Book Review – In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab

I have had Saima Wahab’s memoir In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate on my To Read list since I saw her interview on the Daily Show several years ago. Documenting her childhood in Afghanistan and then Pakistan as a refugee before moving to the United States to further her education, become a US citizen, and eventually travel back to Afghanistan to assist US troops during the war–and given the current political climate in the US—it seemed like the perfect time to finally make myself read this book.

First published in 2012, Wahab’s memoir begins with her earliest memories of life in Afghanistan as the Soviets invaded the country and her outspoken and rather liberal father was among the first taken into custody. She never saw him again and her family fled first to her father’s people in their small village and then across the border to Pakistan where they were safer. Wahab notes that even from a small age, she rejected elements of her native culture, especially with regards to how the women were controlled and restricted by the men of their families. Sent to her uncles in the US as a teenager along with her siblings and cousins, she embraced many of the freedoms of American culture even as it caused her to struggle with holding onto and preserving her sense of her culture as a Pashtun woman. Once she begins her exploration of her time working as a civilian alongside US forces in Afghanistan–first as an interpreter and then as a research manager on an HTT (Human Terrain Team) where she helped research and map the cultural differences between the villages in Afghanistan—her narrative focuses on her struggle to reconcile the two sides of her identity, Pashtun woman and American woman. Speaking the language and understanding the culture of the locals, she worked to educate and guide both the US soldiers and the local Afghan peoples as the nations aimed to work together to rebuild her father’s country. Continue reading

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Book Preview – A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

a crown of wishes - book coverLast year The Star-Touched Queen was one of my favorite books of the year and this year Roshani Chokshi’s follow up novel, A Crown of Wishes promises to be an even bigger favorite of mine. Capturing all the lyrical and mythical elements of the last novel, A Crown of Wishes expands upon her already established world but also thematically addresses the power of something very near and dear to my heart: stories.

The coup planned by Maya’s younger sister Gauri has failed and she has landed in the custody of the kingdom of Ujijain whose relationship with Bharata is tenuous and possibly dependent on whether or not they kill her––which is what her brother dearly wants. Vikram, the prince of Ujijain, cannot convince his adoptive father’s council to take him seriously or grant him more than just superficial power over the nation as his father plans to retire. He is tasked with informing Gauri of her approaching execution but a messenger of sorts reaches him first with an invitation to the Tournament of Wishes held by the King of Riches in Alaka, one of the kingdoms of the Otherworld. The invitation is for him and a partner matching Gauri’s description. Rather than announce her death, he gives her the choice to join him in the tournament or not. And so their story begins. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

witchfinder's sister - book coverOne of my favorite classes in college was a history course where our focus was on witches. We examined various outbreaks of witch scares in Europe and the American colonies, compared how they unfolded and the methods for dealing with the accused, we looked at who the accused tended to be and why they might have been accused (spoiler alert: mostly widows and single women who were in more independent positions than the men in their communities were comfortable with them having). So a novel like Beth Underdown’s upcoming The Witchfinder’s Sister should be right up my alley.

Having just lost her husband in an accident, Alice returns home to her brother, Matthew’s, home where their mother has also recently died. It has been several years since Alice has seen her brother who did not approve of her marriage and in their time apart it quickly becomes clear to Alice that much about him has changed. He has gained a noted position in their old community since he has become involved in taking down complainants’ accounts and questioning accused witches in the area. Alice is horrified but convinces herself that it will all blow over in the end while also piecing together the truth of what happened in her parents’ household that might be driving Matthew in his mission. Will she be able to save anyone from her brother? Continue reading

Book Preview – The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

forgotten girls - book coverThis is the second time I’ve inadvertently read a book from the middle of an ongoing series rather than started from the beginning. Incidentally, both series happen to be in the crime/thriller genre and—due in part to the nature of the genre—both worked well enough as standalone novels (the first more so than this one). The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen will be the sixth book in his Stevens & Windermere series when it is released on March 14.

