REVIEW: After Dark by James Leck

After Dark 01 Title: After Dark Author: James Leck Format: E-ARC Publication: August 1st 2015 by Kids Can Press Source: Publication via Netgalley (thank you Kids Can Press and Netgalley!) Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Horror, Humor, Paranormal, Young Adult Other keywords: – Goodreads | Amazon | Fully Booked Synopsis Fifteen-year-old professional slacker Charlie Harker can’t believe his bad luck. On the first day of the summer holidays, his mom springs the worst news: they’re moving to the sleepy town of Rolling Hills to restore Charlie’s great-grandfather’s old inn. Summer is supposed to be about lazy days spent by the pool, sipping ice-cold lemonade. Manual labor and early mornings were definitely not on Charlie’s to-do list. Things go from bad to weird when his new neighbor Miles Van Helsing runs screaming out of the night, insisting that he’s being chased by “humanoid creatures.” Charlie chalks it up to Miles being the town nutcase. But it soon becomes clear that something’s not right in Rolling Hills. A mysterious illness seems to be spreading through town. At first it seems harmless enough, but the number of infected people keeps growing—and what might be a simple headache by day becomes something entirely different when the sun goes down … Review I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work. Wry and engaging, After Dark pokes fun at tropes of the genre with irreverent tone and a smart-alecky protagonist. Tenth-grader Charlie Harker is so ready for summer, a “time for sleeping and swimming and watching three really bad horror movies back to back to back.” But Ma has a better idea: move to the old hick town of Rolling Hills and renovate the family’s decrepit inn. And right on Charlie’s first night, he meets Miles Van Helsing, the town’s resident conspiracy nut. As the two spend more time together, Charlie begins to suspect that Rolling Hills, after all, might not be too boring. Nor safe. Leck’s latest novel finds its strength in its MC. Nothing gets me to stick to a book better than an interesting character and Charlie is exactly that and some. He’s hilarious and endearing and curious but also afraid and lazy. He’s a person. The author triumphantly mixes sarcasm with sincere dopiness.

“Seeing those tracks made my bladder ache. If the Baxters showed up now, I was going to need a new pair of pants.”

After Dark also benefits from its self-awareness. It owns its ridiculousness, and that’s the most amusing part next to the narrative voice. Almost every investigation Charlie and Miles undertake—ironically yet effectively juxtaposed with commentaries from the former—often ends up being an episode of the horror movie Charlie mocks. It would be tacky except our hero is very tongue-in-cheek. Plus, there are several winks at gothic cult (Miles’s last name is Van Helsing, there’s a character called Igor) as well as family drama. The family drama, however, is decent at best, paltry at worst.

“”A trapdoor that leads into a dingy root cellar is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect to see in a ridiculously predictable horror movie. And you know what else would be predictable and absurdly stupid …?” I asked. “I’m going down,” Miles said.”

Moreover, the book is effortlessly atmospheric. Rolling Hills’s sleepy-town-ness is palpable, the kind that teleports you back to your childhood days watching Goosebumps. The kind that exudes old school horror movie vibe. Albeit, more eerie and less scary. And the monster of the story, the “zompire,” is a nice twist on two of today’s most celebrated undead. In fact, I can see After Dark being a massive hit with a younger audience. Because I feel like the resolution was a bit flimsy, at least for my taste. And with a denouement that both surprises and does not surprise, a sequel is not unlikely but unnecessary.

“The world doesn’t want heroes, Charlie. You’ll learn that eventually.”

Light and thoroughly enjoyable, be sure to include “read After Dark” in your to-do list.

3.5 out of 5

Author James Leck 01 James Leck lives in Nova Scotia, where he’s spent almost all of his summer vacations. He’s always enjoyed lounging beside pools, drinking ice-cold lemonade and sleeping in. Poison ivy, running face-first into trees and waking up alone in the dark are some of his least favorite things. However, he’s pretty sure being chased by humanoid creatures would be worse. Twitter | Website

What was your last light, entertaining read?

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REVIEW: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Fans of the Impossible Life 02

Title: Fans of the Impossible Life
Author: Kate Scelsa
Format: ARC, 356 pages
Publication: September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by the author (thank you so much Kate!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, LGBTQIA, Realistic, Young Adult
Other keywords: Depression and Mental Illness

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

MIRA is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

SEBBY, Mira’s gay best friend, seems to carry sunlight around him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

Review

I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

As eloquent as it is heartfelt, Fans of the Impossible Life takes storytelling to a higher class and diversity higher still.

