A Thousand Nights

by EK Johnston

Review by KM

I originally requested this book because I loved the summary and the cover was gorgeous. I truthfully had heard of One Thousand and One Nights before, but I didn’t know much about the original and I’ve never read it. Having wiki’d it now, I can see that this is clearly a retelling. I’m happy to have read A Thousand Nights, if only for the fact that it’s introduced me to the original, which I can’t wait to read.

Summary

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Musings

Now, if any of the aspects I love completely are derived from the original, pardon me. I’ve already said how I haven’t read it yet.

The main character in this story isn’t given a name. In fact, no one except Lo-Melkhiin is giving a name. They’re referred to by titles: Lo-Melkhiin’s mother, my sister, my sister’s mother, my mother, my father’s father’s father, and et cetera. Originally, I thought that this was clever. It reminded me of how stories would be passed down orally and become legends, to the point that the characters lose their names. Now, a week after reading it, I kind of feel like the lack of a name robbed her. She was to be a smallgod. If any character in the book should have been given a name, it should have been her.

She was strong as a character, taking her strength from how she protected her sister and from her inner magic. The magical parts had to be the best out of the entire book. By using traditionally feminine crafts, she was able to harness a power that not even Lo-Melkhiin could grasp.

A few other reviews have complained about the lack of romance between Lo-Melkhiin and the main character. I actually appreciated that it didn’t have that romance. The main character had nothing to go on except proclamations from Lo-Melkhiin’s mother that he was indeed, a good man. How is a person supposed to fall in love with that, especially when the horrible actions done were done by the same body? Had there been an instant romance, I wouldn’t have bought it.

Overall, I love to see an Asian story get a retelling; it stands out among all the Wizard of Oz and Cinderella ones on the bookshelves.

The Hollow People

by Brian Keaney

Review by KM

Working in a library is fantastic fun, but there is one part that absolutely tears me to pieces: weeding our collection. I’m not put in charge of this job because it hurts me too much to see a cart and a half of novels head over to our sale section. A book getting weeded doesn’t mean it’s not good; it just means it hasn’t been checked out for a few years. I was shocked to see almost the entire Vampire Diaries series on the cart last week, as well as some of my favorite books from junior high.

The Hollow People was one of the books I grabbed off the cart this time. The cover is hauntingly compelling and I couldn’t take seeing it sitting on a shelf alone any longer.

Summary

ON THE SINISTER ISLAND where strict obedience to the laws of the mysterious Dr. Sigmundus holds sway, dreaming will get you locked up and branded a lunatic, a danger to society and to all who know you. In this doomed and repressive place, two teens that were never meant to meet or share their dreams, cross paths and set in motion that which rips them from the lives they were meant to lead. Together they join forces with a ragtag group of rebel forces bent on breaking the grip of lies and illusions their countrymen have accepted without question.

For fans of thoughtful science fiction and fantasy, The Hollow People opens a window on the unseen worlds that surround us.

Musings

It feels strange to say that this book felt like it both had a slow start, yet was a fast read. The first half of the book was all about gathering information as it came to Dante and Bea, but soon enough, you’re half way through the book and the action is really coming together. I wouldn’t say it’s a stand alone, though. When I got to the end, I knew without looking it up that there was a sequel — there just wasn’t a possible way that this was the absolute ending.

To me, it felt like a diet version of a lot of other books I’ve read. It had the typical dystopian trends of books like Divergent and Hunger Games, mixing it with science versus magic. A book perfect for a middle schooler transitioning from shorter books to the ones famous in our pop culture.

Suggested reading on Amazon puts the age group at seventh grade, but I’ve been seeing a lot of sixth graders taking out books from the Young Adult section. If you’re looking for something to interest a fifth grader during these last few weeks of Summer, this could be the book. Just make sure to grab it from your library, so it remains in the collection.