If you’ve ever seen a crime procedural on television, you’re probably familiar with the facts: that many victims of violent crime are women, that women of color are disproportionately victims of violent crime, and that transients, drug addicts, and sex workers are likely to wind up as victims of violent crime. These are the very demographics that make up the target victims of a dangerous serial killer train hopping around the northern Midwest. It’s a case that falls into Stevens and Windermere’s laps and quickly proves larger and—thanks to the winter weather—tricky hunt for the killer. Continue reading

Book Review – Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless - book coverHaving so thoroughly enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, her latest novel, Heartless was one of the first I purchased with the gift cards I received back at Christmas. A stand-alone novel rather than the start of a new series, Heartless delves into the life of the young woman who becomes the Queen of Hearts and terrifies Alice on her journey through Wonderland. Once again, Meyer demonstrates her skill at paying homage to the source material while expanding and incorporating additional elements, including characters from nursery rhymes and poems.

Cath is the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove in the kingdom of Hearts but what she wants above everything else is to open a bakery with her best friend, lady’s maid Mary Ann. Though Cath has already caught the king’s attention with her tasty treats, someone else has caught her eye—the new court joker, Jest. As a Jabberwock begins terrorizing the kingdom, Cath learns that there is more to Jest and his presence in Hearts than she’d originally thought and her dreams will clash with both reality and fate. Continue reading

Book Review – What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black by Gregory E. Pence

when we talk about clone club - book coverUsually I read a book before watching a film or television adaptation but every once in a while there’s a great book written about a movie or television series. As a fan of Orphan Black, I’m still in mild denial that the show is going to be starting its fifth and final season in a few short months. A provocative series about the lives of a series of clones, Orphan Black gives its fans plenty to talk about. Gregory E. Pence, a professor at UAB and an expert in cloning and bioethics, has compiled quite a few talking points in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black. Delving into the science and history of cloning, he uses Orphan Black, its plots, and characters to help illustrate concepts and bring debates to life in ways that make it easier for readers (and viewers) to relate to and understand.

Pence begins the book by looking at the ways clones have been depicted in science fiction and literature, searching for the root of many of society’s assumptions about human cloning and the dangers it poses. He examines the origins of a variety of medical advancements that preceded the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep and the reactions from various sectors to those advancements. Using the science behind cloning and similar technologies, Pence critiques the plot and execution of Orphan Black in its depiction of clones. Some of the debates examined, such as nature versus nurture, will be more familiar to readers than others. Finally, Pence ends the book by throwing out a few areas of interest that the show and its writers could explore in the future.

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Book Review – The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls - book coverEmma Cline’s The Girls was one of those books that appeared on so many “Best of” lists that it was inevitable I would eventually have a go at it. While it was pretty good, I don’t know that I agree it was one of the best books of 2016––though, it certainly wound up capturing some of the themes that seemed to plague 2016.

Evie Boyd was born into wealth and privilege as the granddaughter of an icon of Hollywood’s golden age but by the time she’s an adult, she’s more famous for her long-ago association with a small and notorious cult. Though she didn’t participate the night of their most heinous crimes, she’s spent a lot of time reflecting on how she got as far in as she did and exactly why she wasn’t there on the infamous night. Ultimately so much of it boils down to the girls and more specifically, Suzanne. Continue reading

Book Review – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven boys - book coverSince finishing The Lunar Chronicles last year, I’ve been searching for a replacement YA series to become invested in and I think I may have found it in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series—or at least, the first book, The Raven Boys has left me still intrigued enough to check out the next book sometime soon. Bringing together mystical and mythological elements I’ve read about in both other novels and studied the histories of over the years, The Raven Boys definitely sets up a larger story than just the one that gets told in its pages.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of psychics—her mother and her mother’s friends—but she shows no ability herself; she only serves as an amplifier or battery of sorts, helping to strengthen those around her. But one thing all the psychics in her life seem to agree on is that she will somehow spell death for her true love—whoever he might be—and must avoid kissing him to protect him… even though she’s just a teenager and has no idea who he might be. But on St. Mark’s Day when she accompanies one of those friends of her mother’s to the Corpse Road and actually sees and hears one of the spirits—a teenage boy named Gansey who attends the local private boys’ school, Aglionby—she might have learned the first bit about him. Blue has her doubts, however, when she actually meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, and begins assisting them in their search for the historically mythical Glendower and things in their small town of Henrietta begin getting even weirder than any of them could have dreamt.

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Flash Fiction – Bells

When it was quiet, it was possible to hear the bells ringing in the church clear across town. Erika heard them often in the crisp evenings when everyone else was asleep. They kept her company, marked the approaching dawn, giving her increasingly insistent warnings that soon it would all begin again.

