Spotlight Friday (133)

Hello my lovelies!  It is once again Friday (and for those of you who are still in school like me…well, we’ll enjoy the weekend!  As for you out of school…*glares*)  Let’s ring in this (nearly) summer vacation with some new books!

Like It Never Happened by Emily Adrian

Release Date: June 2, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads): When Rebecca Rivers lands the lead in her school’s production of The Crucible, she gets to change roles in real life, too. She casts off her old reputation, grows close with her four rowdy cast-mates, and kisses the extremely handsome Charlie Lamb onstage. Even Mr. McFadden, the play’s critical director, can find no fault with Rebecca.

Though “The Essential Five” vow never to date each other, Rebecca can’t help her feelings for Charlie, leaving her both conflicted and lovestruck. But the on and off-stage drama of the cast is eclipsed by a life-altering accusation that threatens to destroy everything…even if some of it is just make believe.

What’s To Like: I’m a big fan of these stories that take high school staples (like The Crucible) and turn them into truly interesting stories.  (No offense, Arthur Miller–I enjoyed the play!)  But there’s something to be said about modernizing a well-known tale.  And something tells me that “life-altering accusation” is going to be very similar to a witch hunt…

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

Release Date: June 2, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads): The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them . . .

What’s To Like: Ok, yes, I have recently joined the Sarah Ockler fan club.  But I’m super excited for this one.  I love the way mermaids are going to be pulled into this.  (Ok, yes, that is a massive part of the draw toward this book.)  But also, I’m really interested to read about a character who can’t speak.  I’m excited to see that play out.

The Witch Hunter (The Witch Hunter, #1) by Virginia Boecker

Release Date: June 2, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads): Your greatest enemy isn’t what you fight, but what you fear.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth’s witch hunting past–if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she’s thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

What’s To Like: I’m very curious about this book.  Goodreads says it’s Graceling meets Game of Thrones…which has me a little nervous.  (Let’s just say the first episode of Game of Thrones did not inspire me to watch more.)  But I’m kind of fascinated to see how this fantasy plays out…and it sounds like it’s a high fantasy at that.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a solid high fantasy, and I’m kind of looking forward to the chance.

Tarnish

First Lines: A deep breath is all it takes to enter a room.  Or to scream.  Or both.

I think this was the first book by Katherine Longshore that caught my attention, but I wanted to read them in the order they were published.  So this one had to wait until I’d read Gilt.  But seriously, I cannot turn down a book about Anne Boleyn.  I don’t have the strength.

Anne Boleyn fears she won’t ever fit in at King Henry VIII’s court.  She’s too spirited, too French in her fashion, too outspoken.  So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to train her in courtly ways–and pretend they’re lovers–she accepts.  It’s not long before Anne is one of the most popular women at court–even catching the eye of the king himself.  But Anne wants more than popularity.  She wants a voice.  She wants to find love.  What starts as a game ends with Anne having to decide whether to follow her heart…or make history.

Ok, I’m just going to start by saying that I’m completely biased already for two reasons: one, I love historical fictions.  They turn me into a giddy schoolgirl.  I mean, I watched an episode of The Tudors before reading this to really get a feel for the time period.  (And I so do not regret that, since that also dealt with a young and vivacious Henry VIII, one of which I am not very familiar.)  And two: I love the drama surrounding Henry VIII’s court.  Oh my God.  The opulence, the cattiness, the alliances.  It’s fabulous in a 1500s version of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Longshore truly has a gift when it comes to historical fictions.  She easily takes historical figures that we’re all familiar with–King Henry, Anne Boleyn, etc.–and turns them into people.  Anne becomes more than just the doomed queen.  She’s a young girl who’s scared of court but doesn’t want to show it.  She’s a girl who can’t filter her thoughts, even in front of the king himself.  She’s a girl who just wants her father’s acceptance.  But most of all, she’s a girl who wants control of her own life in a world entirely ruled by men.  I came to understand her as a person and separate her from the cold, hard facts I knew about her.

Another strength of Longshore’s is nailing down the time period.  As I mentioned, I watched The Tudors prior to this as a way to experience that time period before reading.  (I figured they’d done their homework.)  And Longshore very closely matched much of what I saw there.  There were jousts, a young and spry King Henry who is actually devilishly handsome, sonnets, courtly romances, and secrets dangerous enough to ruin entire families.  It does take a while to really sink into the Tudor world, but once you do it’s totally worth it.

