Kat's Books

Photographer, book reviewer, mama, cat-lover in Seattle. Originally from England.

You can find my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and Edelweiss+.

School library volunteer at my son's K8 school.  Member of ALA and YALSA.

Links: linktr.ee/romans_mama

Review requests ~ scriptkat@hotmail.com

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Dark comedy about ‘adulting’ - the banality of office work and modern life are very real in this one, so watch out!

The New Me - Halle Butler

Millie is thirty years old and spends her days going to a thankless temp job at a designer furniture showroom, watching episodes of Forensic Files on her laptop, and fantasizing about what her new life would actually look like if she actually pulled herself together. She has a friend who is shallow and doesn’t really listen to her, an ex she thinks about too much, and all sorts of ideas for what her life will be like if the temp job becomes permanent. 

 

‘The New Me’ is a perfect satiric send-up of all those little insecurities that have glimmered in the minds of many of us, and its glaring honesty is on every single page, and it’s also pretty funny. While the book is not an actual ‘stream of consciousness,’ it’s written in a way that demonstrates the way that Millie’s thoughts run from one to another, the way that one anxiety leads to another; this is the absolute genius of this short book, and it reads like the mind of a person trying to figure her crap out (and generally not managing to do so). Not everyone will jive will this style of writing though.

The situations Millie finds herself in, like standing in the break room at work, or being at a party, and dissecting what’s going on, it’s all written so well, and it’s startling and frustrating and even maddening. There are also times when she’s completely oblivious to what is going on around her and she has high hopes for her future; at one point she’s completely got her head in the clouds and gets it all wrong. 

 

The banality of office work and modern life feature prominently and author Halle Butler paints a pretty depressing picture of it, and she does it so well it’s frightening. Fortunately for Millie, to balance out the uncertainty of work and the emptiness of a false friendship with Sarah, she has loving parents (the scenes with them are lovely) and they are very much her anchors.

 

In the past, back in my twenties in between freelance film gigs, I did some temp and call center work of my own; this book very much brought back some miserable memories of that time for me. No wonder Millie does so much drinking

This is such a clever little book, honest if depressing, funny although somewhat cautionary (shred the paper when you’re asked to). Definitely a dark comedy.

 

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36342706-the-new-me

Sky Without Stars is an epic futuristic reimagining of Les Miserables in space 'et c'est magnifique!'

Sky Without Stars - Joanne Rendell, Jessica Brody

Les Misérables, the historical classic novel set during the French Revolution and written by Victor Hugo in 1862, may never be seen the same way again after you read this YA sci-fi re-imagining. Sky Without Stars is the first in a series of novels in the System Divine set on the planet Laterre, where the divide between wealthy and poor is massive, and signs of revolution are everywhere.

 

There is so much to say about this book that it’s hard to know where to start in describing it, especially without revealing too much. While the size of it is daunting, its pace is even and kept me enthralled throughout; I didn’t want to put it down at all over an entire weekend. You also don’t have to know the story of Les Misérables (and many readers will likely only know the story from the several films of the same name) so I'll be a heathen and say it doesn’t matter if you haven't read the original book this is based on.

 

This glorious epic novel follows the lives of Chatine, Alouette, and Marcellus, and we gradually find out how a thief, a guardian, and a general can have such desperately different lives but actually have a lot in common.

Within the Frets of the planet Laterre, Chatine survives as a thief, her parents run a gang, and she hides her identity by posing as a boy. Beneath the city in The Refuge, Alouette lives within the Sisterhood, protecting the only surviving library of the Old World and unbeknownst to her, has been living her life behind a web of lies. Meanwhile, Marcellus, grandson of General Bonnefaçon, struggles with the responsibilities of living up to the standards of his grandfather and doubts the government he is supposed to serve and stand by. The paths of these three characters intersect in a fascinating world that melds scenes from Hugo's epic novel with a space-age future where humans have inhabited multiple planets many centuries from now. I found all three of them to be multi-faceted and to constantly be in tune with what was going on around them, and even when they were struggling or seemingly at their worst, I found myself pulling for them.

 

I was easily drawn in with the excellent world-building, which has shades of rebellion that made me think of Star Wars, but the new planet that everyone has inhabited still feels very French, with Français used throughout the book, so it keeps the heart of Les Misérables close. The science fiction comes across as plausible and frighteningly realistic (the best kind to read, in my opinion!). I lapped up all the details in this world that was created for these characters: Everyone has electronic ‘Skins’ implanted in their arms, and audiochips in their ears, and the squalor that everyone lives in is hard to digest; it made me think of Bladerunner, that fusion of the old and new. The very fact that the written word has become extinct, that books have become extinct (and protected by the Sisterhood) is heartbreaking. Being able to actually read has also become a rare skill.

The planet is illuminated by three fake Sols and the moon has become a prison colony, even the use of fire has been banished. It seems there is some forest on the outskirts of the city and on the periphery of LeDome; all of these environments and areas are sketched out in a map in the front of the book. There are also other planets described in the System Divine and I really hope they are visited in subsequent novels in the series.

 

Authors Brody and Rendell have created an entire imagined parallel universe that I could’ve kept on reading about for hours longer, no matter how sobering and dark.