It occurred to her that there might be someone on the other side with the bells—a Quasimodo. She refused to believe that they were hooked up to a system of levers and pulleys that were programmed by a faceless computer. No, it was someone with strong arms and legs; a solid weight pulling down on a thick rope that burned their palms as they let it slide through before seizing it tightly to pull down again.

“I want to go to the church,” she told Kerry one evening.

Kerry frowned, brow furrowed. “Any church in particular?”

“The one with the bells.”

“I think they hold mass at nine o’clock,” Kerry nodded and shrugged. “But we can go.”

“No, not on Sunday. I want to go now,” Erika insisted rising.

“Uh, honey…”

But Erika had already left the room and left the house walking in the general direction from which she knew the music of the bells carried.

Kerry ran after her with a blanket to wrap around her shoulders despite the fact it wasn’t actually cold.

“Let me do this,” Erika told Kerry. “I’ll be fine.”

Kerry pressed her lips together but stepped aside. “If you head for Main Street—”

“I’ll find it,” Erika dismissed the offered directions.

“Just… be careful.”

Erika walked. She stopped at the ends of sidewalks and waited for cars to pass and the light to turn. She didn’t flinch when dogs barked at her from behind their fences and ignored a group of teens gathered outside a fast food place jeering at her and smacking one another on their arms and backs as though they’d accomplished something.

She checked her watch and waited closing her eyes.

There it was; ten, perfectly-spaced, deep tones that resonated with her bones. She turned and adjusted her path.

Her steps were small but determined. It wasn’t as silent as she’d always thought. The noise from televisions slipped through open windows, the light peeking through the cracks in shades and blinds. There were insects out and about as well as the bats, electric zappers, and other nocturnal beings that caught and devoured them. Cars idled at intersections and then sped off when the spectrum shifted.

Knowing all this made the bells that much more impressive. They cut through all the nonsense and made themselves heard, made their presence felt. And yet for so many they faded into the background too.

Erika stopped and waited again ignoring the woman who spotted her through her front window and came out to ask if she was lost. Erika held up a hand, confusing the woman until she started; eleven.

“No, I’m not lost,” Erika whispered as she started walking again; she was close.

Most everything was dark when she finally found the church. Only the streetlamps and the headlights from a solitary car competed with the moon and stars to light Erika’s way.

It was different this time. They started early—five minutes before the hour; they had a whole song to get through before the day officially ended.

Erika stared up at the bell tower and smiled. She wondered if they played the same song every time or if the unseen Quasimodo changed it from night to night.

Tears of triumph trickled down her face with the tolling of each of the twelve bells welcoming the new day.

Book Preview – The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

second mrs hockadayAlways game for a novel set during and around the events of the American Civil War, I didn’t have to read too far into the description of Susan Rivers’ soon-to-be-released The Second Mrs. Hockaday before I knew I wanted to read it. I didn’t think much of the fact that the novel promised to tell the story in question through letters, journal entries, and inquest papers—it actually would have made it more appealing because telling a story through such limited means can lead to particularly creative story-telling. In the case of The Second Mrs. Hockaday however, I think these narrative conventions fail to live up to that potential and ultimately rob the story of some of its natural tension.

Placidia Fincher Hockaday met her husband the day of her step-sister’s wedding and married him the next day when she was but seventeen years old. A widower with an infant son, Major Gryffth Hockaday and his new bride didn’t have much time to themselves before he was called back to the Confederate front lines by his commanders. For the remaining two years the war lasted, they were separated with Placidia running his farm, raising his son, and commanding his slaves. When he returned at the end of the war, he discovered that there were scandalous rumors about just what his wife had been up to in his absence—and with whom. Decades later, the Hockaday children—having buried their parents—begin to uncover their mother’s secrets from those two years, what drove a wedge between their parents, and what brought the couple back together again in the end. Continue reading

1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Reading Challenge #172

tristram shandy - book coverAmong the few bright spots in 2016 was the fact that I ended the year by finally finishing Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. It was the last book assigned in one of my first semester classes of graduate school and I have been struggling to finish it ever since. A large part of my frustration with this book stems from the circumstances of its assignment; there was no way we were ever going to be able to finish the book at that point in the semester, especially when there were several dubiously long papers due in a short period of time, in that class and others. When I graduated, Tristram Shandy was one of a few books that had been assigned that I hadn’t finished during the school year but as I gradually finished the others, Tristram Shandy remained the most difficult one to get into enough to actually finish (the fact that there’s so much jumping around in the story and so many meaningless diversions didn’t help with the whole attention span thing). I finally made myself a promise that I wouldn’t let myself start reading the Song of Ice and Fire series until I had finished Tristram Shandy. So now I get to finally begin Game of Thrones!

