by Jill Alexander Essbaum

5/5 stars

It’s the newness of the pain that brings the screaming.

Thank you to netalley and Random House for an advanced copy of Hausfrau, which comes out March 24th, in exchange for an honest review.

Hausfrau is everything I shouldn’t like. A not particularly likable, if sympathetic, main character. A conceit that begins with an affair. For some reason, despite my love of Anna Karenina affairs just rub me wrong. But lump this in with Anna Karenina I guess because I was engaged all the way through. (And maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise because our protagonist in Hausfrau is named Anna too?)

Conversations with a therapist serve as a brilliant framing device. It feels detached in a way. Gives a sense that things are not right, even if we could probably deduce that from the circumstances themselves. But it gives a better idea of Anna’s frame of mind without feeling gimmicky. These are understated conversations. They feel more internal. And they work really well. It pulls me in and out of the narrative in a good way, keeping me on my toes. It pushes Anna’s psychological journey as the main arc of the piece.

The setting was perfect. I don’t know much about Switzerland, but Essbaum painted a place that was cold and isolating. While I’m sure this isn’t the reality,but it’s Anna’s reality. She’s isolated from everything she’s ever known, and even years later she’s still a foreigner in her new country. She acts as an outsider in her own house. As a reader I enjoyed the little glimpses of a country I don’t know much about, knowing that I was seeing things through Anna’s lens. I need to find some more fiction set in Switzerland.

Overall the tone of this novel is just spot on. It’s an easy read. It’s subtle and nuanced and hits on bigger ideas without belaboring the point and jumping and and down yelling “look at my big idea! Look at it!” It does not apologize for the lives of its characters, nor sensationalize them. And yet I am still fully enthralled. Essbaum drags you in to watch a woman’s life spiral totally out of control.

While reading this novel I was reminded of a lot of flawed, captivating women of the stage in the best possible way.

Also the cover is awesome.

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Shadow Scale

5/5 stars

by Rachel Hartman

You don’t go through what we’ve been through together and not leave some of yourself behind.

Seraphina was an absolutely beautiful novel, and I have been waiting as patiently as I could for the sequel since I finished the first novel. I was lucky enough to secure a digital ARC of Shadow Scale from Random House and net galley, and my patience ran out. I know this review is early. I know. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t wait (I mean, just look at the gorgeous cover!). And then I had to get thoughts down. The wait is over for all on March 10th.

Shadow Scale follows Seraphina on her quest to seek out the other inhabitants of her mind garden, with the hope that they will help in the dragon war. Her main obstacle manifests in one of the inhabitants she’d locked away. Soon Seraphina is battling for her world, her friends, and her own mind. And she’s separated from her friends, family, and home.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous when I realized a journey was at the heart of this book. When I think journeys and dragons I just have these awful flashbacks to the third Eragon book, and all of those pages just to get a damn sword. Good news, Seraphina does not acquire a sword on her trip. A guy gives her a dagger, and she doesn’t even keep it. So we’re safe on that front.

If you’re looking for big battles this is not your book. The pacing of the book is slow in that everything connects and builds together for Seraphina. However, we do not have to wade through pages upon pages of the gang on the road. That is not this book. Things are constantly moving forward. There is constantly dramatic action. It’s just might take a slight expectation adjustment in terms of pacing and tone. This is at its heart about Seraphina, and Seraphina coming into her own. The villain of the piece is terrifying not in that it is a villain that can destroy worlds, but rather a villain that can eradicate all sense of self.

Now if I could just get a whole novel, or even a novella, of Seraphina, Kiggs, and Glisselda just hanging out that would be great. Because I love them all, and I was sad about how little they were together over the course of the book. Although, absence does make the heart grow fonder so I was even more excited when they were together.  These are just great characters. Although at times I did question the number of inhabitants in Seraphina’s garden. It was a lot. And I only really connected to about half of them in that I got a sense of them as individuals at all. Their number created a broader scope. But I would have been okay with focusing more intently on a smaller number as well. Although, at the end of the day, the book is about Seraphina’s journey to find them, and how they impact her, rather than about those characters themselves. But, at the same time, Seraphina’s journey is just as much about letting people in as anything.

Also yes, there are some squee-worthy romantic moments, but like the predecessor the romance never steals the spotlight.