There is action, adventure, science-fiction, romance, the feeling of reading a history, as well as political intrigue, an underground revolutionary uprising called the Vanguarde. Based on one of the greatest novels of all time, ‘Sky Without Stars’ depicts a future where the chasm between classes has grown exponentially, but the layers in between make this novel irresistible.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34513785-sky-without-stars

‘Scary Stories for Young Foxes’ deserves to be an instant children’s animal book classic; a middle-grade novel draws inspiration from Poe and Lovecraft, and has a lot of heart

Scary Stories for Young Foxes  - Christian McKay Heidicker, Junyi Wu

Life as a young fox is scary, with so much to learn about the dangers out there in the woods. Little foxes learn about these dangers from their mama, a masterful storyteller, or the hard way, by facing the world.

This beautifully-written and illustrated middle-grade book invites the reader to step inside the minds of little foxes, and embark on an adventure, full of the real-life challenges that they often face:

Nasty humans, vicious woodland creatures like the Golgathursh and badgers, and dangerous territorial foxes. And especially the harsh Winter.

This is a tale within a tale, and just like scary stories told around a campfire, it has elements of horror and delight. Not only is it precautionary for fox kits, like foxes Mia and Uly, readers will recognize the themes of friendship, family, bravery, and the drive to push ahead when life is difficult.

 

Author Christian McKay Heidicker has a way with words too, and through his writing he has conveyed a very vivid picture of woodland life, describing objects as a fox would see them, and creating new words for things that wouldn’t make sense to them. He also doesn’t shy away from the brutality of nature, from the cycle of life and death, and the struggle for survival against the most difficult of odds. The young foxes in his story face hunters, painful separation from family members, and gruesome injuries and death. Heidicker draws inspiration from classic authors Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft, and weaves in a very well-known children’s book author into this very book; young readers who love a scary story will enjoy this, but it’s not for those who are easily upset by animals getting hurt or struggle with the harshness of nature.

 

The most wonderful part in my reading this (aside from enjoying the adventure and the amazing artwork by Junyi Wu) was how it reminded me of discovering books about animals in my childhood, such as ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ ‘The Wind in The Willows,’ and ‘Watership Down.’ I enjoyed these with my dad, and they fueled my love and compassion for animals. I expect many readers who will enjoy this book will be or are animal-lovers too, as Heidicker has embodied the curious and mischievous nature of foxes so well in this book, and it’s really hard not to love them because of it. This deserves to be a children’s animal classic!

 

**Thank so much to the editor, Christian Trimmer of Henry Holt Books, for my early copy and the chance to read and review this book.

 

Release date: 8.20.19

 

 

 

Prank Craigslist ads, and this subsequent book of responding emails, reveal there are a lot of people out there willing to do just about anything

Race Me in a Lobster Suit - Kelly Mahon

This is a crazy book, just no other way to put it.
If you saw ‘Pranked’ which was on TV or ‘Crank Yankers’ which was a puppet TV show based on prank-calling, you will get the idea of this, which is based on the author posting prank ads on Craigslist. The resulting email ‘conversations’ from those ads are contained within this book, and if you hate the idea of unsuspecting people being strung along on fall pretenses, this isn’t for you.
If you can put all seriousness aside and maybe have a few minutes at a time to read it (in the guest room? the loo?), you will probably read this with eyes widened and emit a chuckle or two.

If you look at this too seriously you will see that lots of people wasted their time engaging in the banter necessary for this book:
People actually entertaining the idea of dressing up snakes for a fashion show. Seriously considering crocheting someone into a cocoon for the winter. Pretending to be someone’s made-up partner to be taken along to a work party. Sitting for a tea party dressed like a doll.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the fact that these people were strung along for the sake of author Kelly Mahon’s crazy idea for a book. BUT just like you can’t look away from a car crash on the highway, it’s hard not to read this and marvel WHY people are even considering doing these things. Some of them are so outlandish and ridiculous that I can’t even believe they would do them for money, let alone free. But it takes all sorts to make this world interesting, right?

I don’t think Mahon put this together with any malicious intent, but a laugh at others’ expense is hard to absorb. That said, if you answer an ad for racing in a lobster suit, you sound like you’re up for anything (or at least maybe a laugh)

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38116996-the-past-and-other-things-that-should-stay-buried

An instant favorite for me; a chance to mend a friendship AFTER a death in this 'Six Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies' tale

The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried - Shaun David Hutchinson
 

Well, damn...another Shaun David Hutchinson book that’s going on my favorites list. There’s something about his writing that makes me laugh, brings tears to my eyes, and makes me think about both the dark and lighter sides of life. He writes about relationships between people in a way that no one else can.

And animating the Dead for this one made me read through it hoping like crazy that everyone could have the same chance that these amazing two characters, Dino and July, have. The chance to say our goodbyes properly and appreciate the people we love while they’re still around.

 

 

Check out my other favorite of Shaun David Hutchinson's, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38116996-the-past-and-other-things-that-should-stay-buried

Beautiful graphic novel captures the drama of middle school and explores the trials of bullying, friendship, and first crushes through music

Operatic - Kyo Maclear, Byron Eggenschwiler

‘Somewhere in the universe, there is the perfect tune for you.’

 

This stunningly beautiful graphic novel is a treasure to hold in your hands. It’s a story with so many subtle layers, everything from bullying, to individuality, first crushes, and music history, all reflected within finely illustrated pages.