Book Preview – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

bear and the nightingaleI am incredibly happy to be starting a new year of reviews with this book because it was a fantastic book to be reading as this last year came to an end. After finishing it I went back and reread the initial description that inspired me to put it on my preview request list—having forgotten everything about that description in the months between submitting my request and reading the book. I had to laugh because usually, those descriptions feel strategically written with an eye towards marketing—which, of course, they are—but in this case I found completely accurate. Katherine Arden’s upcoming The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and is also “recommended” for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (which I just got a personal copy of for Christmas so I can read and enjoy it all over again).

It is some years after Pyotr Vladimirovich’s beloved wife Marina died following the birth of their youngest daughter, Vasilisa (called Vasya), but he finally admits that the time has come for him to remarry—mostly so there is another woman around to help with Vasya who appears to take her nurse’s fairy tales a little too literally. Journeying with his two oldest sons to Moscow, Pyotr returns with a devout new wife and a gift for Vasya from an odd stranger. Vasya can do nothing right in the eyes of her new stepmother but it isn’t until a new priest arrives in the village (determined to bring the fear of God to the northern people and save their souls) that more devastating effects threaten the village as the people begin neglecting the protective household spirits of old.

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Book Review – The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer by S. Alexander O’Keefe

Sir PercivalI was exteremely intrigued when I first read the description for S. Alexander O’Keef’s The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer and it promised to be the first novel in a new series. I go through phases of fascination with all things Arthurian so I’ll try just about any take on Camelot at least once. O’Keefe’s premise is an interesting one but while I can get behind the plot, the characters and style of story telling have me less likely to pursue this series beyond this first book.

It has been ten years since Arthur and Camelot fell in battle. Morgana and her mercenaries have the people of Britain under her thumb while she continues to hunt for her archenemy, Merlin the wise. Guinevere and a few of her ladies are protected in hiding by the church and via a promise Morgana made to one of her most capable knights. The Knights of the Round Table have been wiped out, or so everyone thought until Sir Percival returns from the holy lands with a friend. Having been sent to seek the Holy Grail alone, Sir Percival has failed in that quest but might have returned just in time to bring Morgana down and restore Guinevere to her rightful place as queen of the late Arthur’s broken kingdom. Continue reading

Book Review – Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #171

amsterdamSince reading Atonement, I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Ian McEwan’s novels. But with the exception of Atonement, they all seem to have one aspect that pushes things that last step too far and Amsterdam, while one of his more lauded works (and a book that gets me back to working on my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, which I’ve fallen behind on this year) is no exception. Its explorations of morality, mortality, and friendship are incredible but the way those thematic lines culminate as far as the plot is concerned don’t quite work for me.

One funeral brings together a woman’s three former lovers and her husband. Two of the former lovers happen to be good friends, Clive and Vernon, and Molly’s drawn out deterioration due to dementia and eventual death has the two men wondering what they would want if they found themselves in her shoes; ultimately they agree they would want someone to end it for them. But Molly’s death also brings some compromising photos of a politician (the third of her former lovers whom neither of the two friends like) to light. Vernon, a newspaper editor, seeks to publish; Clive, a composer, sees things differently and the men’s friendship is tested as news of the photos’ content begins to catch the public attention.

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Book Preview – The Memory Stones by Caroline Brothers

memory stones - book coverThe premise of Caroline Brothers’ The Memory Stones caught my attention a while ago but it has taken me a while to get through the novel—due out tomorrow, October 25, 2016. A combination of lack of time (on my part) and a lack of compelling pacing (on the novel’s part) made this book a slog when it really shouldn’t have been. The story being told should be incredibly compelling and at times it is, but its presentation and organization left something to be desired.

