Tuesday, April 10, 2018

REVIEW: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Title: The Immortalists
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Genre: Literary/Magic Realism Fiction
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release Date: January 9, 2018
Acquired: Print copy sent by publisher
Goodreads: ADD

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

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What if you knew the exact day that you would cease to exist? It was literally the only question I asked myself as I read The Immortalist. It was literally the only question I asked anyone else who cared to answer. So enthralled was I with the concept of a book where it's characters have 'found out', at an extremely young and fragile age, just how long they were to be on the earth. I truly had no expectations beyond the first prophetic chapter. I had no idea where I expected, or even wanted, the author to take the storyline. Where she took it, however, was not somewhere I was consistently following.

Four Gold siblings. Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya Gold. A secret shared around the town. A trip to a woman who claimed to be able to tell you the exact date of your death. What follows is a chapter dedicated to each of the four (now adult) children during the months/years leading up their predicted date. Simon and Klara have left home in pursuit of an unrestrained life and dreams come true, while Daniel and Varya chose a more practical and seemingly solid path. Will the prophecy be true? How deep-rooted is our fear of death? How strong is our will to survive? The Immortalists is an exploration of self under duress, under the ultimate and most final kind of pressures.

Chloe Benjamin's writing is tremendously readable and felt true to each era she attempted. If I had to choose a life chapter(s) I enjoyed the most, it would probably be Simon or Klaras. It was there I felt like the truest struggle existed. I felt the most emotion in the way these two internalized their fear, in their ability to simultaneously worry and not worry about their 'fate'. It was the greatest showcase of personality and flawed character. Of mental debilitation and realistic reactions to one's environment. I didn't, and couldn't, enjoy Daniel and Varya's chapters, simply because I couldn't relate to their decisions or eccentricities. I almost felt like I was reading two different books once I got to the halfway point.

For what it was obviously highlighting, The Immortalists was successful in being a novel about living to live vs. living to die. I appreciated the way the author seemed to build stories around four final dates, instead of the other way around. This novel could have been very different one if those prophetic days were revealed very early on and repeated throughout. I just wish it ended with a more powerful conclusion. 


Read if you like:  
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Key themes: 
loss, death, family, mental illness, magic realism




Challenges: 

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credit: goodreads.com (author page)


Chloe Benjamin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Immortalists, a #1 Indie Next Pick, #1 Library Reads pick, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, Amazon Best Book of the Month, and an iBooks Favorite.

Her first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was long-listed for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.

Her work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Originally from San Francisco, CA, Chloe is a graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin. She lives with her husband in Madison, WI.


CONTACT LINKS 
Goodreads - Twitter - Instagram - Website

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A huge thank-you to Penguin Books for providing a hardcopy of this book for review

Thursday, April 5, 2018

REVIEW: The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Title: The Beauty that Remains
Author: Ashley Woodfolk
Genre: YA Contemporary/LGTBQ
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Acquired: Print copy sent by publisher
Goodreads: ADD

Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart.

Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band's music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.

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Grief. Like a live, writhing entity in your gut. Once you've experienced it for yourself, you know it's near impossible to describe what it felt like. Impossible to use any existing words to relay the pain that carved irreparable wounds onto your entire being. Therefore, you know that if someone decided to write a book dedicated to grief, that this someone had to have survived this tidal wave of suffering. Found avenues that led to some kind of healing. The Beauty that Remains felt like a genuine attempt at capturing the many ways people begin to heal after loss. I just had a hard time inserting myself into the sorrow-I just couldn't make it past the surface level of that pain.

Three people have died. In three very different ways. This book follows the three people closest to them who must now learn to exist in a world void of their presence. We follow Autumn, who lost a best friend, Logan, who lost a lover, and Shay, who lost her twin sister. 

Writing multiple perspective narratives is surely a feat for a seasoned author, nevermind a debut one, so I admire Ashley Woodfolk for her choice. Each character, remaining and deceased, was obviously written to be diverse in personality, which for me, didn't come across as loudly as the diversity of their ethnic backgrounds, which was DELIRIOUSLY refreshing. For the majority of the novel, I felt like the characters were interchangeable when it came to their quirks, flaws, and dialogue. There were some individual hobbies, yes, but with music being the focal point of all of their lives (and one specific band at that), it was harder to separate each of them in my mind, even after scenes of joint interaction.

Most importantly, my empathy, my sympathy, and my real tears were kept closely locked away for the entirety of the novel. I never completely felt overwhelmed by Autumn's moments of unfiltered grief, or Shay's immeasurable longing for what used to be, or Logan's rage at an unjust situation. I just couldn't bring myself to care about the people that use to be a part of their world, and then just wasn't anymore. There was emotion spewing out by the bucketloads, but the deceased just never felt real enough to me. Woodfolk's writing was admirable for a debut, but I am looking forward to reading a narrative from her that weighs less on the subject matter scale, something that wasn't trying to evoke all this emotion, all at once.