Charlie is nearing the end of middle school and while discovering the ‘soundtrack’ for her life for a school music assignment, she discovers opera and new friendships. While exploring the way we all identify differently with the music we hear, author Maclear tells Charlie’s tale of discovering the opera singer and diva Maria Callas, and those of her new friends Emile and Luka, boys who are alienated for liking bugs (weird) and singing (girly). Charlie recognizes how her classmates feel, their struggle to fit in and find their place along the cliques at school. The push of their class assignment encourages her to reach out to others as well as reach within and let her true self out.

 

The illustrations in this hardbound graphic novel (complete with a purple cloth spine and ribbon) tell so much of the story; they should be pored over and digested slowly. While the themes held within aren’t overt and initially obvious, ‘Operatic’ presents itself as a coming-of-age story that should be discussed and pondered to be absorbed, and it’s truly special.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40646241-operatic

Unique novel about the trappings of fame and the 70’s music scene will captivate you; Daisy Jones & The Six is like nothing you’ve ever read before

Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

The true story behind the meteoric rise of the infamous 70’s band Daisy Jones & The Six is chronicled in this captivating book. As quickly as they shot to fame they fell back down to earth; how this happened is revealed by the band members’ tell-all, with details never heard before. The inner workings of a popular band such as Daisy Jones and The Six often come as an eye-opener once you see past the glitz and the glam and begin to see the trappings of fame. This is their story.

 

At least this is all what we think we see when we first take a glimpse at this new book from Taylor Jenkins Reid. The fact that this interview-based novel about a fictitious band comes from the genius of Reid, and is not based in reality, is one of its greatest appeals. Telling the story of all the characters by way of their own conversation with the interviewer (who we only find the identify of at the end) is complex and unique; no additional descriptions of what is happening are really given, so the storytelling is driven by each individual’s perception of their experience.

 

Daisy is the outsider to the group and the story really ramps up when she joins The Six. The numerous relationships between the members of the band are central to the book, as are their many problems. We learn about struggles with addiction, fidelity, loyalty and the challenge of maintaining any semblance of normalcy once they reach the realm of stardom. All of the characters are expertly defined by Reid, and although it takes a little while to keep all the individuals’ names straight, their experiences all become clear the further you go into the book. None of them are entirely redeemable and it’s hard to feel sympathetic to any of them once they get caught up in it all, but I don’t think that’s the goal of the novel.

 

There are some topics contained within that may be hard for some readers to read about: drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, infidelity, parental neglect, abortion, and promiscuity. Nothing is glamorous or trivialized about with any of these issues when you see them in the way they’re presented in this story; there isn’t any ‘fluff’ to make excuses for the characters since it’s all presented in the rawest of forms. Reid writes about these issues in a way that vividly conjures up the music scene of the 70’s and convinces the reader that she was actually there herself witnessing it all. The anecdotes come across as though they’re based on documented events but translate into a realistic presentation of a band and their story being told to an interviewer. It’s just all presented as fact and you can make of it what you will.

 

Although it’s a little hard to get used to a story being told through individuals being interviewed, this is an amazing book, just so unique and memorable. Any early considerations that it may not be the story for you because of the way it’s told should be dumped at the wayside because the payoff for reading it all is immeasurable. This is the sort of book that sticks with you and transports you to another time and place.

 

Complete with all the lyrics to the songs contained in the story, the experience is further added to with a playlist on Spotify, including tracks from Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt. It’s easy to imagine this being adapted for film, and if you love music, song-writing, or are even fascinated with the seventies and eras past, this book will be a fast favorite.

A decade after a friend’s suicide, memories and the past are dissected to get to the truth behind ‘The Lost Night’

The Lost Night - Andrea Bartz

When Lindsay lost her best friend Edie to suicide in 2009, she was amidst a haze of partying, hanging out in a hipster community in Brooklyn, living it up with drugs, alcohol, and forgotten nights. A decade later brings a reunion with an old friend from that whiskey-and-Molly-soaked era, Sarah, and memories and questions about their friend’s death surface.

Lindsay begins a fully-fledged investigation into her own past as well as of many friends who shared those wild days and wilder nights. Delving into the past by muddling through barriers to obsolete technology, getting access to police case files, and often awkwardly questioning people she’d soon forget, Lindsay becomes completely obsessed with Edie’s death and the night she can’t remember. Her memories play tricks on her and some have vanished; a testament to how many years were wasted in what seemed like the ‘best of times’ when they were happening. Her research become all-absorbing, intense and obsessive.

 

This novel explores more than just a death that left countless questions behind and friends and family grieving. It explores the complexities of memory, the psyche, the fragile frivolous relationships that are borne out of a life fueled by chemicals. The excellent writing by Andrea Bartz pulls you along Lindsay’s painful trail through the past, unraveling a mystery that proves to be as compulsive and gripping as it is disturbing and twisted. Bartz writes every word with absolute intent, creating a different atmosphere and tonality with each situation that arises and with other key players’ perspectives.

 

It even brought up emotions in me that were often difficult to juggle while reading, as I recalled questions I still have surrounding a sudden death of someone close to me, as well as the discomfort of my own fair share of stupid drunken nights in my twenties.