Osvaldo and his family living in Buenos Aires in the late 1970’s find themselves at the mercy of an increasingly ominous and powerful junta regime. When Osvaldo takes a chance and criticizes the military commanders in power, he must flee the country for his own safety, leaving behind his wife. He soon gets word that their youngest daughter and her fiancé have disappeared but whether they’ve gone into hiding or have actually been abducted by the regime is unclear at first. A rumor that his daughter was pregnant when she was taken sets Osvaldo and his wife, Yolanda, on the path to locating not just their daughter but their grandchild as well. The fall of the junta doesn’t necessarily mean they will find the answers they seek but perseverance and time might bring this family back together in the end.

Set in a place and period of history that I am not familiar with but want to learn more about, some of the tension in the early chapters of the book is fantastic. Through Osvaldo’s perspective as a member of the older generation, it becomes clear how unexpected the regime’s takeover was, how it crept up on them so that it was well under way before anyone thought to take significant action against them—so that, by the time anyone tried, it was already too late. The scenes between Osvaldo and his oldest daughter who was living with her husband in America as the situation in Argentina shifted, is some of the most emotional, compelling, and significant of the novel. Similarly, Yolanda’s persistence in searching for her daughter and grandchild while separated physically from her husband drives a lot of the story’s beginning.

It is in the middle that the story loses its way a bit. Following the chronological timeline so strictly proved to be a hindrance. It meant a lot of time jumps were necessary to introduce new characters and give exposition on what was happening in Argentina as the junta eventually fell and those who had been dispossessed and adversely affected by the junta regime fought to have their rights restored, the crimes against them acknowledged, and reparations in some form secured. Osvaldo’s emotional arc feels static through this long stretch as he does little more than continue searching for his daughter and grandchild. It takes a while to feel a significant connection to new characters like Ana though the focus on her in the final chapters does bring some of the story back into focus. It all ends, however, just before the part of the story I think would prove most compelling. I understand why that narrative choice was made, I just felt strung along and cheated out of it by the novel’s conclusion.

I think playing with the presentation of events and the timeline in the later half of the novel would have improved its flow. Jumping forward in time here and there and giving the events of the intervening years as flash backs would have kept it moving at a more consistent pace.

 

*This preview is a bit overdue (adjusting to a new work schedule during a time of year that’s already ridiculously busy for personal reasons has put me even further behind than I was anticipating). I may not be posting with as much frequency as I used to do but I won’t let my blog fall silent the way it did when I was in graduate school (I refuse to be that busy again).

Drabble – The Box

Prompt: From generation to generation, a box has been passed down with strict instructions not to open it until a certain date. That date is today. What’s inside the box?


OPEN DEC. 31, 1999 was scratched clumsily into the tin box’s lid that had rusted shut decades before.

“How long did Gramps have it?” Pam asked.

“Don’t know. He got it from his mother and she—”

“It’s been a while,” Mother said brandishing a screwdriver.

Prying the lid loose, they collectively held their breath. Pam removed it.

Inside were petrified cookies.

“Why would anyone want this saved?” Pam asked, banging a cookie against the table.

Her mother scrutinized the date on the lid. “I think… this… was supposed to be an eight,” she pointed at the first malformed nine.

Book Review – Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical magic - book coverI had seen the movie Practical Magic a number of times before I ever realized it was a book. Since one of my favorite things to do is compare book adaptations like that, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic after learning that fact. There are some obvious changes from one medium to the other, mostly to flesh out thematic elements that take more of a back seat in the novel, but the story remains both recognizable and compelling between the two forms—not an easy feat.

Sally and Gillian Owens grow up with two distantly related aunts after their parents’ tragic deaths. They know that their aunts aren’t like other people in the town and everyone else knows it too so that the two girls also fall under the general umbrella of being Other. Gillian leaves as soon as she can, running away in the night with a young man and not looking back. Sally stays and finds a bit of normalcy when she marries and starts a family of her own. But tragedy strikes again and it’s Sally’s turn to leave the aunts, taking her own daughters to start again on her own. Years later Gillian turns up in Sally’s driveway needing her sister’s help and long ignored issues—especially personal and familial—must be addressed and remedied.

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Drabble – Late Policy

Prompt: “And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, A highwayman comes riding— Riding—riding— A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.” (to be paired with whatever strikes your fancy)


Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair,” Lucy finished to the applause of her class.

