Sunday, October 19, 2014

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios

Series: Dark Caravan Cycle #1
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Release Date: October 7th, 2014
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Source: ARC from Publisher

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Forced to obey her master.Compelled to help her enemy.Determined to free herself. 
Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.
Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?
I think the most important thing for everyone to know is that this isn’t a book for everyone. Some people will hate it and get so disgusted that they’ll have to give up and other people are going to love this. I know I did. Of course, had I not known a certain tid bit before, I probably wouldn’t have.

Before going into this book, you need to know that there is an awkward love triangle and one of the relationships in this love triangle is unhealthy and abusive. It’s not meant to be romantic though and that’s what you need to know. You need to know that this disgusting relationship isn’t being romanticized. In fact it’s the exact opposite. You’re meant to hate it with every fiber of your being.

Let’s start at the beginning thought. Let’s start with Nalia. Nalia is an amazingly strong female lead and you feel for her. Sold off in the slave trade when just 15, with her entire race dead and the only surviving member of her family, her brother, sent to work camp, you feel for her. She does not have it easy. Especially given that she has a crazy captor.

Malek is cruel yet on top of that all, he is also very emotionally manipulative. Nalia, having been mistreated for so long, living only on the hope of seeing her brother and freeing him, is immediately drawn by his ‘gentle’ side and falls for his lies. I say lies because no matter how much he claims to love her, he will never see her as anything but a possession.

It will break your heart to see her go through all these ordeals and when Raif comes into the picture, you cheer, you cheer like crazy and hope for Nalia to snap out of it and realize how unhealthy her relationship with Malek is. It’s beautiful to watch her go through that character development.

Raif is a wonderful character AND a love interest. What I love about him is that in spite of everything, he does put his faith in Nalia, he chooses to trust her. It isn’t that he isn’t vary of her, heck yeah he is but seeing that he needs her help, he, in the end, chooses to trust her instead of making the whole thing some awkward dance.

It’s why their romance is so beautifully developed. It starts with variness of one another and leads to trust. It may be a tad fast paced but it’s still no less wonderful. Romance based on trust rocks doesn’t it?

The world building in this book is amazing. Heather does NOT hold back on us. She uses her gorgeous prose to paint beautiful pictures of Arjinna. That isn’t it though, she makes this world come to life by creating different races of jinnis thereby giving the book her own original twist and she also throws in a fun language.

The plot was amazing. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, on the tip of your toes and you kind of just fly through the book.  I mean it’s a big book but I was surprised by how quickly I got through it. The stakes are quite high in the book which really does amp up the anticipation levels. 

I am definitely looking forward to where things will go with the sequel and I only hope that Raif and Nalia’s relationship improves.

I’d recommend this to anyone who is looking for something a little more original in Paranormal YA and won’t mind feeling some discomfort in the search of a good book. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley

I checked out the audio version of A Carrion Death for one reason - Simon Prebble. I was about to take a car trip and I love listening to his narration. He really excelled on this book. He was required to do a large number of voices and did them superbly.

This is a long book - 14.5 hours - and I didn't finish it on the trip. By the time I listened to the final chapter I'd forgotten some of the details at the beginning. There was one thread involving an orphaned child that I wanted more of. I didn't understand some of the plot twists.

A Carrion Death is the first book in a mystery series. It is set in Botswana, and I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape and the native plants and animals. It was nice to hear the words and names pronounced correctly. (If you read the print book, there is a cast of characters with phonetic pronunciations at the beginning.) The main character, assistant superintendent David "Kubu" Bengu, was well drawn and very interesting. (His nickname means Hippo, and he is a big guy who loves food, nice things, and life.)

I would think fans of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency would also like to meet Kubu. I am definitely going to read additional books in the series. It's up to four. The Galesburg Public Library owns all four titles in print and the first in audio. The books can be found in the Fiction area under the author's last name, Stanley.

No Dawn for Men by James LePore and Carlos Davis

Reading No Dawn for Men was a guilty pleasure, because I have to think J.R.R. Tolkien would have hated it. Let me explain: in 1938 Germany, Tolkien and James Bond author Ian Fleming join forces to prevent the Nazis from gaining control of an ancient artifact that would allow armies of the dead to be brought back to life. They form a “fellowship” to return the artifact to a certain location where it can be destroyed by fire. They meet dwarves (with beards and murderous skill with axes) and beautiful, tall, beardless youths who have a way with nature and provide them with “honey wafers” that keeps them on their feet for days. They meet and are aided by a mysterious "ranger."

Fleming also is threatened with torture in a bottomless chair and falls in love with a woman who may or may not be trustworthy.