It highlights the recklessness and stupidity of the kinds of choices made when you’re young and you feel like you have the whole world at your feet. And this blast from the past, the window into New York at that time, even though it’s just a microcosm, comes across as both vivid and surreal at the same time.

 

This is the perfect read for anyone who loves a good psychological thriller or mystery that pokes around in the recesses of the mind, while questioning the past. The past behaviors and self-absorbed nature of the characters may be jarring to some people, but I found it to be eye-opening and thus made for riveting reading. Getting to the truth and having Lindsay get some closure to her friend’s death had me hooked entirely.

One of my fastest reads in weeks, this was an all-absorbing and exciting read; thank you to Crown Publishing for sending me this advance reader’s copy.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35955191-the-lost-night

YA graphic novel about the teenage Catwoman; falls short of expectations, lacks depth, and is full of foul language

Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale - Lauren Myracle, Isaac Goodhart

Life pretty much sucks for Selina Kyle, at least for as long as she stays living at home with her mom and the endless stream of boyfriends she brings home. None have been as bad as the latest guy, Dernell, who’s cruel and will even lock Selina up in a closet when he wants to teach her a lesson. When something happens to Selina’s new cat, she can’t take it anymore; life on the streets will surely be better than staying where she feels so unhappy.

Selina joins a small ‘pack’ of street kids, learns parkour, gets close to an old friend and takes on the new name and persona ‘Catgirl.’ Usually more of a loner, she begrudgingly learns she has to trust others if she is going to survive. And she also plans to carry out some not-so-small heists in gritty, crime-addled Gotham City.

 

This YA graphic novel is fresh from the DC Ink line and is written by author Lauren Myracle, who is no stranger to teen and tween lit, writing the bestsellers ttyl, ttfn, l8r, and g8r. This also means some pretty high expectations, because of Myracle’s familiarity with her audience and her success.

‘Under The Moon’ also happens to be about probably one of the coolest female comic book icons, Catwoman, although here we really have a version of her unlike any that has been seen before. Since this Selina is only fourteen years old, she really is a girl, and so calling it ‘A Catwoman Tale’ is definitely a bit of a stretch. And so begins the problems, because if anyone has read or seen any incarnation of this character before, it’s really hard to remove that image or knowledge (only just recently Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas came out as #3 in the DC Icons series).

 

In previous comics and the novel I just mentioned, we see an older Selina, who takes care of her younger sister and is trained under Carmine Falcone, as well as a past that included her mother dying, being a prostitute, as well as training and living in Europe.

 

‘Under the Moon’ gives us a Selina with a wealth of issues: she’s a runaway, she stops going to school as a result (making her a high-school dropout), and resorts to cutting to relieve her emotional pain. While I understand the notion of presenting a teen character who has the inclination to run from her home situation (abuse in the home is a pretty valid reason), or has a problem with self-harming (I will warn readers now about this, because it’s a big trigger), since these may be relatable issues for some readers, I also take issue with that being done in a responsible manner. I feel like these are risky, BIG topics to so lightly insert into a slim 96-page graphic novel, with very little insight. It’s irresponsible to add in a topic like self-harming so casually.

 

Since this is aimed at teens who are 13 to 17, I also feel like the flagrant use of foul language was wholly unnecessary. Unlike another teen DC graphic novel coming out soon after this, Kami Garcia’s ‘Teen Titans: Raven,’ that doesn’t have expletives and talk about things like penis size thrown in, this probably will be the reason for reconsideration for libraries (especially school libraries) carrying this book. I am not naïve about the use of swearing in YA lit, but it seems excessive in ‘Under The Moon’ and distracted me from the story, being used in a way that seemed like it was used to pander to  young readers (who may think it’s ‘cool’ to talk like this).

 

I also got a very mixed notion as to who Selina is because of the swings in her characterization. Her portrayal is quite inconsistent, at once dismissive of the few friends she has, then she acts the opposite way soon afterward (although her compassion towards Rosie in the latter part of the novel is heart-warming). The self-harming comes out of nowhere. She is sometimes self-assured and then not remotely confident. And her connection to Bruce Wayne, which apparently starts in preschool, feels more confusing than it ever is in most literary and cinematic portrayals of Catwoman so far. Him being at public school is yet another diversion from his own origin story.

Something else that irritated me, is Selina’s inconsistent connection to CATS. I wasn’t convinced entirely by the way she came to call herself ‘Catgirl’ despite the event that preceded this juncture.

 

I wanted so much to love this graphic novel: the sentiments of her being a stray and her loneliness are powerful, with these being reasons for her ‘cat-burglar’ behavior, but I found too many problems that I couldn’t look past. Fleshed out and with paying more attention to the deeper issues in this story I would maybe go along with Selina’s backstory, but I can't recommend this, as it is right now (*as always, edits may be made before publication), to the targeted reader group.

 

**Points/extra star for cool artwork.

 

 

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38452822-under-the-moon?ac=1&from_search=true

The discovery of an old family photo sparks a search for the truth and a riveting mystery; an image can tell a thousand stories

The Au Pair  - Emma Wood Rous

This is a riveting read. From the moment an old family photo is discovered, a whole mystery ensues, a veritable Pandora’s Box is opened. 