“Impressive, Ms. Skye,” Professor Diamond commended her as Lucy took her seat at the only empty desk in the classroom. “However, in future, please keep your selections to about the length of a sonnet. I don’t want to get rid of my late arrival policy because you choose poems long enough to waste additional minutes of class time. Or perhaps your classmates would prefer I schedule an additional class or online assignment to make up the difference.”

Lucy suppressed her self-satisfied smile.

Book Preview – The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

The Blind Astronomer's Daughter - book coverI was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed The Stargazer’s Sister last year, a novel about Caroline Herschel, the sister of eighteenth century astronomer William Herschel who became a prolific astronomer in her own right. The description for The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter promised to explore similar themes in a similar setting. While there are elements of what I was expecting—hoping—to find in the novel, Pipkin goes beyond focusing on his titular heroine and not always with tremendous success.

Fictitious astronomer Arthur Ainsworth is determined to find a new planet in the heavens so he can name it for his late wife and honor her legacy. It is a mission he enlists his daughter, Caroline, to help him with as he transforms his Irish estate into an observatory and commissions work on a telescope to rival that of William Herschel in England. But there is more going on in Ireland and there are more secrets in Caroline’s past than she is aware of until her father, blinded by looking too often at the sun through his telescope, dies. She learns the truth of who she is and it upends everything she once thought about herself, her father, and his work. It will take many years for Caroline to pick up the pieces of her shattered self and reassemble them into someone new, just as Ireland threatens to rip itself apart in 1798.

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Drabble – Plane Tickets

Only 100 words instead of 500, I’ve started dabbling in drabbles and might be posting some here to get back into posting some of my creative fiction. Most of these are inspired by specific prompts which I’ll also post for reference (and feel free to comment with additional suggestions/prompts, etc.).


Prompt: A pair of plane tickets but only one is round trip.


“You can have the window seat,” Mom insisted. “I’ve got it all to myself on the way home.”

She said it as a joke but neither of us laughed. She would fly home alone while I stayed behind on campus, thousands of miles from everyone and everything I knew.

The airline called our section and we rose to board.

“It’s not that long till Thanksgiving,” I said, trying to sound optimistic as I handed over my one-way boarding pass. Mom held out her round-trip boarding pass for scanning.

“I’ll start looking at the airline rates on the plane,” Mom promised.

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

harry potter and the cursed child - book coverI haven’t reviewed any plays on my blog here before, but with all the hype around the release of and my own nostalgic affection for the novels, it seemed like the perfect place to break with tradition. The most difficult thing about reading a play is that much of what transpires is meant to be literally seen; thinking of it or treating it as a novel isn’t quite fair. But I should hope that in reading it I would at least be inspired to want to see it on stage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play begins where the book and movies ended—on Platform 9 ¾ as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for his first year. There are several time jumps that then take place in rapid succession advancing the present to Albus’ third year—making him thirteen—and it’s clear that Albus’ relationship with Harry is strained at best. Harry isn’t thrilled with Albus’ friendship with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus resents the expectations and attention he receives as the son of Harry Potter—it isn’t fair. As rumors circulate that the Ministry of Magic has confiscated a Time-Turner (which were supposed to have all been destroyed), Amos Diggory shows up with an appeal for Harry to travel back in time and intervene to prevent Cedric from ever having been killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry refuses but Albus overhears and decides he wants to help right an injustice he sees as being Harry’s fault. But of course, terrible things can happen to those who meddle with time.

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Book Review – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

9781250091840_p0_v2_s192x300Where many young adult series are told in one character’s first person perspective, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles wasn’t. With each novel additional characters were added to the mix and the perspective shifted regularly between them. This meant that where many young adult authors release complementary/supplementary short stories that offer a different character’s take on scenes the audience is already familiar with, her collection of stories, Stars Above, provided a different kind of depth—backstory. Most of the stories in Stars Above are greater explorations of the circumstances surrounding key moments in the series’ central characters’ lives that took place before the readers met them but that were hinted at or referenced briefly within the main books.

