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.

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!

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.

Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road, #1)

Image result for nowhere but hereFirst Lines: Top three awful moments of my life: Meeting my biological father at ten, breaking my arm in three spots at nine, falling into a hole and being trapped there overnight with a dead body at eight.  Other than that, I love my life.

You know, that first line got my attention pretty quick.  I give kudos to that because that’s awesome.  Ok, so I’m currently working through a number of books on my to-read list that I’ve been meaning to get to for years and just haven’t.  (That means you’re going to be seeing some older books popping up around here for a while.)  It’s been ages since I’ve read anything by Katie McGarry and I figured it was time.

Emily is happy with her life in Florida with her parents, her friends, and her safe life.  Yeah, she’s curious about the biological father that gave her up–and chose a motorcycle club called the Reign of Terror over her–but curiosity does not mean she wants to be part of his world.  When an unexpected trip to Kentucky turns into most of her summer vacation with relatives she didn’t know she had, Emily learns quickly that appearances do not tell the whole story.  The club isn’t what she thought it was and neither are the secrets everyone seems to be keeping from.  Another unexpected is Oz, the guy with gorgeous eyes who seems to be keeping a close eye on her.  Oz has only one goal: to join the Reign of Terror.  These guys are family, the good guys.  And to prove that he’s ready to join, he’s got to spend his summer protecting Emily from a rival club with an ax to grind.  But he never planned on Emily turning his world upside down.

This was what I’ve come to expect from McGarry: a fresh, interesting set of characters with unique personality traits coupled with a lot of very real issues for the characters to battle.

Let’s start with the characters. Emily has grown up in Florida, hundreds of miles away from the biological father she barely knows. She’s fearful but sassy. And the longer she stays in Snowflake (which is an incredibly funny name for a town full of bikers), the more she wants to discover the secrets people are intentionally keeping from her. Oz is determined to become part of the Reign of Terror biker club, just like his dad and everyone he calls friends. But Oz royally screwed up the one job he was supposed to do to get him into the club and he can’t stop trying to make up for it.

Both of the characters will surprise you at times. There were some things about Emily that had me giggling or just surprised about that twist in her character. And Oz, he’s playing against all the stereotypes Emily has about bikers (especially after hearing her mother warn her away from bad boys her entire life) and even his own single-mindedness. Oz was probably the biggest surprise in this book and I enjoyed that.

As for the plot, we’re dealing with some heavy hitters here. Cancer. Adoption. Facing fears. The danger of lies that grow over time. Characters have to make some seriously tough decisions and sometimes they make the wrong choices. It was really interesting to read all of that playing out.

The only reason I didn’t give this 5 stars was because it took me quite a while to get into the story. Emily is so closed off to everyone in Snowflake for so long that it was hard to feel like the story was going anywhere for a while. I’m happy I stuck with it because once I got there, it was so good.

Once A King (A Clash of Kingdoms, #3)

Image result for once a king erin summerillFirst Lines: I lean against the dusty Elementiary shelf crammed with books and jars of animal bits, and stare at my father’s letter.  His nearly indecipherable scratch strikes me with swift disappointment.

I’ve read this entire series in a year, which is kind of unheard of (partly because we’re always waiting for the next book for a year or more!), but I was happy to find this at the library and knock another series off my list.  Though I was a little nervous that our main character from the last two books wasn’t going to be a narrator this time around.

For twenty years, women with magical powers calls Channelers have been persecuted and killed in Malam for their abilities.  King Aodren is desperate to change that.  The persecution was wrong when it started in his infancy and it’s wrong now.  The only problem is that 20 years of prejudice aren’t easy to erase overnight.  Rumors of a deadly Channeler-made substance are only fanning the flame of hatred.  Lirra, a wind Channeler and the daughter of the most hated man in Malam, has every reason to distrust King Aodren when he asks for her help.  But she can’t help but wonder what’s going on herself.  Who is making this substance?  Could they possibly know how dangerous it is?  With Lirra’s help, Aodren sees a way to end the prejudice and begin a new world in Malam.  But his enemies are powerful and it only takes one mistake to topple a kingdom…

Hmm. This was not my favorite book in this series, something I worried about when I saw Britta’s story line ended with the previous book.

In this book, our main characters are Aodren and Lirra, two characters we met previously. Both of them are great characters and I’m not knocking them in the least. I like Aodren’s personality a lot, especially his drive to make up for his mistakes and make his country a better place, no matter how difficult that job is. And Lirra’s determination and skill set as a spy made her interesting to read about as well.

My problem more stemmed from the plot, which felt very simplistic. It’s basically a mystery the whole time and yeah, there’s a subplot about this kingdom summit that happens once every five years and all that, but the crux was the mystery. And I don’t know, the mystery was fine and everything but since it was basically the whole focus of the story, I eventually kind of got tired of it.

That’s not to say the story’s bad by any means. Some of the things that happened to Lirra and Aodren were suspenseful and interesting and I didn’t want to put the book down. But when I look at the bigger picture here, my impressions overall, I was just a little underwhelmed by it all.

Still, I won’t say I’m mad that I got to see these characters again. Aodren became my favorite with book 2 and I don’t hate that I got to see his story get a better resolution. Also, this book was a fast read and I’m not mad about that either. I just wish there was a little more happening in the plot.