The Diviners

by Libba Bray
Review by KM

In all honesty, I didn’t have a love for Libba Bray’s characters before reading The Diviners. While many of my friends gushed over her books for a long time, I couldn’t get through A Great and Terrible Beauty. I kept hearing things about some of her other books, but my to-read pile was growing taller and I just didn’t fit them on top. That is, until two of my friends sent me The Diviners. I thought it would be rude to ignore it and, really, Libba deserved a second chance from me.

I am so happy that I cracked open The Diviners earlier this summer. It’s a brilliant read that engulfs you into a world of creepy-enchantment and spunky characters.

Summary

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-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.*

Musings

Evie was definitely the first thing that pulled me into this book. She’s clever, pretty, and reminds me a bit of Buffy Summers with a dash of Roxie Hart mixed in. Others in the story don’t get as much spotlight, like Evie’s Uncle Will or Theta, but there’s hope that they’ll have their own action in the next book of the series. Along with that cast of charismatic characters running around New York, Evie fits in perfectly.

Now, it’s been quite a few years since I was hugely into historical fiction. I grew up on the American Girls series, but really haven’t read much of the genre since junior high. The Diviners is set in the 1920s, but filled with the supernatural. This book has definitely rekindled my love for the genre. All of the periodical slang, fashion, and lifestyle details left me smiling and wanting to grab the nearest TARDIS and head back in time.

The plot was fast-paced and intense. In the moments I had to put it down, for silly things such as work and family-time, I was craving to pick it up again. I usually find books are either character-focused or plot-focused. One of them is brilliant and the other lags a bit behind, earning the silver medal. The Diviners broke this trend with both the plot and characters tying for gold.

Going along with the plot, the setting was fantastic. Talking about speakeasies and The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies gave a definite eeriness to the book, which I adored. A lot of freedom was given to the characters, more than one could manage to do now in the days of digital technology. The city of New York shone brighter to me through this book than in any of the books I’m forced to read as a history minor. Although not every detail may be factual, it certainly is more enjoyable.

I’m so happy that I gave this author another chance. The Diviners is the start of a series that I’m bound to read over and over again. I just want more of Evie, the 1920’s, and the witty dialogue. Until those come out, I’ll have to go back and read some of Bray’s other books that I’ve missed out on!

*Taken from Amazon.com

Go Set a Watchman

by Harper Lee

Review by KM

Who doesn’t remember sitting in their English classroom and reading about Atticus Finch? I know a lot of us do and that To Kill a Mockingbird was one of our favorite required-reading books. Atticus gave us an idolized role model that used his privilege for the underdog; he was articulate, intelligent, and fair. I was so excited to see him in another book.

From the moment I knew there was a sequel coming out, I knew I was going to be getting it. I didn’t read the articles or listen to the hype. I probably should have.

Summary

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

Musings 

I have a lot of feelings about this novel. I’m angry, betrayed, and relieved, in a sense. I think I feel the same way Jean Louise feels and I’m pretty sure that is intentional.

A lot of people are making a lot of noise about how Go Set a Watchman destroys Atticus’ character. Around a third into the book, when I slammed it down onto the counter and announced to my coworkers that I couldn’t go on, I would have agreed. There are reasons why it doesn’t. We were introduced to Atticus by an eight year old who idolized her father. I don’t believe she was meant to be an unreliable narrator, but anyone is going to have their bias. We trusted in that and we saw Atticus with no flaws. That’s why it was just as disturbing to me to see facets of his personality just as much as it disturbed Scout. Her personality evolves from the child we saw in Mockingbird to a strong young adult, making this her story rather than just her narration.

As a piece of literature, I think it’s a resounding success. I was transported directly to the town of Maycomb; Lee’s voice is so authentic that I’ve never found anything similar. It’s a slow, lazy climb to the plot, but it’s not noticeable. This is more a book of reflection than action. I’m pretty sure it’s being classified as an adult novel at the moment, but damn, I haven’t read a book that has totally defined New Adult for me until this one.

If you love Atticus or not, I suggest giving this a read. It will make you angry, but maybe we’re not meant  to idolize people without any faults. They’re just hiding them and they’re bound to topple from that pedestal eventually.