 

How often do you look at an old photo and wonder the circumstances behind it? As a photographer (and having worked on movies), I know full well how images can be constructed and crafted, and that there’s usually a story to tell behind the final image. When a photo can tell the story behind someone’s birth, someone’s real parents, and ultimately, the truth about a whole family, the stakes are high. 

What is LEFT OUT of a photo is just as important as what is left in.

 

I was gripped by this book all the way through, the twists and questions posed don’t stop coming, and while it unfolds pretty slowly (this book is told from dual perspectives, one in the past, one present), I found it to be wholly absorbing. 

It also shows the gravity of holding family secrets; once they’re discovered, they can shatter someone’s entire sense of self. If you enjoy a good family-centered mystery, this is it.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37561550-the-au-pair

Compulsive read about Trump and his journey to the White House, with copious research and a no-nonsense approach: a must-read

Unpresidented - Martha Brockenbrough

This biography of Donald Trump is as captivating as it is disturbing, and not surprisingly because sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Many readers picking up this book will already have heard or read the countless stories and news items about the current President, but to see Trump’s story on paper, told in linear form, and with 54 pages of references and endnotes, it’s hard to deny just how bizarre and mind-boggling it all is. 

 

From the Trump family’s beginnings in America, all the way up to the middle of 2018, Martha Brockenbrough has painstakingly pieced together a biography that is hard to put down. Written with a young adult audience in mind, the tone and language is one that is pragmatic and clear for any reader, with care taken to keep out any opinion on the matters at hand (which I expect was difficult). 

The more recent events following Trump’s inauguration are pretty familiar to me, but I found the section dealing with his numerous bankruptcies and his past financial deals to be most fascinating (and pretty horrifying). The summary of all the ‘players’ in Trump’s life and administration with Russian connections is nicely laid out, as well as a complete family tree, and bold-typed quotes and tweets to capture your attention (like everything he does). It’s easy to forget how very many shocking things Trump has said and done in the last few years of him constantly in the spotlight, but when they are right there on the page, the moments of frightful truth come flooding back. The public has been bombarded with all of this for so long now that it’s hard to keep track of it all, but Brockenbrough has done brilliantly in her documentation and presentation. 

 

I can’t help but wish more people had read such research before they voted, because surely (aside from his frighteningly loyal fan base) his ‘huge’ win in 2016 wouldn’t have been as likely. I desperately hope author Martha Brockenbrough continues this saga in a second book, because the next piece involving the Mueller investigation looks like it’s about to get very interesting.

A must for any school or home library that needs a concise (and compulsive) read about Donald Trump and his journey to the White House, spray tan and all. 

 

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863338-unpresidented

BLOG TOUR REVIEW and GIVEAWAY: 'LADY SMOKE' by Laura Sebastian

Lady Smoke - Laura Sebastian-Coleman

 **UPDATED WITH REVIEW 2/15/19:

 

 

This much-anticipated follow-up to ASH PRINCESS will be releasing on February 5th, 2019!

I absolutely loved Ash Princess so LADY SMOKE immediately went on my TBR as soon as I finished, and then I made sure to receommend it to everyone I could. 

 

If you’re a fan of YA fantasy in the vein of EVERLESS, REIGN OF THE FALLEN, or GRACE & FURY, I would hazard to say you will enjoy Laura Sebastian’s books.

 

**So, I am still waiting for my ARC from the publisher (there was a change of marketing personnel at the time of submitting addresses), SO I am going to put the blurbs below, as well as the GIVEAWAY INFO. 

 

Also, make sure to check out my previous review for ASH PRINCESS (see about the book below) and PREORDER LADY SMOKE NOW! 

 

Thank you to Rock Star Book Tours for having me on the tour!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, LAURA SEBASTIAN

 

 

Laura Sebastian was born and raised in South Florida (the Redlands and Key Largo) and has always loved telling stories–many apologies to her little brother who often got in trouble because of them. No copies of her first book, a Cinderella retelling about angels circa 2nd grade, remain. Thankfully.

 

After getting her BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design, she moved to New York City thinking that she would stay for a couple of years before going somewhere better suited for a small-town, sun-loving girl. Five years later, she’s still here and madly in love with it.

 

When Laura isn’t writing, she’s probably reading, baking cookies or cupcakes, buying more clothes than her overstuffed closet can fit, or forcing her lazy dog Neville to take a walk.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

 

LADY SMOKE (Ash Princess Trilogy #2) 

**you can read about Ash Princess below, plus the link to my previous review)

 

Pub. Date: February 5, 2019

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 512

Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, Audible, B&N, iBooks, TBD

 

The sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that was "made for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Sabaa Tahir" ( Bustle ), Lady Smoke is an epic new fantasy about a throne cruelly stolen and a girl who must fight to take it back for her people.

The Kaiser murdered Theodosia's mother, the Fire Queen, when Theo was only six. He took Theo's country and kept her prisoner, crowning her Ash Princess--a pet to toy with and humiliate for ten long years. That era has ended. The Kaiser thought his prisoner weak and defenseless. He didn't realize that a sharp mind is the deadliest weapon.

Theo no longer wears a crown of ashes. She has taken back her rightful title, and a hostage--Prinz Soren. But her people remain enslaved under the Kaiser's rule, and now she is thousands of miles away from them and her throne.

To get them back, she will need an army. Only, securing an army means she must trust her aunt, the dreaded pirate Dragonsbane. And according to Dragonsbane, an army can only be produced if Theo takes a husband. Something an Astrean Queen has never done.

