The Fountains of Silence

Image result for the fountains of silenceFirst Lines: They stand in line for blood.  June’s early sun blooms across a string of women waiting patiently at el matadero.  Fans snap open and flutter, replying to Madrid’s warmth and the scent of open flesh wafting from the slaughterhouse.

I’m convinced that I’ll read anything by Ruta Sepetys.  After the absolute beauty of Between Shades of Gray, she’s won my respect.  So even though I know absolutely nothing about 20th century Spain (which I think is part of the point of writing this book), I was willing to give it a shot.

Spain is hiding dark secrets from the world.  It’s 1957 and General Francisco Franco, the country’s fascist longtime dictator, is doing everything he can to present a beautiful front to the rest of the world while his country crumbles.  Daniel Masterson is an American tourist coming to Spain with his parents for the summer.  Daniel’s father is an oil tycoon and his mother was born in Spain.  With photography as his guide, Daniel tours parts of Madrid looking for a story to tell through the lens of his camera.  Through this he is introduced to Ana and the true cost of the Spanish Civil War.  Backed into an uncomfortable position, Daniel must decide which questions are worth asking when the consequences are dire.

In this story, we really follow two characters: Daniel and Ana. Daniel is the son of an oil baron from Texas, coming to Madrid with his parents for the summer. His mother is from Spain and Daniel is fluent in Spanish and feels at least partly connected with their culture. Ana is a maid at the hotel he says at. Her parents chose the wrong side of the Spanish Civil War and were killed for it, leaving her and her two siblings to scrounge together some semblance of a life.

The characters were interesting in their own ways. Daniel is curious and, as a budding photojournalist, he is interested in people and the stories their actions tell. That quickly lands him in some hot water in Madrid, as the Guardia Civil don’t allow certain freedoms, regardless of your nationality or wealth. I liked that he was so curious and that he was always trying to understand the Spanish culture and the hardships of those in poverty. Ana is clever and starstruck by the extravagance of the hotel she works at. People spend more money on a bottle of wine than she makes in a year! She wants to understand American culture, but America is so different than what she knows. Even ice cubes are a foreign concept to her.

I liked that this book highlighted a recent piece of history that most people probably are not familiar with. For as much as I’ve studied and taught World War II in my class, I almost never hear anything about Spain during that time. And it was interesting to see how dark life was for so many people, how they constantly felt death at their backs for one reason or another.

What I struggled with a little was the story. While I was interested in what was happening, I thought it had a tendency to drag on. There were sometimes things that happened where I was questioning why that mattered. Also, there’s this air of mystery at the beginning of the story that takes forever to start unraveling. It was very drawn out to me.

I still think it’s a solid read and I’m glad I read it.
  The rating from other readers on Goodreads is like, bananas high.  It’s currently at 4.32/5, which is remarkable for a standalone.

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Discoveries of 2019

Hey guys!  Look, I don’t think I can turn this into a Top Ten list, but I kind of like the topic.  So I figured I’d talk about what I did discover this last year, even if I’ve already done an essayish post on this before.  It’s worth mentioning again.

Look, I’m cheap.  I’ll own it.  I’m a millennial who only last month finally paid off all college loans and I now have a massive mortgage I’m working on.  I want to get books for a good deal and Thriftbooks helps me do that.  But there are some pros and cons.

Pros: Thriftbooks has a pretty wide selection of books.  Hardback, paperback, and even collector editions if you’re interested in that.  Prices most often fall around $4.29 per book if you want it to look newish, but they can go lower than that.

You also earn rewards points as you buy.  When you earn enough rewards points, they let you pick a free book under $5 in value, which is most of their site.

They also have a wish list feature, where if you see something you’re interested in but you’re trying to avoid temptation, you can add it to the wish list for now and decide on it later.  This feature also tells you if the book is out of stock (like if it’s been on your list for a while) and will show you when it’s back in stock.