Let me be the first to say that this is a novel—if not the novel—champions of the We Need Diverse Books campaign should be talking about. Scelsa delivers a coming of age at once achingly moving and softly poetic told from the perspectives of her three MCs. Her play at different points of view is nothing short of adroit—Jeremy’s chapters are in first person, Sebby’s in second and Mira’s in third. And it totally works, both in function and aesthetic. It provides a window into the complexities of her characters, and boy are they complex.

“… you lay awake on that night’s floor thinking about what you could have said to them to make them understand. What it felt like to know that the two people who knew you best couldn’t ever really know what your life was like.”

The author also doesn’t shy away from the hard edges of her story. Fans of the Impossible Life covered many important issues without once feeling overwhelming nor romanticized. There’s drug abuse, identity crisis, depression, suicide, bullying, racism—you name it, it’s probably in here. And Scelsa approached these with insight and sensitivity. Just as much as she paid her secondary characters attention. I am particularly impressed by the fact that they have these stuff going on for them. Like, Talia is whatever, I’m incredibly furious at her for what she did in the end BUT she was the one who helped Jeremy through his catastrophic episode, who apologized to him for not speaking up. And there’s Julie, perfect Julie who doesn’t wanna deal with Mira’s drama BUT who shows up, not attending her lecture to be with her as soon as she comes home.

“I had been nothing before that moment and one day I would be nothing again. But there and then my life was real. With his lips, and his lovely mouth.”

Early this year, Malinda Lo wrote an essay on perceptions of diversity in book reviews—in fact it’s just one in a four-part series which you need to read if you care about diversity. In it, she cited a critique that blatantly pronounced ““perfectly ethnically and sexually diverse” cast as “scarcely plausible,”” a suggestion that “this diversity would not have existed naturally; it needed effort.” Okay. Not only do I call total BS on this problematic trade review, I have Fans of the Impossible Life to reinforce my claim. Scelsa’s debut has multiple POC characters and characters representing three (3!) different orientations from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. But what’s really remarkable is the ease with which the author handled sexual and racial diversity. It doesn’t just look at individual experiences, it’s reflected in the family structures of her main players. One of the leads has two gay dads. Another has interracial parents. They get loads of crap for this and I’m thinking, that’s reality. It feels natural because this happens today, no matter how much we long for the contrary.

“At that point she was keeping the crying hidden. When it first started, she let people see it because she didn’t know what else to do. She thought if they could witness her in the middle of this thing, then they might be able to understand. But they couldn’t. It was exhausting for others to watch. For herself to experience. So she stopped showing them.”

I’m not you, but if I were, I’d be a fan of Fans of the Impossible Life too.

4.5 out of 5

Author

Kate Scelsa

Kate Scelsa has performed in New York and around the world with experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service in their trilogy of works based on great American literature, including an eight-hour-long performance that uses the entire text of The Great Gatsby. Kate lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Wesaun @ Oreo and Books and it is SO GOOD we both finished it in a 24-hour time frame.

Is this on your TBR list? If not, have I convinced you to include it? (Because, really, you definitely should check this out.) Do you think there are such works with “too much issues” or “too diverse”? And what about you, what was the last awesome book you read that celebrates diversity? Or just any solid 5-star read. Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

The Night We Said Yes 02

Title: The Night We Said Yes
Author: Lauren Gibaldi
Format: ARC, 304 pages
Publication: June 16th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by my fellow blogger/friend (thank you D!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance, Young Adult
Other keywords: High School Romance

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over her ex-boyfriend and graduate high school—simple as that. But Matt—the cute, shy bass player—was never part of that plan. And neither was spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of. But then Matt leaves town, breaking Ella’s heart. And when he shows up a year later, wanting to relive the night that brought them together, Ella isn’t sure if re-creating the past can help them create a different future. Or maybe it can. . . .

Review

In his book Looking for Alaska, John Green had a handful of quotations that rang true with my own experiences in life. But one that easily comes to mind is “I wanted to like booze more than I actually do.” Sadly, this speaks too of my relation with The Night We Said Yes.