Tolkien is in Germany to talk to the Germans about translating The Hobbit into German; Fleming is ostensibly there as a reporter, but he is in fact a spy. Although the premise is ridiculous, I still thrilled at all the references to the Lord of the Rings. (For example, the person with the artifact says, "The parchment and the figurine must be destroyed together. If they are not, there will soon be no more dawns for Berlin, no more dawns for men." (p. 68))

I’m not a Bond fan and I’m sure I missed many of those references. The narrative is definitely more Bond than Middle-earth. The styles of the two authors are quite different and the language felt quite forced at times, the two styles almost clashing.

This is not a great book. It could have used some editing. (For example: "In a few minutes they uncovered a dark, anvil-shaped stone as high as Shroeder's waste [sic]." (p. 241)) It’s hard for me to imagine that someone who is not a big fan of either Fleming or Tolkien would get anything out of this book. But if you are a Tolkien fan, you might find yourself, like me, enjoying the Lord of the Rings reminders. Guiltily.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Written by the same author who wrote The Secret Life of Bees, this novel is a well-written historical piece inspired by two sisters from Charleston, South Carolina, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who dedicated their entire lives to ending slavery while at the same time promoting equal rights for women. What's not to love? The book opens with 12-year old Sarah Grimke receiving her birthday gift from her parents: A 10-year old slave named Hetty (a.k.a. Handful) complete with a lavender ribbon tied around her neck. Sarah is both horrified and embarrassed, and the next day pens a certificate of manumission to set Hetty free. Sarah's mother takes the certificate, shreds it and leaves it for Sarah to find to show her who's really in charge. There are parallels between Sarah and Hetty, as both live in the same household and neither have any control of their lives whatsoever. Sarah wants to be a lawyer, which could never happen because she is not a boy, and Hetty wants to be free. Both are prisoners in their own home. This novel spans about 35 years, so we get to watch these two women grow and change, and it really is fascinating to witness social change in action. At the same time, because this is a historically accurate piece, and since we are dealing with this timeframe in history, there are a lot of things in here that are hard to read and to be reminded of. This novel has encouraged me to read more about Sarah and Angelina Grimke, because they are truly worth knowing more about. If you like historically accurate period pieces that will inspire you to learn more, then this would be a great book for you! Read On!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult
Release Date: September 16th, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Source: ARC from Publisher

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The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.
The Vault of Dreamers was an interesting book to say the least. I didn’t love it to bits and pieces but it was definitely something that got the wheels turning in my head. It’s a book written more to mess with your mind than to actually provide answers so if that’s not your thing, you may want to give this book a pass.

Rosie Sinclair isn’t the brightest thing out there but she served her purpose. That said, there were times when I just wanted to shake her. She could be so impulsive at times and didn't really think things through. Impulsiveness does not help uncover a dystopic plot, in fact, it’s more likely to get you caught.

This was one of the reasons why I spent a good chunk of the beginning being skeptic, I kept on wondering when the other shoe would drop and the book would start reading like a generic dystopia. Luckily,  that didn’t happen. That isn’t to say it was unlike a typical dystopia, because it was, in some ways, but it also managed to stand out on it's own.

Linus and Burnham were interesting additions to the story. At first I thought it was going to be some weird love triangle but I was incredibly thankful that that wasn’t the case. I think what upset me about Burnham though was the fact that there was just not enough of him. There were some major things that he could have been a part off but wasn’t. I was also really curious to know what he knew and was upset we never really got to find out. With Linus, I was just never really a 100% sold on him. He was the love interest too so that not a good thing. I was always a little suspicious of him and I never quite felt like he genuinely cared for Rosie. I think a major reason for this could be that the romance was not nearly as well developed as it could have been.

It didn’t come out of nowhere and the L word didn’t pop out of nowhere either but there was just this awkwardness to it. I felt like there was no real transition into a relationship and that’s what made it hard for me to ship the two as a couple.

The world building was a tad disappointing yet really intriguing at the same time. I think the fact that we were kept in the dark was vital to the story but as someone who tends to be more than a little curious, it can be hard to not know all the facts. I closed the book with so many questions on my mind yet at the same time I wasn’t angry that the author didn’t give us more information. 

The saving grace of the story was the interesting twist that popped up. I had no idea that the author would choose to go down that road and that’s what made the story stick out to me. It’s what set it apart from all the other dystopias out there. It made me question some of the things the author had already laid out and made me come up with my own theories about what was going on and just made the book a lot more interesting. The twist also made our narrator unreliable which is always fun (but we may have different definitions of fun). 

I think the ending was interesting too. In most other cases, I probably would have been really angry but it worked with the context of the story. Given the things this story is dealing with, an easy solution wrapped up with a bow tie just wouldn't work. 