Theo knows that freedom comes at a price, but she is determined to find a way to save her country without losing herself.

 

 

MY REVIEW OF LADY SMOKE

 *UPDATED!

 

Theodosia has now finally fled Kalovaxia and captivity under the vicious, cruel Kaiser. With the aid of her aunt, the notorious dreaded pirate Dragonsbane, she sails on the Smoke with her crew of friends Artemesia, Blaise and Heron, to Sta’Crivera where she is expected to find a husband and marry. This is the task of the new Queen of Astrea if she expects to gain an army that will go back with her to seek revenge on the Kaiser. Theo also has to bear the fact that they are holding Prinz Søren as prisoner (basically a bargaining chip); since he is the son of the Kaiser, and the person who dangerously holds her heart, she has to find ways to ingratiate him to those who see him as the enemy.

In Sta’Crivera they are given the royal treatment by their host King Etristo as she is paraded in front of suitors from lands near and far; if she marries a husband who will secure her the troops she needs, she will have to give access to the mines that hold the magical gems. But as much as Theo loves Astrea, she is torn between what is right for her people, and by what is true in her heart: staying independent and free after being held captive for so long and by not being treated like an object herself.

 

It has been (a bit over) a whole long year since I closed up Ash Princess and easily declared it one of my favorite YA fantasy reads. Laura Sebastian swept me away with the magic and darkness of her first book and so I was nervous and excited to read the follow up.

 

This has everything one could ask for in the perfect YA fantasy: excellent world-building, which keeps right on building seamlessly from the first book, also equal elements of all the right things, adventure, romance, complex relationships, friendships, treachery, and a good amount of fighting and some murder.

*Trigger warning: Theo was subjected to years of abuse at the hands of the Kaiser, and along with discussion and flashbacks for that, there is a good deal of violence involving descriptions of battles and deaths.

 

The underlying themes that again come through with Sebastian’s writing are those of obligation and duty, vs. fighting for your beliefs and the good of those around you. The bonds of the characters in Lady Smoke also speak to the importance of loyalty and trust. Character development is excellent, and I have come away from the second book with an even stronger attachment to Theo and the others, and a more vivid sense of the world that they live in.

Theo resists norms and also questions the Sta’Criveran’s emphasis on outward beauty; she also shows a lot of compassion to the refugees, and is frustrated by the barriers of the deeply patriarchal society she lives in. All of these elements make her and the plot highly relatable. There are also some great plot twists as the novel moves into high gear, and Theo really has to push past her grief and sadness about the past, reach a place of acceptance, and then find a lot of courage to reach her goals.

 

Smoke didn’t disappoint me one word, this book being even chunkier than the last one. Yet it still wasn’t long enough at 512 pages, as I never wanted to this to end. Thoroughly captivating; I can not wait for Book #3!

 

 

And so, you must enter this awesome GIVEAWAY!

 

THREE FINISHED COPIES of LADY SMOKE are up for grabs (US only), and you can enter for that HERE!!

I'm right at the end of the blog tour this time so you will have missed all the other posts but you can catch up with everything at Rock Star Book Tours!

 

 

 

 ABOUT ASH PRINCESS

 

If you haven't read the first book, right about now is when you should go and read it, as you have time before the release of Lady Smoke! Quick! (before 2.5.19)

 

My previous post with review for ASH PRINCESS is RIGHT HERE, so be sure to check that out!

 

 

ASH PRINCESS (Ash Princess Trilogy #1)

Author: Laura Sebastian

Pub. Date: April 24, 2018

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 432

Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, Audible, B&N, iBooks, TBD

 

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia's family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess--a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

 

For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She's endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.

 

Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn't always won on the battlefield.

 

For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.

 

 

**I truly hope you delve into this spell-binding trilogy; I can't wait for the next book already!

 

If you haven't followed me yet, the easiest way to do it is to click on the BLOGLOVIN' symbol to the left or come follow me on Twitter or Goodreads!

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40702154-lady-smoke?from_search=true

A heart-wrenching read about one girl’s experience inside an institution as mental illness takes over; Sheinmel brings attention to the stigma around the issue in this important book

A Danger to Herself and Others - Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Hannah Gold has been ‘wrongly institutionalized’, for something that was obviously an accident; her best friend Agnes took a horrific fall (pushed?), ending up in the ICU, her life forever changed. But Hannah’s life is forever changed too, she has been sent away to languish in an institution, missing valuable time before school starts, being evaluated at a judge’s order by a doctor, and with nothing but time to figure out how to get herself out of there.

Hannah has been deemed ‘a danger to herself and others’.

 

The novel starts with Hannah just arriving at ‘the institute’ and the book follows her entire experience there, told in first-person and very much as though it’s comes from deep within Hannah’s complex, non-stop brain. All her anxieties and questions spill out constantly, her thinking is erratic, and she darts back and forth from the present and past as she tries to make sense of what is happening. She is highly intelligent so she knows that if she make friends and gets certain people on her side, maybe she can gain privileges and shorten her stay. Her roommate Lucy understands her, and it seems Dr. Lightfoot is going along with her plan.