To be fair, I really like the premise of Gibaldi’s debut. The story takes place in two nights, exactly one year apart. It’s told from Ella’s perspective and it starts with her trying to move on from her ex-boyfriend Matt who bailed out with no more than a note and a lousy excuse. Except now he has returned. And while Ella is hesitant—for obvious reasons—she wants answers all the same. The novel then jumps back and forth in the timeline as Ella in the past falls for Matt while the Ella in the present figures out if she and her friends are ready to take Matt back into their group. This should have been a favorite. Friendship story. The titular night of saying yes to every(reasonable)thing. A non-linear narrative. Instead, it’s trite, which, again, would’ve been fine except the main character—also the narrator—is problematic.

“It was my favorite part of the night—when the evening’s events were still unknown and unpredictable. It was the sense of possibility that I loved, the idea that anything could happen next.”

I’d go right off the bat and tell you Ella is not for me. She wallows in sadness and is often overcome by the secondary characters. And I know that our high school selves are supposed to be subjects to heightened emotions but I can’t get past the fact that Ella (in the Now) was thinking about Matt and their failed relationship 95% of the time. Then we have Meg, the best friend, who clearly reads as a foil to the MC and Jake, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, who was almost fun—if only he had more layers. I must say, however, that Matt was enjoyable, especially pre-break up. But although the “Then” storyline entertained me, I was looking for something more, something to connect with, something to make me care about these characters. Alas, I was met by a two-dimensional plane.

“It’s as if my mind can’t process what would happen if he were to come back, so instead of reacting, it gives up, checks out, and leaves town.”

In addition, there are several scenes that are cloying if not downright groan-worthy and the stuff they said yes to were underwhelming. I was hoping (praying) the reveal might redeem the novel but when it was time for it—the reason why Matt had to leave—it was a bit of a letdown.

The Night We Said Yes is a light, summery read, but unlike many summers of my younger years, it’s bound to be in the dregs of forgettable made-up drinks.

2.0 out of 5

Author

Lauren Gibaldi

Lauren Gibaldi is a YA librarian at Orange County Public Library, where she hosts youth programs. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and daughter. The Night We Said Yes is her debut novel.

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Do you plan to read this one? Or if you already did, what’s your take on it? Do you stick to a story without much plot going on but that has a character(s) you can connect with? And if you happen to DNF books, which I don’t, at least I haven’t had the strong urge to, how many pages do you go in before deciding to say yes to walking away (okay, that’s hyperbolized, but see what I did there?)? Sound off in the comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

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REVIEW: Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda

Hollywood Witch Hunter 01

Title: Hollywood Witch Hunter
Author: Valerie Tejeda
Format: E-ARC
Publication: July 20th 2015 by Bloomsbury Spark
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Lynn Stevens, Bloomsbury Spark and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Other keywords: Witchcraft and Wizardry

Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis

From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them.

Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.

But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California.

Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do.

Welcome to Hollywood.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Hollywood Witch Hunter could’ve taken either of two roads: a clever satire on celebrity culture masked as a gory witch hunt or a fast-paced, kick-ass witch hunt that embraces its ridiculousness. Sadly, however, it took neither.

Across the globe, Witch Hunters have kept witches at bay. Witches who pry on unsuspecting humans. But in Los Angeles, it is quite different; witches go after shallow, spoiled brats. But with the Bentlys in command, the City of Angel is safe. Until it no longer is. Things are getting weirder and a powerful witch is gaining more powers. At the center of it is Iris Maria Bently, the only female Hunter ever. And with her brother and a new recruit named Arlo by her side, she’s determined to take matters into her hands. After all, she knows she’s born to be a Hunter. As someone who grew up in a household that watches dubbed Latino soap operas, I was thrilled to find a female Colombian MC. Tejeda’s representation and feminist references are this debut’s strongest suits. Unfortunately, that’s all there is for me. A couple of chapters in and everything went downhill.

“People aren’t born monsters, Iris. Something always happens that makes them that way.”