Cons: For purposes of keeping it cheap, I assume, they ship the books in these bags, not boxes like I was expecting.  That means sometimes your books get a little beat up at the corners before they get to you.  I’m not a big fan of that.

Also, shipping takes an incredibly long time, in my opinion.  My first order took about 10 days to get to me.  Most of my orders take about a week.  I think once it came in 5 days and I was surprised.  And the books typically ship separately, so you’ll get one and then a few days later get more.  (They come from various warehouses, which I understand, but then it’s harder to watch for 3-4 different packages.)

But perhaps my biggest beef is that sometimes I get what I’m not exactly expecting.  I’ve gotten ex-library copies when I specifically tried to not choose those.  It literally tells you when you’re buying it that it’s ex-library and I picked a different version to avoid that.  Nope.  Also, one time they sent me an ARC copy of a book, which you’re not even legally allowed to sell.  That was a shocker, let me tell you.

They do have a return policy, but at the time I received the ARC copy I was unaware of it and missed the deadline for returning it.

Overall: Look, I know I just aired a lot of complaints, but the truth is that I do get a number of really awesome books from there that I have no complaints about.  I got the entire Girl of Fire and Thorns series from them for like $14 total.  I picked up 2 of the Harry Potter books in French for pretty cheap.  I’ve been using the site to try to complete series that I have 1-2 books for but not the other 1-2 books and that’s been working out for me pretty well.

Yes, I have complaints, partly from the fact that I can’t pick the books out myself.  I’m very picky about these things.  But honestly?  The complaints I listed above are the only complaints I have.  Those were my only bad orders and I’ve ordered like 5 times now.

All Your Twisted Secrets

Image result for all your twisted secretsFirst Lines: I spent the last hour wondering if I would die tonight.  You can drop dead from a heart attack at seventeen, right?  The prospect of tonight’s dinner party made my heart ricochet off my rib cage so fiercely I was convinced my days were numbered.

I was lucky enough to have a copy of this ARC and, as a fan of Agatha Christie, especially And Then There Were None, this looked so far up my alley I was bouncing to read this.  (This book officially releases March 17th.)

Six high school seniors are invited to a scholarship dinner, though they don’t seem to have much in common.  A valedictorian, a queen bee, a star athlete, a music geek, a loner, and a stoner.  But for all of them, this dinner turns out to be far different than they expected: it’s a trap.  Suddenly, they are stuck in a room together with a syringe filled with poison, a bomb counting down to zero, and a note saying they need to kill one person or they’re all going to die.  Amber is determined that everyone should get out alive…but what is their connection?  Who wants them dead?  As they begin tracing back their actions, it soon becomes clear that everyone has secrets.  And with the clock ticking down, it all comes down to one question: who is going to die?

The story is what I like to call The Breakfast Club meets Agatha Christie. I really love that it does have that Christie feel to it, where you’re always searching for the smallest clues and it’s full of suspense.

The characters are not exactly the type I generally tend to like. They’re not…heroic, I guess. A couple of them aren’t even good people. But I’m aware that this is a bias I have and I was willing to give the story a fair shake. And honestly, when I stopped looking at each individual action as, “Well that was stupid. Why would they do that?” and started looking at it as teenagers who were desperate for something, then it started to make a lot more sense and I was more sympathetic toward them.

And honestly, these secrets everyone has been keeping? They’re dark. Some are bigger than others, but oh man. This book is gritty and real and dark.

The story is narrated by our music geek, Amber. Her high school isn’t super big, so she’s acquainted with everyone at this dinner. And because her musical abilities are so good, she kind of walks that line between popular and outcast. She was a good choice for narrator because she was so familiar with both sides.

Perhaps what I liked about this book the most was its construction. We’re not in the room the whole story–we’re also shown the events of the last year through Amber’s eyes. The story alternates between the absolute panic of the bomb and what’s happened the last 12 or 13 months. It really built the suspense on both sides of this. Most of the time, I was obviously more anxious to read what happened as the bomb counted down, but there were other events that unfolded outside of that that had my attention. I don’t always see the point of it when stories do that, but this was a necessity.