More Quotes:

  • Was there a difference between doing evil and being evil?
  • Nothing was just one thing; there were worlds within worlds. Those of us who trod the line between were blessed and burdened with both.
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by Karen Marie Moning

3/5 stars

“Someone told you life was easy. You believed them,” he mocks. (Barron’s who else?)

First of all, let it be said I hate the cover of this book. There was a previous cover released that was sans the hard male body on the front. It is a very attractive man. I’m just not sure why he’s there. While this is still a paranormal series with a strong sexual current, this is not a romance novel. Nor does it  Burned is the follow up to 2012’s Iced, an installment Moning fans have been waiting for eagerly for a while as the release date continued to get pushed around. Iced followed Fever series fan-favorite Dani, and indeed the series was set up to belong to Dani. Yet, Burned returns the narrative focus to Mac. Whether you agree with this choice or not, the why of this will become clear upon reading.

I had trouble with Dani as a narrator in Iced for the same reason many did. I was somewhat uncomfortable by the sexual interest shown in a 14-year-old girl. I was actually excited for Burned to shift back to Mac. And yet, Mac’s magic didn’t feel all the way there with me either. Her story was over. I wanted her to have peace, or at least be able to pretend even as she played a larger role in Dani’s story. And some of her spark seemed gone. She’s in a rut, which makes sense. But also makes her somewhat dull as a narrator right now. Also I wanted to benefit from her and Barrons being together, and there was tension between them in this novel that seemed completely unnecessary. However, I will give Moning that I never worried about them as a couple. I did love getting even deeper into the Chester’s and the nine in this novel.

Also, thanks to three year wait, I forgot Mac is 23. I am now 24. I do not like this. I felt slightly unsteady when I realized I am now older than Mac. It was like when the last Harry Potter book came out and I was suddenly the same age as Harry, except less exciting. If for nothing else than because my love life is not 1/2 as exciting as Mac’s, before or after she came to Dublin, among many other things.

Moning’s books have always been pure pleasure reading for me. I’ve read them since high school, and I’ve always devoured them. I still devoured this go around. But I also found myself thinking a little more analytically. A lot of time my inner dialogue was going “oh, so that’s how she handled that problem.” From a structure standpoint, Moning wrote herself out of a lot of corners in this novel, and set up the next puzzle pieces. But a lot of things didn’t feel all that urgent in the book, even as Dublin, and the world, seems to be in more danger than ever. The main “plot” of the novel revolved around rescuing Christian.  I must admit, I’m getting a little worn out on that front. Especially because it sees like everything we fought for in the Fever series is now moot.

I won’t kid myself. I’m going keep coming back time and again from this series. But I worry that I’m going to feel for these installments the same way I felt about the last three Mortal Instruments novels. I enjoyed spending more time with the characters but from a narrative standpoint, they were weak.

Other quotes I liked:

  • Temptation isn’t a vice you triumph over once, completely, and then you’re free. Temptation slips into bed with you each night and helps you say prayers. It wakes you in the morning with a friendly cup of coffee, and knows just the way you take it, heavy on the sin.
  • But when you fight evil every day, stare it in the face, engage it, learn to think like it, you face a choice: Be defeated by the limits of your own morality, or summon a beast that obeys none.
  • Sometimes the most heroic action you can take looks a lot like inaction to the rest of the world.
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The Marriage Game

by Alison Weir

2/5 stars

She must be a queen first–and a woman second.

First of all, thank you to net galley and Random House publishing for the digital review copy of The Marriage Game.

The Marriage Game follows the reign of Elizabeth I through the lens of her marriage prospects and relationships, primarily with Robert Dudley.

I have been fascinated by the relationship between Dudley and Elizabeth for a long, long time and was excited to have a book primarily focusing on it. I’ve also been meaning to read Weir for way too long and just never got around to it.

I must say, I’m disappointed. Weir knows her history. But this is a historical fiction novel, and it reads more like a history novel that speculates motivations and adds dialogue, but not in a particularly compelling way. I do not feel like these people jump off the page as characters. Elizabeth is a fascinating, complex, and strong woman that was faced with a lot, but I never felt it. Dudley is either vilified or treated as the childhood sweetheart, and I was eager to get a more complex look at him. But it just wasn’t there. Neither do I feel any of the history or passion in Robert and Elizabeth’s relationship. Part of it may be that it never feels like Weir takes ownership of these historical figures as characters in a tangible way. Yes, it can be risky to embellish, but it can also be rewarding. And Weir knows her stuff. She has a very solid historical foundation on which to build.