Everything, Everything

by Nicola Yoon

Review by KM

There are some people who are born romantics; they grow up watching The Notebook and believing in lasting love and being optimistic. Those people are freakin’ awesome and should be protected by those who would hurt them.

I wasn’t born a romantic, but time has converted me over the years and seriously, I totally agree with Madeline in this story.

Summary

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Musings

This book was a quick read, great for a lazy summer day. It took me less than two hours, so for your teens who say they can’t concentrate through a huge book? This is for them. I wouldn’t say that it’s action-packed; it definitely starts out slowly. The story builds quickly though and it’s written in such a way that makes it easily enjoyable.

Madeline and Olly are your typical teens and they go through a cyber-space relationship before meeting IRL, which I think a bunch of people can relate. It’s definitely hard having your best friends or significant others over the interwebs and not right there beside you, but it’s even worse after you have had them next to you and have to go back. I think a lot of us millennials can sympathize.

My favorite part had to be Maddy’s references to other novels, keeping the reader up to date on what she was reading. I know what I’m reading always impacts my mood and I think it did for Maddy too. Flowers for Algernon was a favorite book of mine back in junior high, so those mentions made me especially happy.

The book is pretty predictable and the one major twist was something I’d predicted hoped for since the beginning. It’s the same part I love about my favorite film, so I won’t give you any spoilers, but I’m guessing you’ll be able to tell what’s coming.

Everything, Everything will be hitting shelves a month from now, so I’m recommending a large glass of lemonade and a beach chair (and sun-screen! I burn like a lobster) to accompany this book.

The Game of Love and Death

by Martha Brockenbrough

Review by KM

I’ll admit, the beautiful cover art was the first thing that attracted me to this book. It was standing on the top of our New Releases shelf at the library, all bright and brilliant and never having been checked out. I may not believe in love at first sight with people, but I’ve fallen into love at first sight with many books and this was one of them.

Summary

Not since THE BOOK THIEF has the character of Death played such an original and affecting part in a book for young people.

Flora and Henry were born a few blocks from each other, innocent of the forces that might keep a white boy and an African American girl apart; years later they meet again and their mutual love of music sparks an even more powerful connection. But what Flora and Henry don’t know is that they are pawns in a game played by the eternal adversaries Love and Death, here brilliantly reimagined as two extremely sympathetic and fascinating characters. Can their hearts and their wills overcome not only their earthly circumstances, but forces that have battled throughout history? In the rainy Seattle of the 1920’s, romance blooms among the jazz clubs, the mansions of the wealthy, and the shanty towns of the poor. But what is more powerful: love? Or death?
Musings

I am having a really hard time encapsulating the reasons why I love this book, so I’m going to try to do a rambling break down.

The characters: Love and Death are fantastic. While Flora and Henry’s stories were unique and lovely to read, I really ache for a book that is entirely just Love and Death. Their interactions were the best, especially when they’d hint at the years of history and players that came before. You could feel the way they were trapped within their roles: the expectations that they were held to and how they sometimes resented it.

The history: I’m not one for historical novels, usually. If I’d taken a closer look at the summary and caught the 1920’s reference, the book would’ve probably stayed on the shelf. There was something great about this. It isn’t the breakthrough book that is going to lead me to loving all historical novels, but it was definitely refreshing to see a recently released book that doesn’t have a ton of references to Twitter or current celebrities.

The diction: A lot of authors can tell an awesome story, but there are just a few books where the words flow in such a way that they stay with you. They repeat over in your head, bouncing around like wind chimes on a breezy day. I found that in this book and that’s why it’s spent the last three weeks in my house instead of returning to the library.

This wasn’t a quick read for me. It took time to get through, a slow but pleasurable read. I guess since I’ll have to return it to the library, I’ll be getting a copy of my own later this week.

