiven. I haven’t forgotten. I am still angry. I also felt that Elain’s seer abilities were super obvious from the start, and it annoyed me that no one else could see it.

Along the same lines of the lack of character development, I felt that there was too much action packed into the pages. It seemed that the characters never caught a breath – and neither did I. At the same time, I grew bored of the constant running around from one dramatic moment to the next. Potentially powerful moments lost their luster because I just didn’t care anymore. This is particularly true in the scene where Rhys dies. I should have choked up. I should have felt more emotion about this moment. I just… didn’t. In my heart I knew that it wasn’t permanent. There seemed to be little to no consequence to this war. I knew she wouldn’t let this happen to him. When I read the fateful sentence that should have made me stop and sob, I just kept turning the page.

The Ugly

I’m going to get on my soapbox here.

Sarah J. Maas has been criticized for the lack of diversity within her writing. I agree with the sentiment – I wish that her other books had more LGBTQ+ characters in particular. The pressure was intensifying for her between ACOMAF and ACOWAR, and so she decided that Mor is a lesbian – suddenly, with no prior warning. I feel comfortable about saying “with no prior warning,” as I specifically reread the first two books after finishing the third to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.

I honestly feel like Mor’s character is completely incompatible with this revelation. I don’t feel that she would hide her identity from Rhys, Az, Cassian, and Amren – they are basically the only family that each of them has. I don’t foresee a situation where any of them would feel that she was any less for her sexuality, and I can’t make myself see a space where she would think that they would either. I also don’t think that Mor is a big enough jerk to lead Az on for 500 years. I just can’t see that in her.

I’m also pretty bothered by Maas’s portrayal of bisexuality in the book. As much as I adore Helion, I am frustrated by how stereotypes are being enforced here. Helion is almost hypersexual – he wants to have sex with everyone regardless of who they are or what is in between their legs. He doesn’t seem to want to commit. He is almost the exact portrait of the “greedy slut” that so many people claim bisexuals are.

I’m glad that Sarah J. Maas saw that her fans were missing out on some diversity and she tried to rectify that – props to her for being able to acknowledge her lack – but I am supremely frustrated with both of these portrayals.

Overall, the book was not what I wanted it to be. It felt rushed, shallow, and it left me with many questions and negative feelings. When I read through it for a second time, I did so in order to make sure that I just wasn’t disappointed because I had built up the story to be something that it wasn’t… but I still just felt empty after the reread. I feel like ACOTAR and ACOMAF ramp us up, and then ACOWAR let us down.

I’m sorry, readers. I tried.

3 Bards

 

Blog Tour: The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash Book Excerpt

 

It’s our day on the Birdie & Bash blog tour and we are here to introduce you to a bit of the narrative!  Check out the synopsis, a bit about the author, and an exclusive excerpt below!

Birdie never meant to be at the party. Bash should have been long gone. But when they meet, a collision course is set off they may never recover from.

Sebastian Alvaréz is just trying to hold the pieces together: to not flunk out, to keep his sort-of-best friend Wild Kyle from doing something really bad, and to see his beloved Ma through chemo. But when he meets Birdie Paxton, a near-Valedictorian who doesn’t realize she’s smoking hot in her science pun T-shirt, at a party, an undeniable attraction sparks. And suddenly he’s not worried about anything. But before they are able to exchange numbers, they are pulled apart. A horrifying tragedy soon links Birdie and Bash together—but neither knows it. When they finally reconnect, and are starting to fall—hard—the events of the tragedy unfold, changing both their lives in ways they can never undo. 

Release Date: July 25, 2017

 

 

 

Candace Ganger is a young adult author, contributing writer for Hello Giggles, and obsesswive marathoner. Aside from having past lives as a singer, nanotechnology website editor, and the world’s worst vacuum sales rep, she’s also ghostwritten hundreds of projects for companies, best-selling fiction and award-winning nonfiction authors alike. Candace – aka – Candyland – has a severe Milky Way latter addiction + eats way too many donuts/doughnuts but all things in excess, amiright? FYI: She’s TOTALLY awkward in person (#sorrynotsorry). She lives in Ohio with her family.

 

 

 

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:

Release Date: September 26, 2017

From the outside, the Cane family looks like they have it all. A successful military father, a loving mother and five beautiful teenage daughters. But on the inside, life isn’t quite so idyllic: the Cane sisters can barely stand each other, their father is always away, and their neglectful mother struggles with addiction and depression.

When their youngest and most beloved sister, Rose, dies in a tragic accident, Mona Cane and her sisters are devastated. And when she is brought back from the dead, they are relieved. But soon they discover that Rose must eat human flesh to survive, and when their mother abandons them, the sisters will find out just how far they’ll go to keep their family together.

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:

Release Date: September 19, 2017

The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.

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:

Release Date: September 19, 2017

MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

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:

Release Date: September 5, 2017

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class―and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand―the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears―Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

Repost: Interview and Book Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

 

28374007In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

Holy moley this book was an excellent roller coaster of emotions and craziness.

Blake has created an absolutely intriguing story world where the isolated island members are pretty fanatical about their precious queens and they will do almost anything to see their queen crowned.

The narration in this story is a bit muddled at times, because the story seems to flow from character to character third person limited, so that way the reader is in the loop about all of the dealings behind the scenes, and everything that is going on within the three areas of the island where the girls are kept.  Obviously the reader gets the point of view of each of the queens, Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabella.  But we also get the point of views of those closest to them, Natalia and Pietyr for Katharine, Jules, Joseph, and Billy for Arsinoe, and Luca for Mirabella.  While I did find the narration switches to be confusing at times and sometimes the narrative voices blended together, it served the story well and it allowed for a few *gasp* moments during my read.

As for the queens themselves as characters: I can’t decide which one I like more.  Fierce Arsinoe who has overcome her faults and accepted her fate only to find her fate different by the end of the novel.  Loving Mirabella who can control raging fire but can’t control how much she loves and misses her sisters.  Shy Katharine who is stronger than anyone will give her credit for, despite her short comings.  They were all raised to hate and want to murder their siblings in order to take their crown, but fore the most part the girls are pretty reluctant.  It seems that for the most part, none of them actually hate each other, but are just kind of resigned to their lot in life…of having to commit murder in order to live.

It’s a pretty dark burden they all carry, but they do manage to find a bit of happiness in their worlds, although an unfortunate love triangle pops up that broke my heart for two different characters. Damn you, Blake for giving me feels.

The narrative has such a sense of urgency throughout the whole book, which is excellent considering the story takes place over a number of months leading up to the final conclusion of Beltane at the end of Three Dark Crowns.

The readers learn a pretty important plot point there at the end, one that will change the course of the next installment.  Overall the world building was excellent for a first fantasy novel, and I’m sure we will continue to get more details on the history of the prophecy for the triplets (I can hope!), and more insight into what happens if the queens fail to kill one another.

4.5 Bards! Keep an eye out for our interview with Kendare Blake from the Texas Teen Book Festival!

four.fivebards

 

 

 

 


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:

Release Date: August 29, 2017

She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning. . . .

Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.

Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

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