This starts out feeling like a thriller, but we gradually are caught up in Hannah’s convoluted thought-processes, and it’s a novel about what it looks like when a young girl’s mental illness takes over and how her unraveling takes hold, even when she thinks she is in control. 

 

This book is one of the most artfully brilliant books written with regards to what mental illness can look like, and I really felt gripped by every page because of it. Author Alyssa Sheinmel has done more than write a YA novel, she has written an experience on paper. People fear mental illness, and right they should. It’s scary. 

I read this book and at times I felt like I was losing grasp of things just like Hannah was. And I have also been in that place myself before. Not to the same extent but I’ve been through my own personal trials that have led me to therapy, to panic attacks, to struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm and twice (many years ago now) having a stay at the hospital (at my choice) after traumatic events. It’s frightening to feel like your mind is not your own, and to feel like you need help. In Hannah’s case, she doesn’t even realize it. And then she becomes A Danger to Herself and Others.

 

Mental illness has SUCH a stigma to it and it needs to change so that people will reach out to get HELP, offer help, and make help more available. People need to be able to talk about it and not turn away. Sufferers shouldn’t be getting more ill or even dying because they can’t or won’t get help. HELP shouldn’t be a dirty word. Mental health treatment is also woefully expensive in this country and often not covered by insurance.

Sheinmel is right to not even put a specific name on the illness that Hannah suffers from because at the end of the day, does it really matter? If she had done that with this story, her character, with all her flaws as well as her wonderful attributes, would have been reduced to her diagnosis. Which is what we tend to do once we know what people are suffering from. We tend to forget that they are people (like Hannah), not statistics or names of illnesses. 

 

This is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching read, and it will surprise you as much as it will keep you guessing. It left me with tears in my eyes and I hope that this will encourage more understanding and compassion for those affected by mental illness. 

 

*I gratefully received this ARC as part of Miss Print’s ARC Adoption Program. Thank you!

 

 A Danger to Herself and Others will be published on 2.5.19 by Sourcebooks.

 

 

 

**If you or a loved one needs help for mental illness, or you just want more information about mental health, contact NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

 

 

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39986808-a-danger-to-herself-and-others

The thrilling sequel to ‘Reign of The Fallen’ takes us back to a very different Karthia; this time foreign invaders, political unrest, and Odessa’s relationship take center-stage

Song of The Dead - Sarah Glenn Marsh

This is the thrilling sequel to ‘REIGN OF THE FALLEN’, a novel that introduces us to Odessa, a necromancer in Karthia, where she has the special magical ability of raising the Dead. She is able to cross into the spirit world called the Deadlands, and she also is a fierce fighter; when monsters called Shades start kidnapping Dead nobility, Princess Valoria has Odessa and her fellow necromancers investigate (including Evander, someone who she loves deeply).

Odessa and her friends do all they can but  it’s not enough to save someone she loves; a Shade rips apart and kills Evander, and Odessa turns to ‘potions’ to cope with her loss.

 

Without revealing ALL details of the book (because you need to be reading THAT NOW before you read ‘Song of The Dead’!), by the end of the novel we have Odessa leaving Karthia aboard The Paradise to pursue Evander’s dream of seeing unknown. So where will the sequel lead us?

 

SONG OF THE DEAD

 

With Karthia behind them, Odessa and Meredy are aboard Kasmira’s ship The Paradise, ready to discover new lands and bring word back to Queen Valoria about the new world. They discover a friendly land, Sarral, where people keep dragons, and the Dead only come out at night, and before they get a chance to get settled, news of unrest back in Karthia has them back on their ship sailing for home, their long trip cut short.

Instead of the threats of the past, open borders  means the threat of foreign invaders, on top of political unrest, and Valoria is hoping that one of her mages can create a new weapon good enough to fight it all now that the Dead can’t help them win this battle.

 

While ‘Reign of the Fallen’ was filled with monstrous death and loss on account of the bloodthirsty Shades, giving the book a very dark tone, ‘Song of the Dead’ begins with a feeling of hope despite all that the Karthians have gone through. 

The beginning ocean voyage initially made me feel as though Odessa and the crew were going to be gone long from the difficulties of their homeland, and I was worried that things had got too easy for them (!), but the adventure of this book, while quite a departure from ROTF, quickly takes off. The book actually goes through several different ‘phases’, with the ocean voyage, the time in Sarral, the return back to Karthia, and because of the vivid world-building, you will be easily carried through them, experiencing all the different chapters and introducing new characters along the way.  

 

There is a lot of internal drama due to the political unrest in this book (the Karthians start to rise up against the changes that Valoria wants to make) as well as thanks to the new emotional ups and downs experienced by Odessa. The outside foreign threat and new civil crisis are a great juxtaposition, and I actually it think could be seen as a bit of a gamble when the first book was almost entirely  about the Dead and then they barely appear in the plot of the second. I personally think the gamble works.

 

But the biggest twist of all comes late in the novel, and while Odessa is not having to fight Shades or something as gruesome, she finds herself fighting something harder and puts her life on the line to save everyone. I think this twist is especially clever, particularly with how it ties in with the first novel and how Odessa’s magic works. 