Illuminae

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Review by KM

Typically I’d be waiting to post this review. The book doesn’t come out until October, and while you can totally pre-order it, there’s nothing like sharing a book and being able to have them grab it from their local bookstore that day. However, I’ve already told everyone in my life about this book — I’m serious; I work two jobs and all my coworkers at BOTH know about this book, the release date, and how amazing it is — so you’re all next. This is my favorite book of 2015 so far and that’s a really tough statement because The Walls Around Us and A Darker Shade of Magic were both released this year.

Summary

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Musings

Where do I even start?

I want to drown in this book, in the year of 2575, and die of a deadly plague because there is no way I’m tough enough to survive it. I have the biggest book hangover from this; one that I haven’t had since reading Howl’s Moving Castle for the first time.

This book has EVERYTHING: bio-warfare, crazy artificial intelligence systems, intense imagery, and space. Yet, it doesn’t feel like everything is crammed in there just to make cameo in the story, y’know? It all comes together fantastically. It took some of the most brilliant tropes from classic science fiction like Battlestar Galactica, 2001: Space Odyssey, and likely some cues from zombie films, merged them all together to make something new and courageous. The plot twists and spins, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going off kilter.

Now, this book is kind of crazy. You should open it as if you’re opening a manila envelope, filled with everything a database could come up with on this one horrifying event. There are interviews, chat logs, data files, summaries of video clips, and diagrams. Check your dates carefully; they tend to go in order, but some of them definitely are misplaced. The entire story is pieced together through this evidence. I didn’t expect to love this style so much, but it works so well.

I will admit there were about five pages through a new technology-based-character’s viewpoint where I got concerned: was this going to end up being cheesy? This character is given more personality than he would be in older sci-fi novels, but I think it fits.

Ezra makes me laugh like no one else. It probably says a lot about my personality that most of my conversations with my friends sound identical to those between him and his. It’s fantastic and enjoyably crude in those small happier moments. While I adore Kady, I would’ve loved to see the world through Ezra’s eyes more often.

I could go on and on about this book forever, but I’ll stop here before I spoil everything. I have no doubt that I’ll be doing some sort of give-away for this come October, but if you really want this book, preorder it now before you forget. You will not regret it.

Anatomy of Publishing

This is a bit of a break in the mold for Readcommendations, but certainly something we didn’t want our readers to miss. We know a lot of our readers aren’t only out there devouring books like us; they’re writing too. They’re plotting, researching, and having word-wars over Twitter and Tumblr.

While social media is amazing, I’ve always wanted to be able to go on a writing retreat. Just a few days in tranquility with no adorable pictures of cats to stop me from writing and other writers there to encourage. This year, I’ve heard of some great writing retreats happening, but one of my favorites has to be the Anatomy of Publishing retreat.

Anatomy of Publishing is being run by Courtney Stevens (Faking Normal, Blue-Haired Boy, Lies About Truth) and she’s written a better post than I could on her blog about this. Other awesome authors are going to be helping out, too, including Natalie Parker, Tessa Gratton, and Victoria Schwab.

The retreat focuses on making you a more confident writer with better tools, as well as discussions on how to market your book after the publication process is done. 

Court is running a contest this week for people checking out the retreat. The prizes are phenomenal!

3- $300 coupons to this Madcap Retreat:

1- 50 page manuscript critique by me (Courtney C. Stevens)

3- signed copies of Faking Normal

1- ARC of The Lies About Truth

5 – electronic copies of The Blue Haired Boy

Despite how much I want to, I can’t go to this retreat this Summer. I need you guys to go and then tell me all about it, so I can sit here and burn in a jealous rage — I mean, I’ll be happy for you, but still totally jealous.

Check it out, apply, and write awesome books that I can review on here.

Salem’s Vengeance

by Aaron Galvin

Review by KM

I’ve always been attracted to books about witches and magic. It’s probably the Halloween-baby in me trying to break out. Either way, I was delighted to find this on NetGalley. In fact, I’ll probably be taking a vacation to Salem this year because of it.
Summary

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kelly never expected to meet the Devil’s daughter. She only sought innocent dancing in the moonlight, not a coven entranced by their dark priestess.
When her friends partake of a powder meant to conjure spirits – and the results go horribly awry – Sarah is forced to make a choice. To keep their secret risks her own damnation, but to condemn them may invoke the accusing remnants of Salem to rise again.