On top of this, the structure doesn’t seem to focus on any one event or era over another. Rather, it covers the swath of Elizabeth’s reign, as mostly year-to-year with the chapters, and follows the trajectory of Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship. I not feel any forward drive. We know Elizabeth does not marry Dudley. I need more at play here. The emotional stakes never felt real.

I was ultimately disappointed, because this was neither a rich history or a fully realized historical fiction. I will have to give one of Weir’s histories a try to see if it is more to my liking.

Hits shelves Feb. 10th

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Get in Trouble


by Kelly Link

5/5 stars

What you deserve and what you can stand aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Some mysterious fae-like creatures called only the “summer people”. A fake ghost boyfriend. Ghost stories. Superheroes. Kelly Link’s newest short story collection is inhabited by all kinds of fantastical things. These are worlds in which the fantastical are completely normal.

I’ve just been getting into short stories this past year. I’ve still been battling my attention span in regards to them. This is the first collection in which I have not been anticipating the end of the story. I wanted them to keep going. I could live in these universes.

This is not my first experience with Link’s work. I read her contribution to the YA holiday collection My True Love Gave to Me. I enjoyed her story in that fine, but it wasn’t my favorite in that book. These were all great. Fun and fantastical. There was a lot going on under the surface, but they were still compulsively readable. The tone was spot-on.

Thank you to Random House and netgalley for this digital ARC. This short story collection is available Feb. 10th so get your calendars marked!

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Internet Kerfuffle Take 1

I missed most of the initial hullabaloo around the Stacey Jay kickstarter. Mainly I missed the kickstarter itself and all of the vitriolic backlash. I don’t know how the kickstarter was worded. I don’t know what people said in response.

So I was left with Stacey apologizing and pulling he kickstarter. And also scratching my head. The theatre world is my primary home, and I am a young artist. That means that I get crowdfunding invites from my friends to help them produce their work all the time. So I am kind of baffled.

So I just want to reiterate some points:

  • Kickstarter is an opt in situation. If you don’t want to fund it, you can just not. End of story. No questions asked.
  • Why would you indicate someone won’t deliver on a product before they’ve even started? Have you ever questioned whether you will be awarded your Kickstarter swag bags?
  • Why do we constantly want to shame artists about wanting to make a living off their art? Artists have to eat too. Being creative takes time and effort. And yes, marketplace of ideas. But that marketplace can also be broken based on where marketing dollars go. Because not everyone is on the same playing field. (Hence a lot of momentum behind the important We Need Diverse Books movement). And if Jay was trying to engage with her user base, good for her. That’s smart.

Today Jay followed up with this:

Stacey, I would like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that hateful people hiding behind screens attacked you emotionally and made you feel unsafe. I’m sorry that it got to the point where you felt any need to justify your finances. I’m sorry that something I’m sure had previously brought you a lot of joy, has turned sour.

Can we agree to be kinder to each other? Why is it so much easier to send hate into the world than to be supportive?

Everything I Never Told You

by Celeste Ng

5/5 stars

What made something precious? Losing it and finding it.

Lydia is dead. We know this from the first sentence. And this is not a novel about solving the mystery of her death. Rather, it is about understanding her life, her family, and what lead to her death. It is about the grieving process Taking place in 1970s Ohio, and following a mixed-race family, Ng gets incredibly specific with her storytelling. And she proves that rule about specificity and universality. I did not grow up in the 70s, though I did grow up in the Midwest. I am the whitest person I know in terms of skin color (thanks red hair), and yet, I related to this book more than to anything in a while.Everything I Never Told You surpassed all the of the well-deserved hype I’ve encountered for it. And I’ve encountered a lot. It’s all earned.

I usually not big on family dramas. Maybe it’s because I get enough of them in the theatre, I don’t know. So I was especially surprised by how much this novel resonated with me. But resonate it did. If my library hold had come in just a few weeks early, this would have made my Best of 2014 list no question. And for many people it did.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read such an honest and non-judgemental portrayal. Yes, this is about a tragedy. It never makes light of it, but neither does it wallow in it. Rather, Ng crafts some lovely, flawed humans who I’m extremely invested in. Lydia’s mother and father do many of the things that drove me nuts from my own parents as a teenager, and yet, I understand why. I yearn for every character in this novel, because they all come from such human places. They are trying so hard. And yet, even with the best of intentions, they can fail. But they are good intentions, and that’s what propels the novel forward.