Read if you like:  
Thirteen Reasons by Jay Asher
Looking for Alaska by John Green

Key themes: 
loss, death, friendship, love, family, music



Challenges: 

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credit: www.ashleywoodfolk.com/about


Cshley Woodfolk graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in English and her life-long love of books led her straight to the publishing industry. She's a member of the CBC Diversity Committee and markets books for children and teens. In her abundance of "spare" time, she writes contemporary YA. Indie movies, beer, books, and burgers are a few of her favorite things. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and pit bull puppy, Winnie. THE BEAUTY THAT REMAINS is her debut novel.





CONTACT LINKS 
Website - Twitter - Tumblr - IG - Pinterest

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A huge thank-you to Penguin Books for providing a hardcopy of this book for review

Monday, April 2, 2018

REVIEW: I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

Title: I Am, I Am, I Am
Author: Maggie O'Farrell
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Knopf (PenguinRandomHouse)
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Acquired: Print copy sent by publisher
Goodreads: ADD

We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death.

I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter--for whom this book was written--from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life's myriad dangers.

Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O'Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.

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Here's what happens when you read a title of a book, here's what I still do all of these reading years later: I judge. I form preconceived notions. I read the title of this memoir and I expected each story to be told essay-style, to simply be the how, when and where of each event. What I didn't expect was the incredibly and breathtakingly poetic depiction of fear, of trauma, and of a single life coming close to it's final seconds multiple times over. 

Maggie O'Farrell isn't a thrill seeker, by any traditional sense of the title. She was diagnosed, at a very young age, with a viral infection that dictated the way she would function for the rest of her life. Because of this, life for Maggie became days that involved pushing the envelope, just a little bit more than others would. Thus the reason(s) for this book was born. In I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death, Maggie recounts 17 (well, technically 16) moments in her existence (so far), that have almost ended in her demise. Not every single memory was a level 10 on the danger scale, but nonetheless deserving of a spot in this memoir. I thought the added touch of beginning each new story with the name (and visual) of the body part affected within was fantastically creative.

Literally all I thought about while reading this book was how immediately I could get my hands on Maggie's fiction. I thought to myself, "if her non-fiction, her REAL LIFE, can tear open my heart and spill it's entire contents, I cannot even begin to fathom what her fiction will do to me". I Am I Am I Am was written with an intent to pierce, it was written with a hand that felt every emotion so viscerally that it would have been an injustice to deliver it to readers using anything BUT a beautifully lyrical prose.

I couldn't stop reading about Maggie's life, I couldn't find enough emotion in me to express the disbelief, the awe, and the eventual relief that she survived. That she's still surviving despite the universe's every attempt to make it not so. I Am I Am I Am will change the moments you spend reflecting on your life, and it will definitely change the way you start living it going forward.


Read if you liked:  
Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict by Kelly Kittell
fiction by Jodi Picoult, Kelly Braffet, or Lisa O'Donnell

Key themes: 
loss, family, near-death experiences, trauma, health




Challenges: 

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credit: goodreads.com (author page)

Maggie O'Farrell is the author of seven novels, After You'd Gone, My Lover's Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand that First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions for a Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, This Must Be The Place and I Am I Am I Am. She lives in Edinburgh.



CONTACT LINKS 
Goodreads - Facebook - Website

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A huge thank-you to Penguin Books for providing a hardcopy of this book for review

Thursday, March 15, 2018

BLOG TOUR: A Possibility of Whales by Karen Rivers



Title: A Possibility of Whales
Author: Karen Rivers
Genre: Middle Grade - Contemporary
Publisher: Thomas Allen & Son
Release Date: March 13, 2018
Acquired: Sent by publisher for review
Goodreads: ADD
Purchase: Amazon/Indigo

The story of a girl who—thanks to her friends, her famous single dad, and an unexpected encounter with a whale—learns the true meaning of family.

Twelve-year-old Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher loves possibilities: the possibility that she’ll see whales on the beach near her new home, the possibility that the trans­gender boy she just met will become her new best friend, the possibility that the paparazzi hounding her celebrity father won’t force them to move again. Most of all, Nat dreams of the possibility that her faraway mother misses her, loves her, and is just waiting for Nat to find her.

But how can Nat find her mother if she doesn’t even know who she is? She abandoned Nat as a baby, and Nat’s dad refuses to talk about it. Nat knows she shouldn’t need a mom, but she still feels like something is missing, and her questions lead her on a journey of self-discovery that will change her life forever.

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The author of this novel is Canadian. This novel is SET in Canada. I'm not sure if you get where I'm going with this but my heart was already spilling over with giddy anticipation when I found out those two facts, and I hadn't even read the synopsis yet. A Possibility of Whales promised heartwarming moments of family, friendship and large marine mammals, and it delivered on all fronts.

Natalia Rose has moved, yet again, and this time to the land of polite and excessive "sorrys," and into an Airstream home that can barely fit one, let alone Natalia and her (literally) larger than life father and actor XAN GALLAGHER. But she knows the drill, and she is more than willing to start at her new school, and scope out prospects for a new BFF. All the while, Natalia's absent mother sits in her mind like a superglued daydream. Where is this mysterious woman who birthed her and abandoned her? How does she get closer to finding out who she really is...and when she does, will she be ready for the answer?