Musings

Okay, for some reason, I pictured this 90’s sitcom My Best Friend’s The Devil’s Daughter when I read this summary (that’s not a real sitcom. Except in my head. It’s awesome; there’s a laugh-track and everything). That’s not what this is. Salem’s Vengeance is written like a historical novel, but with paranormal elements. Well. Kind of. Kind of scientific, drugged-up elements too.

The ending left on such a note that the plot was wrapped up enough where it didn’t need a sequel, but there was definitely enough there to make one if wanted. That is how I love my series. The best part of all? The second book is already out. I saw it on Amazon and it’ll probably be my welcome-to-the-weekend reward.

Seriously, this book is on Amazon right now for three friggin’ dollars. Three dollars. Your morning Starbucks is already going to cost you more than that, so you should really buy the book to accompany your S’mores Frappuccino (have any of you had that yet? It’s amazing. I’m gaining weight from thinking about it right now).

My one warning about this book is to beware reading it before bedtime. The action scenes are brutal and, while I loved them, I was stuck staying up a lot longer than I expected. Nightmares were definitely on the menu that night.

Now, I have to go dive back into this world with the sequel.

Boys Don’t Knit (In Public)

by TS Easton

Review by KM

A few days ago, I was working at the movie theater when my boss told me a hole had appeared in his pocket. His keys kept dropping and he was cursing his bad luck. I told him he could easily stitch the broken pocket together. He said, “I’m not that gay.”

I raised my eyebrow and said, “My husband knits.”

For some unbeknownst reason, fiber crafts often get labeled as effeminate. They really aren’t and it was great to see a book that encourages all of the awesome impacts knitting can have. So, while my boss heads home to his boyfriend of two years and my husband heads home to me, neither of their sexual orientations impact their knitting abilities.

Summary

After an incident regarding a crossing guard and a bottle of Martini & Rossi (and his friends), 17-year-old worrier Ben Fletcher must develop his sense of social alignment, take up a hobby, and do some community service to avoid any further probation.

He takes a knitting class (it was that or his father’s mechanic class) with the impression that it’s taught by the hot teacher all the boys like. Turns out, it’s not. Perfect.

Regardless, he sticks with it and comes to discover he’s a natural knitter, maybe even great. It also helps ease his anxiety and worrying. The only challenge now is to keep it hidden from his friends, his crush, and his soccer-obsessed father. What a tangled web Ben has weaved . . . or knitted.

Musings

I have to say, Easton knows their knitting. A lot of real-life knitting terms were dropped through this book and, as a knitter, I loved ’em. There was a horrifying scene with a size 3.5 Addi Turbo needle that sent shivers up my spine. Seriously, I treasure the few sets of Addi needles I have, just like Ben. I was surprised to see Ravelry, the giant knitting forum, left out. With a huge pattern database and over a million members, Ben would have totally loved Ravelry.

Despite loving some of the references, there were quite a few that made me want to sigh. There was a lot of pop culture put into the book, like mentions of SodaStreams, Jennifer Lawrence, and X Factor. When I see those, I can only imagine a teen grabbing this book out of the library in a few years and realizing how dated it is. Not to mention, they use all of the British slang and even refer to the UK Knitting competitions, but then change the word football to soccer. C’mon, we all know that everyone else calls it football.

It was nice to see Ben’s opinion of knitting change, despite what the people around him would say. It was great to see him calling out his father on his crappy homophobic language, too. More than anything, seeing Ben’s reactions to the women in his life change was the best (even though that was slow and totally realistic of a teenage boy).

All in all, I think this book pulled together the stress of being a teenager, all the expectations and stereotypical taunts when you dare to break away from the mold. It was great and I’d love to see some boys knitting in public.