I like to think myself pretty clever, but this book left me guessing. I mean, I had suspicions from time to time, but there are virtually no clues the whole story. As you get closer to the end, you do start getting hints about things (secrets to be spilled, who’s behind this, etc.) and I certainly did not call it. I actually really enjoyed not being able to figure it out and just getting sucked into the suspense of it all. I haven’t read anything this suspenseful in a while. I had a hard time putting it down to go to bed.

This story has a lot of truths in it. It reveals a lot about human nature and what we’re willing to do to survive, even at the expense of others. It’s psychology in action and I love that.

I really enjoyed this. I can’t wait until everyone can read it!

Top Ten Most Anticipated Book Releases of 2020

Hey everyone!  Now that we’re all loaded up on Barnes & Noble gift cards after the holidays (or is that just me?), we definitely need to take a look at some awesome books set to come out in the next few months.  And there are a few coming out this month that I could not be more excited about.

So let’s go!

Top Ten Most Anticipated Book Releases of 2020

1. A Heart So Fierce and Broken (Cursebreakers, #2) by Brigid Kemmerer

Release Date: January 7 (TODAY!)

The first book in this series, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, was my favorite book of last year.  So I am very, very much looking forward to this book.  Please pause while I go reread the first book.

2. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3) by Maureen Johnson

Release Date: January 21

I’ve been a fan of Maureen Johnson for years, but this series about a kidnapping in the 1930s and a copycat killer in the present is so intriguing.  I’ve actually bought the previous two books in this series now, so I have them to hunt for clues one more time before I read this one.  I hear the clues are there, but I’m completely clueless about who the murderer is.  And that’s a sign of some excellent writing.  At least all the questions should be answered with this book.

3. The King of Crows (Diviners, #4) by Libba Bray

Release Date: February 4

What I said about Maureen is true for Libba as well.  I started reading her stuff in 7th grade, way back in like 2004.  The Diviners series isn’t my favorite of her works, but I can’t deny they are still pretty awesome and show a different side of American in the 1920s than we usually see.  Not only do we have flappers and speakeasies, but we get to see the reemergence of religion, Harlem, Chinatown, mental illness treatments, and so much more under the guise of battling evil (and murderous) spirits and other baddies.  It’s truly fascinating, even if it’s sometimes hard to keep straight over so long.  (I read the first book in, I think, 2013.)

4. Of Curses and Kisses (St. Rosetta’s Academy, #1) by Sandhya Menon

Release Date: February 18

I’m not sure why this is now exploding, but looky here!  We’ve got another Beauty and the Beast retelling!  Although, in a sense, this is a little more like Romeo and Juliet, kind of.  Whatever.  Princess Jaya wants revenge on the Emerson clan for targeting her little sister.  So, upon discovering she’s attending boarding school with Grey Emerson, Jaya comes up with the completely-foolproof-and-not-at-all-weird plan of making Grey fall in love with her so she can break his heart.  Only Grey’s a brooder (and somehow cursed, though Jaya doesn’t know this) and he’s just dreading each passing day.  So yeah, I’m in.

5. The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

Release Date: February 18

I do like my standalone romances and this one got my attention.  It follows one of my favorite tropes.  When Becca’s former best friend laughs at her for not having a boyfriend, Becca decides to lie and say she’s seeing someone.  Brett is the captain of the football team and hates that everyone teases him about not having a prom date.  So when he overhears Becca’s lie, it seems like as good an opportunity as any to get his teammates off his back.  But of course, it’s not going to be as simple as all that, right?

6. Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Release Date: March 3

I actually have the ARC for this and I plan on reading this soon.  (I don’t like reading them months and months before the book actually comes out.)  I like McGinnis for crafting unusual female protagonists.  In this book of survival, Ashley hikes into the Smokey Mountains for a night of partying with her friends.  Only later, after a few too many drinks, Ashley spies her boyfriend with another girl and wanders off into the forest alone.  Lost and alone come morning, Ashley needs to find her way home with nothing but the clothes on her back and the infection slowly spreading up her leg.  I like it.

7. House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: March 3

The Queen is back with another fantasy series and, while I’m still mourning the end of ACOTAR, I’m really looking forward to this one.  In this fantasy world, we’re dealing with demons and fallen angels, a marked transition from the fae-heavy series she’s done so far (though our main character, Bryce, is half-fae, half-human, so maybe it’s not all that different).  Bryce’s friends are murdered by a demon and, when the crimes start up again despite the accused being behind bars, she’s determined to stop it.  But she’s going to need the help of Hunt, a fallen angel who is enslaved by the Archangels for trying to overthrow them.  So yeah, this looks interesting.

8. All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

Release Date: March 17

Ooooh, y’all, I’m so glad I have this ARC too.  This story is like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None meets The Breakfast Club, from what I understand.  (I haven’t read it yet.)  Six high schoolers from different cliques (a queen bee, a stoner, a loner, a music geek, a star athlete, and a valedictorian) are invited together for a dinner to try to win a scholarship.  Only it’s all an elaborate trap.  They’re stuck in a room with a bomb, a syringe of poison, and a note saying they need to choose someone to kill or they all die.  No one knows what connects all six of them together, and they all have their secrets.  I’m actually jumping with excitement over this one.

9. The Court of Miracles (Court of Miracles, #1) by Kester Grant

Release Date: June 2

Every time I see this title, I think of the song “Court of Miracles” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Only this book is an alternate history/alternate fiction story about Eponine from Victor Hugo’s other famous story, Les Miserables.  (It’s also billed as a reimaging of The Jungle Book, though I have absolutely no idea how.)  In this book, Eponine (Nina) is forced to go to the underbelly of Paris in order to save her adopted sister Cosette’s (Ettie’s) life.  Apparently it’s gritty and dark, which are two things I’m absolutely fine with.

10. You Say It First by Katie Cotugno

Release Date: June 16

And we’re back with one more standalone romance.  Meg’s life is all planned out, down to the last detail.  She has a perfect boyfriend, a perfect best friend, and plans to go to Cornell with that best friend as her roommate.  But things turn upside down at Meg’s job, where she works at a voter registration call center in Philadelphia.  Colby’s life has been in turmoil since a family tragedy.  He’s not sure what his future holds, but he certainly doesn’t have time for the snobbish rich girl calling him to talk about the importance of the election process.  So he says the worst thing he can imagine and hangs up.  But what starts as a heated phone call turns into more, sometimes candid, sometimes heated.  There’s just something different about this book that draws me in.

Winter Cleaning: Purging My To-Read List

Hey everyone!  With the coming of a new year (and a new library website, which I’ll talk about more soon), I decided it was maybe time to go through my to-read list and do some serious deep cleaning.

You may have saw a little of this mentioned in yesterday’s review.  A friend got me hooked on Goodreads in the summer of 2008 and I’ve logged basically every book I’ve ever read since.  It’s an awful lot of fun for me to have such a long and storied (ha!) timeline to go back to.  I mean, I can tie so many of those books to different events in my life.  Those were the books I read on that vacation.  That book helped me get through a tough time.  Whatever.  There are stories within stories.

But being on Goodreads this long also means there are some books that have been on my to-read list since 2008 as well.  It’s actually kind of sad.  I keep looking at some of them, truly wanting to read them but never actually in the mood for them.  Or there’s a reason I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

This whole purging process started because my library’s website was recently updated.  Once of the features they have is that you can now create a “wish list” on their site and, when you check the book out, it is automatically removed from your list.  That’s pretty awesome, actually.  Originally, I started with only my Top Twenty.  (I don’t remember when I started doing this, but I’ve made the first page of my to-read list a chosen position.  Those are the books I try to put high on my priority list.  They are chosen semi-randomly so I keep a good match between older and newer books.  I pick a book, but it to #1, and then as I remove books on the list, it starts stays somewhere between 1-20.)

