Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner

4 star

WWII, Internment Camps, Japanese-Americans, Family, Graphic Novel

Despite his white mother, Koji is set to an internment camp after Pearl Harbor. His mother joins him, and he tries to make a life by helping an older man garden and avoiding the wrath of the gang of Japanese boys who hate him for being half-white, an outsider. It is a heartbreaking tale that describes the horrible time in American history when Americans were treated as monsters simply for their skin — an appalling trend that still rings true today. It is a story of history but it is even more a story of mankind.

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

3 star

Fantasy, Death, Romance, Village Life, Black Plague

Keturah has known Lord Death since her mother died giving birth to her, but when she is a young woman she is dying and Death comes for her—but she steals herself time by telling him a story, Scheherezade-style, and promises to tell him the end if he gives her another day. Keturah is a delight: she tricks Lord Death, after all, and she knows what she wants and spends her final time on earth helping her friends and her village. But she is not enough to make up for angsty Death and a predictable ending. Leavitt writes neatly crafted sentences but the story as a whole lacks the depth it needed to make this story ring true.

Green River Killer by Jeff Jensen illustrated by Jonathan Case

5 star

Crime, Serial Killers, Detectives, Seattle, Graphic Novel

A true-crime graphic novel by the son of the detective who found and interrogated the Green River Killer, a man who murdered women for over two decades. After recently watching True Detective this struck a chord, and I would recommend it to those interested in serial killers or the hard parts of the lives of detectives. It is the kind of story that ended successfully but can never be happy—too many lives were lost and too many were ruined, and the book does a fitting job of telling the story honestly without becoming overly excessive in its depiction of gore. The book switches between the past and the present which does a great job of keeping you invested in the slower-moving present day while not throwing everything from the past at you at once.

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

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4 star

Birds, Love, Belonging, Self-Worth, Family

An undeniably creepy tale about a postman who falls in love with a raven and raise a child who is shaped like a human but only speaks raven and dreams of wings her entire life. It is illustrated and feels like a fairy tale, but is is full of dark science and bad men and people who do not understand. It struck me as an allegory for transgenderism—a girl born to the wrong body who gives up so much to be in the right one.

The War within These Walls by Aline Sax

5 star

WWII, Poland, Ghetto, Family, Survival, Graphic Novel

Misha and his family have been moved into a ghetto—he helps keep them alive by stealing food, but when his sister goes missing, he joins forces with the revolution inside the walls. The art is rough and fits with the subject matter. It is laid out to give the most impact to every picture and every sentence and the result is an emotional and haunting volume. Would recommend to readers of history, lovers of the last stand, and those looking for a powerful story.

The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

4 star

Myths, Canadian Wilderness, Isolation, Fear

A horror novella about a handful of men who are camped in the wilderness to hunt. They split up even though one man is unexplainably afraid, and his fear affects his hunting partner as they stay up far too late into the night sitting around the fire telling stories. When the partner is awoken by the fearful man running screaming off into the woods—well, that is when the scary part begins. A nicely frightening tale about true isolation and superstition and how men react when the supernatural infringes on the logical world.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

5 star

Fairy Tales, Mythology, Russia, Communism, Love, Revolution

Marya Morevna is the girl you know from the fairy tale — but she is more: Valente’s Marya sees the patriotic Communist domovoi and birds who turn into men, and when Koschei the Deathless arrives to take her away, she is waiting for him. In this tale, Ivan is not the husband who comes to save Marya—he is Koschei’s enemy, the man who always takes Marya away from their marriage. This is a spellbinding tale that combines history with mythology and in so doing makes the two more than they could be on their own. It is strange and wild and exactly what you might expect when a fairy tale like this comes to life. Would recommend to anyone looking for a different kind of fantasy, or anyone who loves fractured fairy tales.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

4 star

Isolation, Wilderness, Family, Greed

The story has two parts that alternate between chapters: Alaska ten years ago where Sig’s father went to hunt for gold, and present day Arctic where Sig has just found his father’s frozen body and a stranger has come demanding his father’s gold. It is a very slow-moving atmospheric story that lets the tension build around Sig and his father’s past, the stranger and Sig’s revolver. It felt very real and present, but the characters were a little too stock and the story a little too perfectly tied up. Would recommend if you want a simple but powerful novella.