I was a little disappointed on the aspects of Anne’s life this book chose to focus on.  I guess I was expecting it to be more like Gilt, which focused more on the end of Catherine Howard’s life, but this was set when Anne was still a teenager, nearly a decade before she became the King’s wife.  So unfortunately, the truly scandalous aspects of Anne’s life are not to be found here.  But it was still an interesting story.

And also because of when this story takes place, there are chunks of the story that are simply boring.  We don’t know historically what Anne was doing at that point, so there are gaps in the story.  Longshore attempts to fill them in, but they lack the same vibrancy as the other parts of the story.

Overall it’s definitely an entertaining read.  And great insight into the British monarchy during the Tudor reign.  Backstabbing and secrets, yay!

Illusions of Fate

First Lines: Dear Mama, I am most certainly not dead.  Thank you for your tender concern.  I will try to write more often so you don’t have to worry so between letters. (Because a week’s silence surely means I have fallen prey to a wasting illness or been murdered in these boring, gray streets.)

I am a big fan of Kiersten White, but for some reason this book kept eluding me.  I’d wanted to read it, but I just forgot about it.  It happens to the best of books.  (Tell that to my copy of Jane Eyre that has set neglected on my bookshelves, never having been read.)

Jessamin is the textbook definition of a pariah when she comes from her island nation to the country of Albion.  Drab, gray Albion is vastly different from her sunny, warm homeland, and Jessamin misses home.  But life in Albion changes for her the moment she meets Finn, a gorgeous young lord who introduces Jessa to the world of Albion nobility, a world that has more than power and money…it also has magic.  But Finn has secrets, secrets so dangerous that Lord Downpike, Finn’s rival, will do anything to possess.  And Jessa, armed only with her wits and cunning, may just be the only one who can stop him.

As far as Kiersten White’s style goes, this is solidly her.  It has humorous banter between the main characters that is charming and giggle-worthy, heart behind every character’s actions, mysteries, secrets, unexpected twists, and a cute love story.  I was not disappointed.

I was incredibly surprised by the political nature of this story.  And I don’t mean “political” like “Democrat vs. Republican” or anything.  I mean more like whether countries should colonize “uncivilized” countries and what happens to those in the colonies.  Or female equality.  It definitely wasn’t a bad thing that this story had all those things.  I was just surprised.

Mostly, I’d say this story had a feminist bend to it.  And I use that word in the best way, as I consider myself a feminist.  Jessamin does everything possible to be as strong as she can possible be and she will not let anyone else make decisions for her.  She’s strong and stubborn, which sometimes leads her to make mistakes.  But she definitely tries to assert her female dominance whenever she can.  This has both good and bad effects, which I think was great that the story presented both sides.

Which leads me to Finn.  He was an interesting counterpoint of Jessamin.  He’s strong and stubborn too, but sometimes not as much as Jessamin.  She is so strong and pushy the occasionally he had to step back and let her take the lead on whatever was going on.  And he lets her.  Far from making him seem weak or emasculated, I came to respect him more for it.  He let Jessamin be who she wanted to be.

But I did struggle with the story early on.  This is set in some unstated time period that feels somewhat Victorian but obviously in a fantasy world where countries like Albion exist.  I just could not figure out to save my life what was going on in the first 40 pages or so.  I found the writing to be vague and it seemed like Jessamin was unsure/unclear of things that she should have known quite well.  Either that or I missed something.  I just didn’t think it was very fleshed-out and I struggled to understand what was going on.

Overall, it’s a very entertaining story.  Expect cliffhangers at the end of chapters.  (Which means don’t plan on stopping at the end of chapters.  It won’t happen and you’ll fall into the readers’ lie of “Oh, I’ll just read one more chapter and stop.”)

Struck

First Lines: When you’ve been struck by lightning as many times as I have, you start to expect the worst pretty much all the time.

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, and I finally found time to do it.  What I’d either forgotten or didn’t know was that it was a sci-fi/dystopian, right on the heels of my dystopian fatigue.  I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this.