Most of the stories function as prequels to the books of the main series: how Scarlet’s grandmother became involved in hiding and healing Cinder as well as how Scarlet came to live with her grandmother in the first place; Cinder’s first days with her adoptive family in New Beijing; how Cress came to find herself in the satellite orbiting Earth; some of Thorne’s earliest schemes; Wolf’s early days as a soldier in Levana’s army; Winter’s perspective of growing up in her step-mother’s palace; Kai’s first impressions of Cinder. There are two stories that break from that pattern, however. The Little Android, while featuring an appearance by Cinder prior to the events of the first novel of the series, stands on its own as a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Anderson original more than the Disney version). Finally, the last story in the collection is a happy epilogue/sequel which finds the series’ four couples gathering on Earth for a long-awaited reunion and wedding. Continue reading

Book Review – Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

wintergirls - book coverSomewhere between Speak and The Impossible Knife of Memory, I missed that Laurie Halse Anderson had published another book—Wintergirls. Luckily I have friends who alerted me to my oversight and now I have corrected it. Always willing to dive into the darker realms of growing up, Anderson addresses the psychology of eating disorders—a subject everyone knows exists but few are willing to discuss or explore in the face of a society that doesn’t wish to change the ways it portrays and commodifies young women’s bodies.

Lia has been through treatment twice before to deal with her anorexia (a term that is not used within the narrative itself) but both times she has managed to escape intact, telling the doctors, nurses, her parents, and psychologists what they want to hear in order to hurry the process along. Though she and her best friend since childhood Cassie had suffered a falling out before their final year of high school, when Cassie turns up dead in a local motel and the other girl’s eating disorder is determined to be the root cause of her death, Lia finds herself haunted by Cassie’s ghost—Cassie had tried calling Lia thirty-three times the night she died. Is it in some way Lia’s fault? Will Cassie’s death turn out to be the wake-up call Lia needs or the final nudge over the edge? Continue reading

Book Review – The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

sudden appearance of hope - book coverI haven’t exactly been quiet about how much I adored The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (I even got two relatives and a close friend of mine to read it just so I’d have more people to talk to about it). So when I realized I’d missed the release of Claire North’s next book, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I quickly bought a copy to rectify my mistake. A lot of what I loved about Harry August is still there along with a compelling new protagonist and set of circumstances, however it has a more pessimistic feel to it that I wasn’t expecting—but it does make sense given the contemporary setting and the themes to which the novel speaks.

While most teens feel at some point or another that the people in their lives are disregarding and forgetting them, for Hope Arden that was actually true. The people in her life could not remember her or her interactions with them once she walked away until her parents forgot her existence entirely and she was effectively on her own. Given the difficulties of holding a job when employers and coworkers couldn’t remember her from one day to the next, Hope became a practiced and effective thief, tangling and escaping the authorities using her unique condition to her advantage. But when she steals jewels from the neck of a Saudi princess at a high profile function, more than just Interpol is after her and technology remembers her. She nearly falls into a trap while trying to sell the jewels but a fellow darknet user, Byron14, reaches out to warn her and later enlists her for a job against an international self-improvement company—a job that has far reaching consequences for Hope and the world that forgets her. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Upright Heart by Julia Ain-Krupa

upright heart - book coverIn the case of Julia Ain-Krupa’s upcoming The Upright Heart, I find myself once again in the situation where what I was expecting based on the description provided and what I actually got were two very different things. Yet, when I went back to the description it actually is very close to the story being told in the novel—it just didn’t prepare me at all for the way that story was going to be presented. Luckily, in this case the surprising difference between expectation and reality worked in the novel’s favor, and I can’t honestly think of a much better way that the book’s description could prepare the reader for the way the narrative unfolds.

In the years following World War II, the people of Poland—both living and dead—struggle to make peace with all that transpired. Wolf married and moved to America before the war while the rest of his family were killed in the war; he returns to his hometown to see what is left and to say the prayers for the dead in the hope he and they may rest easier. On another plane, his first love Olga—a Catholic who helped hide his family as long as she could—clings to him when he reappears; she is unable to move on but isn’t sure why. A young woman, Anna, sees and feels the spirits of the dead around her, uncertain whether the people she sees are among the living or the dead; she is also haunted by memories of her former coworker, a woman who concealed her Jewish identity when they both worked as maids in the household of the governor general’s subordinate. Wiktor and his family survived the war but an on-the-job accident shortly after its end leaves Wiktor’s family mourning his loss while his spirit seeks to assist the spirits of others who have been having trouble moving on. Continue reading