Given the way it ended though, I feel like a follow up would be interesting but at the same time, I am content with the way things ended.  

Really, if you're just looking for a fun book for a rainy day that is bound to mess with your mind, why not give this a shot?

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

I'm a big fan of the film The Princess Bride, so I eagerly anticipated As You Wish, a book about filming the movie written by Dread Pirate Roberts actor Cary Elwes.

The making of The Princess Bride was clearly one of the highlights of his career and life. If you are looking for dirt, don't look to As You Wish. Elwes is effusive in his praise of his costars and the crew behind the movie. Everyone was beautiful, talented, and perfect for their roles.

The sugary sweetness of the narrative was a little hard to take at times, but I thoroughly enjoyed As You Wish all the same. Elwes spends a lot of time talking about what he and Mandy Patinkin went through to create what Goldman described in The Princess Bride script as the "second-best" swordfighting sequence on film (according to Goldman, the "best" comes later in the movie). The fight and the training were very interesting to read about. The only part of the fight not filmed by the two leads were the somersaults - wow! That had to be a lot of hard work.

I definitely got the impression that Elwes is trying to give his career a shot in the arm by publishing this book. However, his true affection for The Princess Bride and its cast and crew came through.

As soon as I finished the book, I was ready to run off and rewatch The Princess Bride. If you are a fan, that alone is a good reason to read As You Wish. I definitely recommend it for all Princess Bride fans. 

I read an advance reader copy of As You Wish. It will be released on October 14 and will be available in the nonfiction section of the Galesburg Public Library.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips

In 1932, a man named Harm Drenth (also known as Harry Powers) was executed. He had been convicted of killing a woman named Dorothy Pressler Lemke in his home of Quiet Dell, West Virginia, but it is thought that he killed dozens if not hundreds of other women. The bodies of Asta Eicher, a widow from Park Ridge, Illinois, and her three children were found in the same grave as Dorothy Lemke.

Author Jayne Anne Phillips was told the story of what happened in Quiet Dell by her mother, who was six years old when her own mother “walked her past the scene of the murders.” Jayne Anne Phillips was inspired by this family connection to write her novel Quiet Dell.

Quiet Dell is well researched and contains many known facts about Drenth and his crimes. It contains a few black and white photos and quotations from newspapers of the time. But it is not true crime nonfiction. It is a fictional retelling.

The book begins in December 1930, focusing on the Eicher family. The narrative is gripping; I was pulled into the story from the start. Asta and her three children prepare for Christmas dinner with their friend and former boarder, Charles O’Boyle. Asta is in desperate financial straits, and although he is gay, Charles wants to marry her and help raise her children. He already considers their family his family and dreams of changing his ways. Asta dreams of the letters she keeps hidden upstairs and of the man who wrote them. The correspondence began through a lonely hearts ad; she hopes to meet him in person in the spring.

The Christmas celebrated in Quiet Dell is a charming look at a loving family. The children put on a play. They enjoy a fine meal and go sledding. The beloved family dog, Duty, participates in most aspects of family life, including the Christmas play. But the sad thread of what the future holds for the family runs underneath the narrative.

Although the narrative is fictional, it is mostly based on real people. That changes after first Asta and then the children are taken away by a man known as “Cornelius Pierson.” Fictional characters are introduced. One of them is a “modern professional woman,” a journalist who covers the trial. She forms a very sudden and lasting attachment to one of the real people depicted in the book, which was a bit jarring. Another fictional character becomes friends with Charles O’Boyle. I wondered whether any relatives of the real people are still alive and what they’d think of the liberties the author takes.

I was very interested in the coverage of the trial, but found the romance heavy-handed and distracting. It reminded me of how I feel about the movie Titanic. There is so much real drama in these stories that the added fictional drama feels unnecessary.

The novel is also a bit fanciful. We are set up from the beginning to know that Annabel, the youngest Eicher child, is special. “You are not like others,” her (fictional) grandmother tells her. “Your dreams see past us.” (p. 8) Indeed, after Annabel is murdered, her spirit remains and narrates some chapters of the story.

This book is well written but will not be to everyone’s taste. I enjoyed it as an alternative to reading a nonfiction retelling, but there’s much speculation, and it’s hard to know what is real and what is made up. I recommend Quiet Dell to people who like books that meld fact and fiction and who enjoy imagining what real people in a sensational event thought and how they felt.

Quiet Dell can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the adult fiction section under the author’s last name, Phillips. Harry Powers also inspired the 1955 movie The Night of the Hunter starring Robert Mitchum. It is also available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library.