Mia is addicted to being struck by lightning; the way it makes her feel even while the electrical power could deep fry her heart makes her feel incredibly alive.  To curb her addiction, Mia and her family move to L.A.  Only L.A. is no longer a safe haven for her, after an earthquake destroys the town.  Downtown L.A. is a vast wasteland of rubble, and danger and chaos lurk everywhere.  Two opposing cults rise to power, both thinking Mia is the key to their success.  They believe Mia is connected to the freak electrical storm that caused the earthquake, and that she may also be connected to an even worse storm on the horizon.  Mia wants to trust Jeremy, the handsome and mysterious boy who promises to protect her, but she doesn’t think he is who he says he is.  What draws them together could be the very thing that pulls them apart…can they save the world before it’s too late?

While I am still suffering from dystopian fatigue, this one was ok.  It’s so vastly different from the dystopians I’m tired of that it didn’t seem to matter.  Granted, this has the same basic story: earthquake devastates the world, the apocalypse is coming, only one can save the world or destroy it.  Basically, the entire first season of Heroes.

But this whole weather element, with lightning storms and earthquakes, felt so different.  I’ve read stories with droughts and other weather phenomena, but lightning…now that felt new.  Especially since our main character has literally been struck more times than she can count.  And likes it.

Mia was an interesting character.  She’s almost an anti-hero, the way it comes off.  Because of her fascination and addiction with lightning, she’s actually quite dangerous.  (As she points out, lightning is incredibly unpredictable.  And even if it strikes her, it may kill someone else 6 feet away.)  It made her feel almost edgy and a little bit tragic.  But she’s definitely one of the most dangerous heroines I’ve read about in a while.

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding some of the characters, and it was fun to try to discover the truth.  I’m not giving names because that ruins the fun!

I will also say that I was a big fan of the fact that this is basically a stand-alone novel.  (Thank God.)  Technically there’s a prequel and the ending is just vague enough that something could be written after, but it wraps up nicely as a single book.  Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve read a dystopian that ties up all its loose ends in a single book?  It’s been so long I can’t even tell you.

Oh, and there’s also a really creepy psychological edge to this story. The kind where people fanatically think they’re right to the point where it’s scary.  Those people creep me out.  (Hence why I do not watch shows like Criminal Minds.)  I was not expecting that in the slightest, but it ramped up the suspense big time.

Were there some times when I rolled my eyes at this book? Yes.  I mean, the whole two opposing cults thing?  Very Montague and Capulet.  I’m over it.  And some of the stuff with Mia and Jeremy just seemed a bit…fated? inevitable?  While it was cute, it still came off feeling a bit cliche at times.

But overall it was different enough that I was really into it.  I didn’t know what was going to happen next.  One of the most creative and innovative dystopians I’ve read in some time.

Written in the Stars

First Lines: “Naila, I wish you didn’t have to miss the game,” Carla tells me.  “Game?”  I check the road, on the lookout for my mom, before turning to her.

I’ve had my eye on this book for a while, waiting until it was released.  Given that it’s one of many new diverse books (and written by a Pakistani-American), I was totally looking forward to something different.

Naila’s Pakistani heritage means a lot to her, but there are things she wishes she could change.  Her entire life she’s heard that she can pick what she wants to major in in college, but her parents will pick her husband.  No arguments.  Until then, even friendship with a boy is strictly forbidden.  When Naila breaks the rules and falls for Saif, her parents are furious.  Believing that Naila has forgotten her heritage, her parents take the family to Pakistan to reconnect with their roots.  But this vacation becomes a nightmare when Naila realizes her parents have found her a husband.  Despite everything, Naila is cut off from everyone she once knew…and her only hope is that Saif can somehow help.  Can he, before it’s too late?

This easily sailed onto my list of top reads for this year.  Naila is a girl I think most readers can relate to.  She wants to make her parents happy, but she wants them to understand that she’s a person too, a person with desires that differ from her parents’.  I think that’s pretty reasonable.  But to Naila’s parents, she may as well have committed murder.

The story slowly works itself up into this crescendo of a nightmare.  I read this all in like, one sitting because of this.  Everything starts off fairly normal and as the story proceeds, it gets darker and darker and more tragic.  By the end, I was practically vibrating with emotion.

It’s such a startling and real topic.  I mean, this was one of those that hit me hard because you know that somewhere in the world, there are girls that are being forced to marry against their will to please parents, fulfill their cultural norms, or for some other equally awful reason.  (And as Saeed says in her author’s note, forced marriages happen here in the United States too.)  It infuriates me, as a woman, that someone would presume to force me to give control of my life over to someone who I don’t know and don’t trust.  And yet it happens.  A lot.