From that Top Twenty, I decided to do my entire to-read list.  All 488 titles.  Yes, I’m crazy.  But think of the convenience once it was done!  Then the books were all linked to one place on the library site where I could just click on it and put it on hold!

As I started going through these books, I started to notice that many of the books were put on the list by an entirely different me.  If they were added from 2008-2010, I was still in high school then.  Paranormal was king.  I had so many books about werewolves and vampires and ghost love stories on the list that I’d never gotten around to.  And now…that trend is mostly gone.  Not that it was bad, but I’m kind of over it, you know?  So I started getting rid of the ones I didn’t think I’d ever get around to.

The other thing I severely purged were series.  There were so many books where I’d read the first or even the first and second book in the series, but I’d never finished the series.  Maybe I was waiting for the next book to come out.  Maybe I just lost track of it.  But there were so many where I barely even remembered the books.  It didn’t make sense to keep them on my list when I’d completely lost the thread of the story.  I’d need to reread the entire series just to finish this and for some of them, the series wasn’t good enough to justify that.  So I got rid of them.

Also, for a number of these books, my library didn’t have a copy of them.  (My library is HUGE, so they had most of the books.)  Access is a big thing for me.  If there was something I truly did want to read and I was willing to pay money to read it, I left it on the list.  Otherwise I deleted it.

In all, I deleted about 65 books.  It was kind of startling how quickly the layout of my list changed.  I’d gotten so used to looking at some of the covers that I wasn’t used to seeing so many of them gone.  But I don’t think I’ll miss them in the long run.

If you’re anything like me and your to-read list has gotten a bit out of control, maybe this winter would be a good time to look through it all with a critical eye.  At any rate, I’m happy that now I can pick about any page and find many books that I’m truly excited to read.  Before, I’d bypass 5, 6, 8 of them that I just didn’t want to read.

Eve (Eve, #1)

Image result for eve anna careyFirst Lines: By the time the sun set over the fifty-foot perimeter wall, the School lawn was covered with twelfth-year students.  The younger girls leaned out of the dormitory windows, waving their New American flags as we sang and danced.

I’m currently in the process of a complete overhaul of my Goodreads to-list (which has existed since 2008).  Part of that overhaul includes finally getting around to reading books I’ve wanted to read for years.  Or, in this case, a decade.  I’m not kidding.  This was added to my list in 2010.

It has been sixteen years since a deadly plague decimated the Earth’s human population.  After the death of her mother, Eve is taken to a government run School, where she’s taught all the classics and arts with other orphan girls.  But now, at 18 and on the edge of graduation, Eve learns the secret of School and what the girls’ purpose really is.  Desperate, she flees School in an attempt to find somewhere to survive.  Along the way she runs into Arden, her former School rival, and Caleb, a wild boy living in the woods.  Eve has been taught to fear all men, but Caleb seems…different from what she was told.  He promises to protect her and slowly earns her trust.  But when soldiers come looking for Eve, she’ll have to make a choice.  Her life…or her love?

I was a little worried about reading this because I’ve found a good number of books that have not aged well over the past decade.  I was concerned this would be one that halfway through, I’d find myself somewhat disgusted with.

But truly, it was pretty good. I really liked the world that was created, its mix between old and new. It’s set roughly around 2039, if I did my math right. In about 2025, there’s a massive plague that kills off something like 98% of the population, leaving many kids orphans, including our lead Eve. Since Eve was 5 when her mother died, she can sort of remember the world before the plague. And we run into other characters who remember that world (our world) pretty well. But then you have that new world layered on top of it, the one where there’s a King in charge of New America, gangs and soldiers rule the unprotected lands. The land where boys and girls are kept separate and girls are taught how dangerous men and boys can be.