This one’s a light read, but my biggest concern is Iris. I didn’t connect with her. She’s irresolute at best, whiny at worst, and the third person point-of-view didn’t help. There are too many plot holes and most confrontations felt at times half-baked and at times downright flat. I mean, why would you discuss the group’s strategies in front of a freaking witch? I’m all for witchcraft and wizardry and there is an unlikely friendship and an amusing villain involved, which are always a treat, but Hollywood Witch Hunter just didn’t slay me. And I’d say another run of edits wouldn’t hurt, but I’m being subjective more than anything right now—as is invariably the case with my reviews. I did enjoy Arlo though. His lines are often grin-or-snort-inducing—but even he can only carry so much dialogues—and I’m totally into his story arc. In fact, I wonder if I would’ve appreciated the book more if he were the point-of-view character.

“I’m just saying, sometimes we don’t understand why people do what they do.”

Reminiscent of the Vampire Academy movie, Hollywood Witch Hunter had good potentials but somehow lost them in translation.

1.5 out of 5

Author

Valerie Tejeda

Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including Vanity FairMTV, The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Latina, Yahoo! Shine, Cosmopolitan, and more. Valerie holds a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and is currently based in Northern California with her husband, where she reads loads of books, binge-watches Netflix, and drinks tons of Peets coffee. Hollywood Witch Hunter is her debut.

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Whoa. This is my shortest review to date. So is this book on your TBR? Can you put up with a novel with a character(s) you can’t connect with? Moreover, do you DNF often? Do you DNF at all? Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

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Title: Extraordinary Means
Author: Robyn Schneider
Format: Paperback, 324 pages
Publication: May 26th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Young Adult
Other keywords: Physical Illness

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Up until his diagnosis, Lane lived a fairly predictable life. But when he finds himself at a tuberculosis sanatorium called Latham House, he discovers an insular world with paradoxical rules, med sensors, and an eccentric yet utterly compelling confidant named Sadie—and life as Lane knows it will never be the same.

Review

Wry, bittersweet and often contemplative, Schneider’s sophomore book has the heart and humor of The Beginning of Everything, if decidedly darker.

Seventeen-year-old Lane Rosen has lived every single day of his life preparing for the future—paying attention to assignments, taking AP classes—until he’s diagnosed with totally-drug-resistant tuberculosis and, suddenly, senior year is happening four hundred miles away, without him. Then there is Sadie Bennett—buoyant, rebellious Sadie—who’s made peace with her condition. The story takes place in a sanatorium reminiscent of Hailsham called Latham House and right there, Lane is reunited with Sadie, whom he once went to summer camp with. Extraordinary Means is a paradigm of a quiet YA, in that it effectively mixes keenness to dialogue with characterization and subtlety with emotional resonance. It is a steady read up to the last third, when the narrative takes an inevitable turn, in a flurry that doesn’t feel rushed.

“I did the flash cards every night, but it was no use, because it wasn’t the multiplication table that was giving me trouble. It was the pressure of being told two things: 1. That I only had a short amount of time, and 2. That I had to get everything right.”

There’s nothing we haven’t already seen in this novel, but that’s the beauty of it. Schneider doesn’t need gimmicks to tell a gripping story. It just is. And I laud how she speaks the language of the teens she’s writing for and about. There are video games and Facebook updates and Harry Potter references and Tumblr and butterbeers and a John Green novel. I mean, how often do we get a John Green shout out in a contemporary book? Schneider is an extraordinary (come on, you know that’s bound to come up), unapologetic nerd and that translates very well into her work. She also nailed her acknowledgement twice now.

“”Yeah, but all it takes is one person who wants to stir up trouble, and suddenly everyone’s panicked,” Nick said. “Look at history if you don’t believe me.”
Game of Thrones isn’t real,” I told him, and Marina snorted.”

Of course, it would be remiss to not talk characters in my review. If Schneider’s characters are a club, I’d sign up without vacillation. And maybe it’s just me but I have this sneaking suspicion that the author wrote Lane for me. I connected easily with him. In high school (extending to the early half of college), I was that guy whom no one considers inviting for night outs “and I probably would have made an excuse if they had, not because I didn’t want to, but because I thought I shouldn’t.” “I followed the rules because that was why rules existed, to be followed.” Those are Lane’s—and mine—word per word. Even our handwriting would look neat next to each other, I have no doubt. But hard work and handwriting aside, he’s just relatable through and through. Sadie, however, while never boring, seems to flicker in places. And Nick, Marina and Charlie are as entertaining and layered, as opposed to being mere plot devices. You would want to be in their circle.