I found this to be a real cultural wake-up call.  It’s a culture-clash between Naila’s semi-American values and her parents’ solidly Pakistani traditions.  I feel like this allowed me to get a better understanding of their culture.  And it felt really daring that Saeed would give voice to a girl like Naila.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it should be something that feels daring.  Girls like Naila need a voice.

This is a beautiful read about one girl’s struggle to take control of her life.  It’s her fight for her voice when everyone around her tries to silence her.  It’s heartbreaking and emotional and even a bit empowering.  It’s worth it.

The Lost Code (The Atlanteans, #1)

First Lines: The morning after I arrived at Camp Eden, I drowned for the first time.

I’d seen this on the library shelf for a long time and it always caught my attention.  As a kid, I was obsessed with Atlantis.  I always wanted to know if it was real, what happened to it, etc.  So a sci-fi reimagining of it was more than I could pass up.

The year is 2086.  The world is dying thanks to a disappearing ozone, massive droughts, and extreme radiation from the sun.  In the midst of all this is Owen, who just wants to be normal.  At his father’s urging, he goes to Camp Eden, a place that tries to pretend the world is “like it was before”.  But Camp Eden is not what it seems.  An underwater vision, mysterious wounds, and a whispered warning from the enchanting lifeguard Lilly convince Owen that this is no ordinary summer camp.  What Owen learns could save the planet.  But first, he has to make it out of Camp Eden alive…

I know this is going to sound paradoxical, but it was unexpectedly surprising and much of the same.

Let me ‘splain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.  (Oh. My. God.  How does one find the willpower to pass up on a Princess Bride reference?  Answer: no such willpower exists.)

It was unexpected in a couple of ways.  First of all, this Atlantean bit actually worked incredibly well.  It was imaginative and different.  There were some things this story pulled out that I’ve never seen before in a book, and I’ve read a lot.  The whole Atlantean thing was relaly cool.

But when you look at it from a sci-fi angle, it’s exactly the same as every other sci-fi book you’ve read.  Domes, corrupt leaders, advanced science (experiments and otherwise) that is disturbing on many levels, etc.  I mean, that just wasn’t fun.  Apparently, I’m quite tired of sci-fi right now.

The main characters were pretty cool.  Owen is something of a reluctant hero.  He’s awkward, bullied, and he comes from a very poor background compared to the other kids at camp.  It makes him a target, though he’s more of a wallflower than anything.  Lilly the lifeguard is cool, beautiful, and forward when she wants to be.  I liked that in this story, the girl was the strong one and the boy kind of wasn’t, even though he was the narrator.

If you’re someone who’s really into sci-fis, this might definitely be something for you to look into.  If you’re like me and only sometimes like sci-fi, just make sure you’re ready for another dystopian before you dive into this one.

The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #1)

First Lines: I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.

I bought this ages ago at a sale because I kept seeing it always cropping up.  I really love the era of the Revolutionary War, so I wanted to check this out.

This one is weird enough that I’m just going to copy the description from Goodreads: Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them. Set in Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s mesmerizing novel takes place at a time when Patriots battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

This book didn’t quite come off the way I expected it to.  It’s the kind of story that chronicles Octavian’s whole life, which means the action took an incredibly long time to get going.  There’s nearly 400 pages in this book and I am not exaggerating when I say it probably took at least 200 to really get rolling.  The first half is long, drawn-out, and confusing because Octavian is brought up in really weird circumstances.  I nearly rethought my initial enthusiasm.

I will say that the choice of narrator is interesting for this time period.  Octavian is a slave in Boston, which in and of itself sounds strange because we generally forget that Boston at one time had slaves.  And as Octavian is quick to point out, the hypocrisy in fighting for freedom from Britain while holding slaves is definitely one that stands out.  So I give it kudos for having an interesting perspective.

And I liked that it was a thoughtful and…I think the word I’m looking for is mature…read.  But like, academically mature, not mature like we think of mature now.  It frequently references Classical literature and uses big words that I (as an English teacher) rarely run across.  And it used outdated language to make the time period feel real.  I respected that, though it definitely slowed down my reading.

I was kind of hit-and-miss with the characters.  There were some I greatly liked, others I sort of liked (like our narrator, Octavian), and others that I knew I should have liked, but didn’t.  It was sometimes hard to really like the story when main characters were getting on my nerves.

Overall, I was expecting better but it wasn’t a complete wash.  There were good moments.