Eve was an interesting character. She’s smart and curious, a combination that pays off well for her at School. As valedictorian of her class, Eve has completely absorbed the government teachings provided to her. But when she gets on the outside and sees that most of what she was taught was skewed, she’s quick to try to learn the truth, even when it hurts. I thought that was an interesting twist to her character.

The plot was interesting, but sometimes it seemed a little over the top. Other times it was fantastically daring. I guess my main beef with it was that Eve couldn’t just be an ordinary girl, she had to be special. Eve running away caused a million complications. I kind of just wanted her to be normal, but then, of course, the series wouldn’t go anywhere. It’s a Catch-22. But there were other times when the plot did not shy away from the harsh realities of Eve’s new life on the run and I appreciated that.

Mostly, I liked it. It’s been a long time since I read a dystopia and this one had really good world building to make me feel like part of it all. The characters were well-written and the plot was good. I do want to see what happens next. Hopefully I don’t wait another 9 years.

Goodbye 2010s, Hello 2020s

Happy New Year!

I wrote this huge sappy (actually, it was pretty maudlin) post like two weeks ago about what my best and worst years of the decade were and recounting some of my worst moments were.  (I was in a bad place at the time, stuck in a downward spiral of loneliness and nostalgia and inferiority.)

But I decided just yesterday that that was not the tone I wanted to set going into the new year.  That’s not the person I want to be going forward.  I want to be the person who looks forward, not back.  Which is kind of ironic, given my love of history.

It’s funny, with my 10 year reunion coming up soon, it seems like a lot of the people I grew up with are getting nostalgic.  People I haven’t talked to in over 15 years (despite the fact that we went to school together) are trying to friend me now on Facebook and I can’t bring myself to care.  They were a part of my past, not my present or, most likely, my future.  (I won’t pretend to know the future, though it seems highly unlikely I’ll now befriend someone who hurt me ages ago, even if it was ages ago.)

I’m losing my point here.  Let me try again.

2020 as a year and the 2020s as a decade probably aren’t going to be any easier than 2019 or the 2010s as a whole.  But we have to remember that what happens in the world of politics, business, etc. does not define who we are.  Can it impact us in various (sometimes serious) ways?  Yes.  My hope, though, is that we can look back and remember the special moments with family, with friends, with overcoming personal challenges.  Sure, 2019 may have had months where I could barely bring myself to watch the news, but it was also the year I bought my house and the year I stepped way out of my shell and became a choreographer.

It’s going to be a roller coaster ride, just like every year before and every year after will be.  There will be ups and downs.  Sometimes, all you can do is hold tight to the bar and pray you come out alive at the end.  I get that.

I’m not one for New Years Resolutions.  I think it’s pointless to make goals that are going to be busted because I don’t have the time to devote to them.  (January through March are the worst.)  Does that mean I don’t want to grow as a person?  No.  It just means I work on my own timeline rather than around the new year.  For example, I’ve been trying to learn crochet since October, but I finally figured it out last week when I brought my stuff home for the holidays with me so my mom could show me.  Now I’m zipping along with it.  I also completed one of my goals this year by creating a wall of pictures of my ancestors at my house.  (I call it my ofrenda, my family calls it my Dead People Wall.)  Neither of those were even remotely doable or on my radar in January.

So I don’t know what my goals for 2020 will be, but I guarantee there will be something at some point.  Maybe your goals work the same way.  Don’t come up with something today just to have something.  Don’t say you’re going to start working out 4 days a week if you don’t have a plan.  Don’t set yourself up for failure already.  It’s too early for that.

I think I’ve said everything I want to say, so I wish you all a Happy New Year and I’ll see you soon with some more book reviews and top ten lists!