The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher

2 star

Mystery, Teenagers, Army Towns, Drugs

When a girl is found dead in the woods, Emily’s father is arrested—he can’t remember committing the crime, but his counselors and the police are blaming a PTSD-related flashback. Emily is blaming Damon, the dead girl’s boyfriend and the last person to see her alive—but when she starts to have feelings for Damon, she wonders if she is crazy or if there is another killer out in the woods. None of the character relations are very realistic; Damon was too drugged up to remember what happened to his girlfriend the night she dies, he and Emily have inexplicable feelings for each other, Emily’s mother doesn’t defend her jailed husband, Emily’s friends are pretty creepy and not fleshed out, and this pretty much kills the character-driven story. I was looking for a murder mystery but was handed a sad (but not insightful) look at the aftermath of war and a bunch of screwed up kids. The writing was not particularly skilled and overall it was a very forgettable story.

The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks

4 star

Epic Quests, Everyman Heroes, Friendship, Family, Honor, Good vs Evil

Fifty years after the first book, Shea’s grandson Wil is assigned as the protector of the girl who must revive the tree that stands alone to keep demons out of the world. The stakes are high because the rest of the realm does not believe in the demons that are about to burst into the world, and Wil and Amberle are racing against time to save the tree before the entire Elven army is slaughtered and the demons take over the land. Brooks is skilled at building a detailed world and creating interesting characters without ever spending too long on descriptions. The tale is a splendid one of good and evil, friendship, and sacrifice.

Previous book: The Sword of Shannara
Later book (in this trilogy): The Wishsong of Shannara

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

4 star

Voynich Manuscript, Teenagers, Mystery, Love, Secret Societies

Nora is trying to impress school officials by working on Latin translations of ancient letters for a college internship with her best friend Chris. But when Chris winds up dead, his girlfriend catatonic, and his roommate/Nora’s boyfriend Max is missing, Nora has to find some way to figure out why this is happening and stop it before she is next. Fast-paced and suspenseful and at times laugh out loud funny, Blood and Shadow is the perfect book to entertain history buffs, relationship drama addicts, and action-adventure lovers. The ending is weak compared to the rest of the book (too expected in a book of so much unexpected) but it is worth overlooking for the ride.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

4 star

Cats, Poetry, Pets, Anthropomorphism, Humor

Eliot has given us a short and delightful collection of rhyming poems about various cats. Some are warrior cats, others are train cats, but all of them will make you giggle. A fun read for cat lovers.

The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick

2 star

Prophecy, World War II, Family, War

Sasha, like Cassandra, can see death before it happens — but no one believes her. She fights to become a nurse against her father’s wishes, but generally acts pretty foolish so he tells her she can’t be a nurse, but then she sees her brother’s death coming and decides that she is the only one who can save him because no one will listen to her. The story itself is boring; he took a classic without breathing life into it—the characters are cardboard, and the ending was so dumb I almost chucked the book across the room. Sedgwick has a way with words that is enjoyable, but not worth reading this for.

Fruits Basket Volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya

5 star

Zodiac, High School, Friendship, Family Problems, Manga

Tohru finds herself living at the Sohma mansion with two of her classmates and their older cousin—and as if this isn’t weird enough, when they get hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into their zodiac animals! This is a largely comedic story with sad undertones and darkness in the history of the characters. This is a reread from my high school days and it is just as good now; I’ll spare you a review of every volume but I definitely recommend it if you are looking for an intro to manga, a long-unraveling mystery, hijinks, and fun.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

3 star

Fictionalized History, Iceland, Nineteenth Century, Struggle, Truth

A well-researched novel set in 1829 of the final months of the life of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. Kent did a fantastic job of making me feel like I was really there, smelling the rain and feeling the cold burn of winter and the wood handle of a scythe. It was the story portion that fell flat for me — with no hope of a reprieve for a woman who actually was executed, I had hoped to see more fire in Agnes, or a stronger backstory, or more interesting conversations. She spends too much time moping in her own head for any of the other characters’ interest in her to make sense, and by the end of it you don’t care if she dies or not. Great if you are looking for an atmospheric novel, but not worth the time if you are looking for a character study.