“I hadn’t known it was possible to fail breakfast.”

But Extraordinary Means isn’t so much about being sick—for fine works are almost never about just one thing—as it is about finding your people, fitting in and living in the now—an echo of a theme the author first explored in her debut. It is a story of second chances and coming to terms with reality. And although I predicted how it’ll end, it did not stop me from caring. Plus the romance is neither excessive nor hastily done, which is always a treat.

Never Let Me Go meets Looking for AlaskaExtraordinary Means is a satisfying follow up from Robyn Schneider, with solid opening lines that is fast becoming her brand.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Robyn Schneider 02

Robyn Schneider is a writer, actor, and online personality. She is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied creative writing, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where she studied medical ethics. She lives in Los Angeles, but also on the internet.

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So. Have you read Extraordinary Means yet? If no, do you plan to? What about Schneider’s debut The Beginning of Everything (I definitely recommend)? Do you read the acknowledgements and author’s notes in books? And I’m pretty certain I talked about this before but have you seen this novel’s trailer? Because I ADORE IT and here, you’re welcome. ALSO, I’m attending the author’s signing tomorrow! YAAAY!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

REVIEW: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

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Title: Mosquitoland
Author: David Arnold
Format: Hardcover, 342 pages
Publication: March 3rd 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Gifted by my childhood best friend (thank you Treena!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic, Young Adult
Other keywords: Depression and Mental Illness, Road Trip

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Review

Debut author David Arnold tells a vibrant narrative in Mosquitoland. You would want to meet Mim and the caboodle of cast she befriends (or not) in this surprisingly funny, poignant and ultimately heartwarming multicolored road trip.

Mary Iris “Mim” Malone is not okay. Mom and Dad divorced and now Stepmom is in the picture. She is resituated a thousand miles away from Mom and home and it doesn’t help that Dad wants her to take medication after an unclear psychiatric diagnosis. Worse still is overhearing Mom is sick. So, in a bout of mutiny and daughterly affection, she accepts her mission as a “Mother-effing Mother-Saver” and runs away, equipped with wits, cynicism, war paint, a journal and eight hundred eighty dollars. Here’s the thing: I think there’s only one Mim in all of literature. This is very clear from page 1, first sentence—which is saying something, heck, probably the somethingest of Somethings. She’s erratic but not in any means tacky or supererogatory; it’s organic. Her voice sounds natural, her odyssey equal parts heartrending and heartening. But Mim, like every 16-year-olds before her, is not exempt to Myopic Faultiness, “wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world.” And this is where the greatest triumph of Mosquitoland lies in. Mim is prone to getting caught up inside her head but there’s also growth, juxtaposed with her quest to reach and save her mom. Her physical journey is as captivating as her emotional one is touching.

“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

The novel delves into important subjects like depression and family and trust issue but because the humor is so on point, it doesn’t read as heavy. Mim is all about the wry and you have to hand it to the author for the effortless execution. And, although it has a pretty slow outset, it is never dragging. There are references to pop culture here and there, too, which is sure to click with readers and just, the guy described a smile using Belgian waffle. A Belgian waffle smile. Five hundred awesome points!

I don’t care, man. I’ve faked yawned, slow blinked, loud sighed, and pretend searched. I considered murdering you, as well as a variety of suicides. Now I’m going to put this in a way I know you’ll understand: you stole my friend’s seat, and I’d rather die than listen to you speak.”

I adore David’s writing style. It’s very contemporary but has a poetic undertone. He has a way at picking thoughts you never considered others have as well. Like, okay, since Tommy Wallach is obviously more eloquent than me, I’ll let him take the mic: “the best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world.” The only way this novel could’ve been better is if the author went deeper into Mim’s diagnosis.

“But now I know the truth. You can laugh and cry, Iz. Because they’re basically the same thing.”

The best element of this work, however, for me at least, is the exceptionally unforgettable band of characters. There’s Mim’s dysfunctional family, a no-bullshit old woman, an adorable-charming-endearing kid with Down syndrome, a 20-something photographer with his faults and possibly “the God of Devastating Attractiveness,” a schizophrenic vagrant and many, many more. He explores love and chosen family in a beautiful light that you often feel two or three emotions at once. And, you know, I love that each of these characters has a story to tell, like, if the author decided to switch narrators, it’ll be just as fascinating.