 

At the heart of this exciting novel is the relationship between Odessa and Meredy, despite both of them reeling from the loss of Evander. Author Marsh, who champions LGBT romance, devotes plenty of page time to the complicated ‘keep us guessing’ relationship between the two girls. Marsh also includes a number of other characters with relationships on the LGBT spectrum, and the representation feels positive and realistic and actually as though it’s quote/unquote ‘normal’ (whatever that is!). This is a breath of fresh air, because it just feels like it ‘fits’ and there isn’t a lot of posturing or trying too hard. Marsh just gets it.

 

I am fortunate, nay, blessed, to be immortalized in this book as Baroness Katerina (along with my cat), and then to be acknowledged at the end. I will be forever grateful to Sarah for this. I am also so very sad that my trip to the magical Karthia and the Deadlands is now over, but I enjoyed it enormously. I can’t wait for another bookish adventure at the hands of Sarah Glenn Marsh, and I hope many YA fantasy readers enjoy these two books as much as I have.

 

‘Song of The Dead’ is available from Penguin Teen on January 22nd, 2019!

You can buy it right HERE!

 

*Warning: you will want a pink dragon after reading this book.

 

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40125269-song-of-the-dead

Book-lovers will delight in and relish this little book about their reading obsession; the perfect bookworm gift

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life - Anne Bogel

This little book is a love letter to the joys of reading, and EVERY bookworm should have this one on their shelves.

I picked this book to fulfill my ‘reminds you of your happy place’ book choice for my #LitsyBooked2019 Challenge, and I absolutely couldn’t come up with a more apt choice for something that conjures up ‘happy place’ right now than books.

If you’re an avid reader and you are aghast at the idea of whittling down your collection of books to 30 books, or as Anne Bogel puts it, have spent time as a kid under the covers reading a book with a flashlight when you should’ve been asleep, then this is the book for you.

The book is short and sweet but packs in a lot, and you will see yourself in these pages even if you don’t know all the book titles she mentions. You will find yourself nodding and laughing and agreeing about all the things that only ‘book people’ will understand and recognize in their reading lives:

How 'normal' it is to have 1,593 books in your Goodreads Want-to-Read list, but will read a book by your favorite author as soon as it comes out. How normal it is that you've read every single book by Sarah J. Maas and have every edition of all her books, even the foreign read all the Outlander Series but have never read Jane Eyre.

How you've been that reader of all The Babysitter's Club Books when you were a tween, then you went through a phase of nothing but vampire books, then you struggled to find yourself with self-help books in your twenties, and now you read nothing but the latest bestsellers from a celebrity bookclub; you've just changed as a reader as you've got older.

Bogel mentions all these 'delights and dilemmas of the reading life' in her book and it felt like I'd found a new bookish friend, and I suspect that just about everyone picking this book up and seeing themselves in it, will feel like their circle of bookish friends just grew infinitely bigger.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38502471-i-d-rather-be-reading

Brilliant autobiographical graphic novel of how to move to LA and break into the animation industry; inspiring, honest and fun

I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation - Natalie Nourigat

This is an autobiographical how-to graphic novel of how Natalie ‘Tally’ Nourigat made her move to LA from Portland to work in animation as a storyboard artist.

We find out from her clever storyboards, and her neatly printed text (both in superb detail), how she started out working as a comic book artist back in Portland with dreams of working down in Los Angeles, CA, and how she managed to make that daunting move and get her foot in the door.

Not only does she tell her own tale of ‘how she did it’, she reveals the pros and cons of her living in ‘La-La Land’, she helps aspiring artists and animators figure out if it’s really for them by really delving into the difficulties of the job search and realities of the animation and entertainment industry, and gives pro tips for making it from some others working in the community. 

 

I do have to say I had a particular interest in how Natalie approached this topic (a move to LA for work in the entertainment industry), as I wrestled with this decision myself back in the late 90’s when I worked in film production.

I would’ve given my left arm (not my right one, because then I would’ve been useless doing my actual on-set job as script supervisor) for an adorable, as well as fascinating and informative graphic novel like this. At the time, I felt absolutely lost when it came to doing something like this, and making a move from Seattle to LA (and mine would have been for all freelance work, not for a regular job at a studio, although my aim was to join a union) was beyond daunting. I did make quite a few trips down to the LA-area to stay with friends, as Natalie suggests, and even took some short freelance film gigs, but social media back then was not what it is today, I didn’t drive, and I think ultimately I felt like a move was too hard back then. I also continued to have a lot of film work up here in Seattle. Where were you when I needed you, Tally?

 

What Natalie has done with this graphic novel though, has taken a lot of that fear (something I recognize) and made the process seem so much less daunting and anxiety-inducing than it would otherwise be. She is honest but upbeat, positive but realistic. LA isn’t for everyone, even if it’s the place of your dreams, and even if you’re talented.

But this will give you a brilliant outline to follow should you give it a go (it would work quite well for anyone searching for an entertainment studio job or making a move to LA for certain steady film/TV jobs).

 

BOOM! Box Studios might be on to something here. Maybe this can be a ‘thing’: I can envision a whole series of these, and if these graphic novels were suggested by career guidance counselors for young adults, can you imagine the enthusiasm?! My goodness!

Ultimately, this kept me engaged all the way through, and I’m definitely not trying to find a job in feature animation! But this is superb.

 

 

*One thing that kept coming up that I couldn’t stress more and I’m so glad was included: a lot of success and getting work is due to luck and timing. So so true.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2669947384