A Possibility of Whales was the stream-of-conscious narrative of a not-so-typical 12-year-old girl, coping as best she can in a world that many may envy, but very little know the struggles of. Karen Rivers dug deep into her own mind, or researched quite well, the seemingly thousands of crises a tween might face on a daily basis. Her writing was fluid and beautiful, and went places that I wasn't expecting but found to be both hilarious and entertaining. For example, Natalia is obsessed with foreign words, words that mean whole THOUGHTS in other languages, like the Hindi word "viraag", which means "the pain you feel when you are separated from someone you love". Natalia randomly throws out these words and their meanings thorughout the book, and I thought it was a spectaculary clever addition to the plot. And even MORE spectacular was the arrival of an LGBT character. I cannot even express how important it is, and will continue to be, to have this representation in a middle grade novel, and I want to meet Karen myself to shake her hand and thank her for giving us Harry.

At times Natalia lost me, at times I wish the storyline would stay more grounded and linear, but that would have taken away from the chaotic beauty that the author so clearly wanted to impose on her readers. I finished this novel feeling a little less confined to one place. I took Natalia's hand and I let her show me the worlds she's traveled, the emotional strain on her young heart, and the conclusion to a story, her story, that began with a whale, and ended just as big.


Read if you liked:  
Better Nate than Never by Tim Federle, 
any middle grade fiction by Holly Black. 

Key themes: 
family love, friendship, loss, acceptance, coming-of-age



Challenges: 


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GUEST POST

Judy Blume is the grand dame of our industry, but how does Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret stand up? Why did I want to write another puberty book? How did it inspire me to write APOW?

ARE YOU THERE GOD came out in the same year that I was born, which was both not that long time ago and a very long time ago.  (Longer than I like to think!)  So much has changed in terms of products, for example.  But some things, of course, never change.   Kids go through puberty in much the same way:  Still (always) some of them can’t wait to get there while others are putting on the brakes and are afraid of the changes puberty brings.   In many ways, puberty brings to mind childbirth for me:  It’s something you can read about, understand from a biological perspective, and be technically prepared for, but until it happens, you can’t really know how it will feel for you.

ARE YOU THERE GOD became invaluable to so many girls because it provided some insight into those feelings, it made it okay to acknowledge that beyond the technicalities of menstruation, there were a lot of things that go hand in hand with puberty.  How do you know when you’re leaving childhood behind?   What’s it like when your body starts changing into a different shape?   Will it be scary?   Does everyone else know something that you don’t? 

I wanted to take on the task of writing a book where puberty featured, but wasn’t necessarily the main plot line, similarly to how ARE YOU THERE GOD’s major plot line had to do with Margaret’s relationship with God.  As such, APOW is largely about Nat’s relationship to her best friend Harry, her (absent) mother and her (present) father.  It’s about what she has, what she’s lost, and also about what she yearns for and who she is becoming.   

I wanted to make the book accessible for both boys and girls.   Why is it, I wonder, that as soon as menstruation is in a book, it becomes necessarily a “girl” book?  Wouldn’t it be nice if menstruation wasn’t an “ew, yuck” for boys, a secret that girls had to keep?

I made Nat’s best friend a boy, partly for that reason.   Here are a girl and a boy who are best friends, to whom something big and adventurous and scary happens, while simultaneously both are fighting battles to be seen, recognized for who they are, and to deal with the changes their bodies are undertaking.   Harry is a big part of Nat’s journey and the story anchors itself on their adventure in Mexico.  He happens also to be trans, so his journey has its own obstacles.

Is APOW a puberty book?   I don’t know that it is, necessarily. I think at its heart, APOW is a book about relationships and defining yourself. It’s about taking care of each other and about mothers and mothering, fathers and fathering, friends and being a friend.

I truly loved writing this book.   Every day I spent with it was a joy.   The characters of Nat and Harry and XAN GALLAGHER feel like people I met, people who I now know, people I was lucky to spend time with.  I hope audiences feel the same way. 

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Karen Rivers’s books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or visiting schools, she can usually be found hiking in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, two dogs, and two birds. Find her online at karenrivers.com and on Twitter: @karenrivers.




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GIVEAWAY

The winner will receive: 

1 signed hardcover copy of A Possibility of Whales by Karen Rivers Details: 

- Canada Only (full rules found in the T&C on Rafflecopter) 
- Giveaway ends Mon. Mar. 19th @ 12AM EST 
- Winner will be drawn randomly through Rafflecopter, contacted via email and will have 24 hours to claim their prize 

CLICK HERE TO ENTER: http://ow.ly/DCbJ30iPDqC

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A huge thank-you to Vicky at Thomas Allen & Son for providing a paperback copy of this book for review.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Title: Bonfire
Author: Krysten Ritter
Genre: Adult - Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Hutchinson (PRH Imprint)
Release Date: November 7, 2017
Acquired: Print copy sent by publisher
Goodreads: ADD

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?