Maybe This Time

Image result for maybe this time kasie westFirst Lines: The cafeteria had been transformed into a red-and-pink extravaganza.  Like Hello Kitty herself had decorated for the occasion.  The flowers, my contribution to the party, sat in the center of each table.

Ok, so when I see a new Kasie West book, it gets my attention.  I know what I’m getting: a cute rom-com style story.  I’ve read so many of her books at this point that I’ve got her figured out.  And each time, I’m a little nervous because there were 1-2 books along the way that I didn’t actually like.

Sophie Evans will be at any major occasion the year brings.  Weddings, funerals, New Year’s…you name it, she’ll be there with her flowers.  What she wasn’t expecting this year was to see Andrew Hart, the son of a fancy new chef in town, at all the same events.  He’s arrogant and entitled and he drives Sophie crazy.  All she wants to do is get through this year and work on her sketches so she can apply to design school.  But every time she turns around, there’s Andrew making her life complicated.  Except maybe it isn’t that complicated after all…

If you’re looking for something groundbreaking, this is not it. But if you’re looking for a cute teen love story told over the course of a year as the two characters see each other at special events throughout the year, then this is for you.

The storytelling itself was a little different, and that was pretty cool. We only see the characters at special events. Holidays, weddings, funerals, you get the idea. Sophie works for a florist, Andrew is the son of a caterer. So while the timeline was a little odd at times, it was pretty cool to see how their relationship developed and changed with all of these random meetings.

The characters were cool, but they weren’t all that different from previous West characters. Sophie’s snarky and sarcastic to the point of rudeness at times. She wants to be a designer, so her art is everything. Andrew is sweet but isolates himself to protect himself, as he and his father constantly move around. And as sweet as they were, I just had some trouble relating to them. I think part of that is because of the storytelling. There’s all this going on in the background of their lives that we never really get to sink our teeth into and that made it harder to feel like they were actually dealing with those issues. (Yes, I know I just praised the storytelling, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have other unintended consequences.)

If I had to describe this book quickly to someone, I would simply say it’s a rom-com. It’s cute, it’s funny, it has some depth to it, but it’s still very sweet. I got what I was looking for with this book.

I’m not really sure what else to say. It’s not my favorite Kasie West story, but it’s definitely not a bad showing.

Stepsister

Image result for stepsister jennifer donnellyFirst Lines: Once upon always and never again, in an ancient city by the sea, three sisters worked by candlelight.  The first was a maiden.  Her hair, long and loose, was the color of the morning sun.

I’m a fan of Donnelly’s historical fictions, like These Shallow Graves in particular.  And I’m always down for a fairy tale retelling, especially since I tried writing this particular story in college.  (I’ve always been slightly fascinated with what must have happened to Cinderella’s family after she left.)  So I thought this book might scratch that itch.

Isabelle should be happy–after all, a prince is waiting to escort her to his carriage.  Only Isabelle isn’t actually the girl the prince is after.  And that glass slipper on her foot?  It’s rapidly filling with blood now that she’s cut off her toes to fit into it.  When the prince discovers her family’s deceptions, they are shamed far and wide.  Isabelle is not particularly surprised–she’s the ugly stepsister after all, a girl who is fierce and fiery, but certainly not pretty or polite or kind.  Isabelle has tried to fit in, to be that perfect model of feminine beauty and follow her mother’s instructions, but all that’s done is leave her mean, hollow, and ugly.  But when Isabelle gets the chance to change her destiny, will she be strong enough to take it?

I’d heard a lot of things about this book before I started, to the point where I eventually got the impression this was supposed to be one of the best books of the year.

I’m not seeing that.

I love a good fairy tale retelling, but I will fully admit that Cinderella is far (and I mean really far) down my list of favorite fairy tales. As in I kind of hate it. But at the same time, I’ve always mulled over the question of what happened to the stepsisters after she left, as I mentioned earlier. (Funny enough, it started off very similarly to this book.)

I’ll start by saying that I liked Isabelle and Tavi. Their lives are slowly destroyed by others who want them to fit a specific mold–their mother pits them against the prettier Ella, the villagers call them ugly for their treatment of the now Queen, and neither of them is allowed to live the life they want. These are “atypical” girls who want to be warriors and mathematicians, not dainty girls who are only interested in marriage and starting families.

I liked how various elements of the story were all woven together from beginning to end. Things you’d almost forgot about showed up again later to great satisfaction. That was fun to read.

But I found the book to be too heavy-handed with its philosophy. The feminism in this was about as subtle as a donkey-kick to the gut. I’m all about empowering women and remembering strong women in history, but I was almost rolling my eyes throughout this for how in your face this was. There’s even a whole bit in this about rewriting history as “herstory”. And while I completely get the point, I felt by the end that this book was preaching at me. I don’t respond well to forceful preaching.

I was also struggling with the Fate vs. Chance thing. There’s magic in this book, but it’s mostly this fight between the actual Fates and a character named Chance. Chance is trying to mess with destiny by mostly allowing random things to happen while the Fates are very organized yet pessimistic about humans. I felt it was kind of an odd thing to add to the story and detracted from the retelling. I actually wanted more about the girls, not this odd subplot.

This was not what I thought it would be. I thought it would be more fairy tale than it ended up being. This was not the book for me.