I was extremely moved by this book. I don’t have much more to say right now, and I don’t know that much more needs to be said. I can’t wait to snap up everything Celeste Ng puts out from here on out. I would read a whole novel about Lydia’s brother Nath.


Golden Son

by Pierce Browni

3/5 stars

It’s never foolish to hope.

Thank you netgalley for a digital ARC I’ve been hopping in and out of and finally sat down with to finish in the last day.

I will give Pierce Brown this: he keeps the dramatic action coming. The novel starts with a nice action sequence, throwing the reader right into the fray. And then I realized we had jumped a neat two years between Red Rising and Golden Son. I respected Brown’s ability to keep his revolution plot moving forward, but still feel kind of robbed. There are many things about this world that would feel less kitschy if I was introduced to them the first time Darrow was. And there are bits of his history in that two year interim that just come off pretty convenient. Yes, of course Darrow managed to train with that reclusive, retired fighting master. And of course no one else new so it was a complete ace in the hole for a fight. What disappointed me the most about the jump though was that I was unable to see how Darrow’s relationships with his friends, comrades, and enemies developed in that all important first few years out of the game. The most interesting characters get shoved to the side. Which brings me to my big problem with Golden Son.

Like in Red Rising, Darrow just rang hollow to me. Only this time he was further away from his roots and less grounded in his purpose. And that should have made him more interesting. Conflict. Drama. Uncertainty. He has all the right words in his mouth, but it all feels contrived. I get no emotional honesty from this novel. I’m not asking for sappiness, for a romance, for Darrow to sit and tell me his feely feels. That is obviously not Brown’s book. Except of course when Darrow wallows about Eo, which gets even more tedious and unbelievable this go round.

I want some character development. Some character depth. Darrow always views himself in the right. And as a character being forced to make some shady choices, and justify some pretty harsh things, that is his prerogative. But I do not really know this man outside of platitudes that could be slapped on any “hero.”And then the end comes, and it begins to hit the right emotional notes. I can only hope this carries into the final installment.

Pierce Brown knows how to write a pretty sentence and a cinematic action sequence. And, giving him the benefit of the doubt because he obviously knows how to write, he’s attempting to let a character’s actions speak for them. But his characters often feel like devices to this. And he’s got some really compelling characters hiding in the wings. Why as a reader do I care about Darrow’s journey?

This series has gotten so much positive press. I’m in minority in a lot of my thoughts. And it’s not a bad series, or book. Most of the time it’s plenty enjoyable. But I keep trying to search for something in it that explains the fanaticism, and I can’t find it yet. Maybe some of my frustration comes down to all the right pieces are there for me, but something about how they fit together isn’t doing it for me like it should. Regardless, Brown is a voice to watch. He’s still very early in his career and all the right instincts are there.

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Top 10 (ish) of 2014

I read 259 books in 2014 (all of which can be found here). So I didn’t want to rush into my best books of the year. But now I’ve been sitting with it a while, and I picked 10. And then some runners up just in case. But then I restrained myself.

In no particular order, here are what I consider the best books I read in 2014:

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“There was nothing I could do. Except listen to his pain. I could do that.”

Published all the way back in 2012 this book has gotten lots of industry buzz, but for some reason I had never got around to reading it. Shame on me. I’m not going to say too much about this, because if you haven’t read it I don’t want to ruin it. Just know it’s a great coming-of-age tale of an angry young boy and his best friend. It also features one of the most awesome YA families I’ve read.

2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

“Hell is the absence of people you long for”

Full Review

This book has been everywhere this year. And for good reason. I picked this up because I thought it was going to be about a cult-leader in a post-apocolypic setting. It ended up being so much more.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir

“It’s true you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”

Hatchet. In space. With more sarcasm. And poop.

Full Review

4. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

“I believe feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves.”

This book of essays a beautiful, on-point essays that challenged how I think about the world, and operate within it. But throughout all Gay makes it palatable with numerous references pop culture references, and the reminder that we’re all “bad feminists” sometimes.

Full Review

5. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”

Historical fiction with a supernatural twist. Political intrigue. Assassin nuns. Romance. And all with a feminist twist. This book isn’t necessarily perfect. But it’s a whole heck of a lot of fun. Why was I so late to this party?

Full Review

6. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Záfon

“People tend to complicate their own lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.”

A modern gothic novel set in Barcelona amidst some absolutely beautiful prose.

7. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

“Happiness wasn’t a mystical place to be reached or won–some bright terrain beyond the boundary of misery, a paradise waiting for them to find it–but something to carry doggedly with you through everything, as humble and ordinary as your gear and supplies.”

This was by far my favorite YA series finale of the year.

8. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

“Faith is believing in something even without proof, because you know it in your heart to be true.”

A tale about the turn of the century immigrant experience through the eyes of two culturally-specfic mythical creatures. This novel started out somewhat slow and unassuming, and then I was just caught.

9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”

Another immigrant tale, but this one a modern take. What doesn’t this novel cover? The only thing that could have made this book better would have been an appendix filled with even more of Ifemelu’s blog posts.

10. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

“I closed my eyes, hoping both to fly and to fall, and equally terrified of both options.”

A beautiful tale of magical realism that leads the reader through three generations of women.

Full Review

Honorable Mention:

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl

If you are in any way involved in theatre, or interested in theatre. This short book of essays is a great way to recalibrate the way you think about the craft. I know it was exactly what I needed before diving into another round of script reading. Her essay on dramaturgs is everything I aspire to be for a playwright.

Other awesome books (’cause I’m a cheater):

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Never Judge a Lady by her Cover by Sarah McLean
Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
And So Many More

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The Mime Order

By Samantha Shannon

2.5/5 stars

Hope is the lifeblood of revolution.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

I am going to look at The Mime Order through the lens of my brief goodreads review of The Bone Season.

This is probably actually closer to a 2 1/2 for me, and I’ll probably check out the next installment.

Well here we are.

However, this one took me a while to get through despite how fast of a read it is when you get going. I never felt really immersed in the world, and didn’t really feel all the stakes.

The Mime Order felt like it took forever to get through despite the fact it’s a fairly standard length at 528 pages. Nothing crazy. However, the prose weighs these narratives down so much. It just feels heavy and plodding. It takes any urgency out of what is going on.

An example–Keep in mind this may change by publication, and this is the worst sentence I found. Most of the sentences are perfectly serviceable. But:

It was into one of these that I walked, heading for the single doss-house it housed.

The idea of who we’re fighting or why is not something I feel extremely invested in at this point.

I felt like Shannon did a much better job at establishing the world this go round even if some things still feel murky. Unfortunately, she didn’t necessarily make it exciting for me. I need to feel the vibrancy and the sinister nature of this world, and it’s just not happening. A lot of this can be blamed again on the heavy narrative. The why we’re fighting still really hasn’t been shown. Additionally, things that are supposed to be twists were not that surprising, when the world wasn’t still somewhat muddled that is. 

For the length of the book, I don’t really have an ending sensation of all that much happening.

There was more forward momentum in this installment, even if the amount of action could have been encapsulated in a just as, if not more, compelling way in a shorter page count.

Neither did I feel like I really had a handle on Paige before going on this adventure with her.

I know Paige better. I’m kind of “meh” about her most of the time, because she’s not really giving me anything interesting to work with. She has to save the world or whatever, but we don’t really see how bad it is right now for the average person. She’s kind of going through the motions of a protagonist somewhat. But she’s tough enough.

I lost all concept of passage of time within the novel; the end listed much longer than I thought the events had set up.

The passage of time was handled much smoother this go around. If I’m not sure how much calendar time has passed, there are concrete events referred to throughout that I can use as measuring tools.

Maybe the publisher’s hype played into what I was expecting from this novel, but for something that had so much promotion power behind it, I was expecting a very specific and clear world. The potential is there, and that potential will carry me over to the next book.

The hype for this installment has seemed less, although there is another month until publication. But I feel like I had the Bone Season on my radar for ever. The potential got me here. Last I heard this was a 7 book deal. If that is still the case, this narrative is being drug out unnecessarily and it is not doing the overall story any favors. I appreciate an attempt at a longer series, but would much rather read a more concentrated novel that moves well. I just want to feel some more forward motion in these books. Even with events progressing somewhat I feel stalled.

I wanted to see how this series would build on itself, and now I know. Again, I’m leaving a little disappointed. Although I do feel like this was better than the first.

If you’ve been looking forward to finding out what happens to Paige and the gang (And Warden. You know you wanna know about Warden, ’cause while the Stockholm Syndrome is legit and creepy, he might be the most intriguing character in the book.) next, pick up The Mime Order on Jan. 27th.

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