“You spend your life roaming the hillsides, scouring the four corners of the earth, searching desperately for just the one person to fucking get you. And I’m thinking, if you can find that, you’ve found home.”

David makes an impression with his debut and it’s this: he knows what he’s doing. And in a true Mim fashion, a montage rolls through my head, in it, I see Mosquitoland being read in class. An instant classic.

4.0 out of 5

Author

David Arnold

David Arnold lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his (lovely) wife and (boisterous) son. Previous jobs include freelance musician/producer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. He is a fierce believer in the power of kindness and community. And chips. He believes fiercely in chips. Mosquitoland is his first novel.

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Have you read this book already? No? Have I convinced you to pick it up? Who are the most unforgettable voices in your list? Also, what are some of your favorite road trip titles? Or, just, what was the last amazing book you read? Gimme your recs!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted 02

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Format: E-ARC
Publication: May 21st 2015 by Macmillan (first published May 19th 2015)
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Pan Macmillan and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Adult, Fantasy
Other keywords: Witchcraft and Wizardry

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia—all the things Agnieszka isn’t—and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

What’s with me and these witch books? As I mentioned in my review of The Witch Hunter, I’ve been in a streak. Uprooted is my third novel on the sub-genre in the last two months and I seem to keep wanting more. But of the three, how magic works in Novik’s world is probably the most fascinating, in that it’s unexpectedly unique and completely immersive. Of course, medieval stories set in a perfunctorily veiled European country is not uncommon. But the author shifts the landscape with Polnya, a seemingly fantastical version of Poland, away from the go-to England. And the way she built the Wood is just enthralling and palpable; you can almost feel it breathing.

“It didn’t make much sense to me. We were all afraid of the Wood. But our valley was home. How could you leave your home?”

Agnieszka’s people live in constant fear of the Wood and the creatures that populate it, lurking in the shadows of trees, taking stray men unawares or children playing in the fields. But even so, for these people, home is home and it’s protected by the Dragon, a powerful wizard living in a tower at the crest of the valley. He holds the Wood at bay for the whole kingdom of Polnya and he only asks that one girl be taken under his service for ten years. What the girl does or why the Dragon demands this, no one can be certain. All that’s clear is when the girl returns, she wants to leave the valley for good. While the story has a slow start and loses its momentum halfway through, there is one particular white knuckles battle sequence that more than compensates for it. This is bolstered by strong characterization, a quiet love story and a well written friendship, laying down the foundations of an epic read. Novik, however, like her characters, has one or two flaws. Uprooted has rough-around-the-edges prose and it reads as a trilogy packed into a stand-alone.

“”I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?””

In a variety of levels, Uprooted is reminiscent of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, but chiefly of the former. The way witches are treated in the capital reminded me of the grishas in Ravka, the I-don’t-fit-in-a-box protagonist with abilities unlike her peers, but mostly the striking resemblance between the Dragon and the Darkling—and not only with the first letters of their names. It’s in the fog of mystery around them, the magnitude of power and self-command, the reluctance, their effect on people. I’m not saying these are disappointments; these are mere observations. Plus, the Dragon is way snarkier and I highly enjoyed that about him, especially the chemistry he and Agnieszka clearly have. Even when they weren’t rooting for each other*, the two make a good duo. Their banters are just pure fun.

“The pain got worse instead of better. I pulled away from them and tried to press myself into the wall, the cool hard stone, as if I could make myself a part of it and be unfeeling.”

At the heart of the book is Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship. It is one of the main driving forces of the story and I really admire how Novik delivers. And, while the pacing is quite less than outstanding and a three-part series would’ve left more room for deeper character exploration, Uprooted still is worth checking out, more so if magic and witches/wizards are your thing.

Lastly, many have called this YA, and it must be said that when I requested this title, for reasons hazy, I thought it was too. Except it isn’t. The protagonist is seventeen but the tone and style of the narrative is undoubtedly adult.

3.5 out of 5

Author

Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is an avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings. She is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.

Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers.

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*See what I did there?

Have you read this one yet? If you’re deciding whether or not to pick it up, was I helpful? Also, let’s talk magic and witches, throw them books (or films) my way!

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