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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Architecture, Morals, Humanity, Unhealthy Relationships
A tangled book that is 80% unhelpful backstory and 20% Rand’s belief that being completely self-involved and unwilling to compromise makes you a good person, the Fountainhead nevertheless pretends to be a book about an architect named Howard Roark who rapes a woman who promptly follows him around for the rest of the book. There are a slew of other characters who, the afterword of Rand’s journals proves, were literally created to make Rand’s point that not caring about other people is the way to go, because caring about other people’s feelings will ruin your sad existence. It is impossible to fit into five sentences how slow moving, lazily written, and absolutely appalling this book is, so suffice it to say that unless you are looking for an uninteresting book written as a bad moral, you can safely leave this one behind.
Boarding School, Friendship, Sports
Winger is a 14-year-old junior at his boarding school where he struggles with being attracted to every girl ever, being viewed as a child, playing on the varsity rugby team, living in the dorm with the troublemakers, and aspiring to be as genuinely kind as Joey, the rugby captain who is gay (this shouldn’t matter but it does). Winger takes a while to get warmed up to as he starts out being kind of a self-pitying jerk, but Smith does a great job of showing how he grows and learns and becomes a brave, kind, fearless guy without making him too introspective. It is a funny book that feels real; like Looking for Alaska it takes these kids living in a pressure cooker of teenage feelings and shows their happy moments and horrible ones. Smith has captured the language and thoughts and painfulness of adolescence in a single, beautiful book.
Spunky Preteens, The Devil, Mythology, Carnivals
Natalie knows something is wrong with the four creepy members of the traveling medicine show, and she spends a lot of time lurking around and hearing ghost stories and visiting the crossroads of the former town nearby while looking for clues. Unfortunately, the title is the most exciting thing about this book (it actually just refers to a type of bicycle). The medicine show docs are appropriately creepy, and the stories of the past are great, but Natalie and her friends are not interesting enough to make up for the slow pacing. I would recommend it to people who like Supernatural-style stories as it is fun, but it isn’t spectacular.
Family, Love, Time, Regret
Two teenage sisters fall in love with an older man (a brooding painter) and the story picks up decades later when the painter is in his seventies and sends his art firm guys out to find the sisters for him. As the book unfolds you learn more about what happened to the sisters and their relationships with the painter, and you spend a whole lot of time learning about the sisters, their neighbors, the art firm guys, the art firm guys’ families—basically nothing happens in this whole book except that a lot of people are miserable and continue being miserable. Guzeman tries very hard to write poetically but she fails, and often her sentences are so oddly constructed that they pull you out of the story (I listened to the audiobook, which made the language even more jarring as even the way the characters spoke was stiff). I am left with the impression that this was an attempt to study lifetimes and how they intertwine—so if that is what you are looking for, just put this down and go read Love in the Time of Cholera.
Whimsy, Cutout Books, Family, Magical Realism
Foer took the book “The Street of Crocodiles” and basically snipped out words to make his own story—think black out poetry, except when you open the book the pages are full of holes instead of Sharpie marks. It is a delightful and intriguing idea, and Foer does a decent job of crafting a story of a young man’s relationship with his parents and his exploration and meditation. Worth reading just for the uniqueness, he does play well with language and it is fun to watch it unfold.
Mystery, Family Problems, Indecisive Rabbits
Madeline’s hippie parents are kidnapped by foxes and she enlists the help of two rabbits who want to be detectives to help her rescue her parents — and it is as poorly thought out as it sounds. The book lacks clarity in its descriptions so in some scenes you are under the impression these are giant people-sized rabbits and other times Madeline is struggling to deal with how small they are, and you are left with an overall impression of being Alice in Wonderland, yanked from scene to scene however Horvath thought fit. It tries very hard to be funny, but the jokes fall flat due to a lack of grounding to any kind of rules (to let Madeline rely on herself and the Bunny’s, her parents are kidnapped by foxes and then her uncle voluntarily slips into a coma just by saying he thinks it would be fun). Overall not very engaging. It’s the first in a series but I cannot continue …
Time Travel, Alternate Universe, Italy, Adventure, Fantasy
City of Masks transports you to an alternate-universe version of Venice, where Lucien has accidentally discovered a way to stravagate to and from. Stravagation is a method of time travel where the stravagante uses an enchanted object to move between alternate worlds at different time periods. It’s weird and wonderful and Lucien is in for a tumultuous journey as he travels back and forth from his own modern-day world (where he is fighting cancer) to this 16th century alternate Italy (where he is fit and healthy). Lucien’s adventures are heart-stopping and heart-breaking and will leave you wanting to go to our own modern Venice to see it for yourself.
Later books: City of Stars, City of Flowers, City of Secrets, City of Ships, City of Swords