Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind

51viohmxugl-_sx361_bo1204203200_Hey guys!  I know this isn’t my usual fare, but I really wanted to let you know about this one.

This is a collection of poems from Tyler Knott Gregson (the guy who has all those typewriter poems that you see on Pinterest).  I was contacted by the publisher about reading this and passing the word on for two reasons.  (One of them is obviously for a review.)

So we’ll start there.  I own Gregson’s first collection of poems and I love that book.  Gregson’s poetry is interesting because he usually focuses on the small yet important details in daily life, like the way the wind grasps your hair and blows it around or the way loneliness can feel like an old friend.  It’s kind of a fascinating way of looking at the world.

Actually, I’m pretty sure Gregson must be an introvert because there’s so much he writes about that is so identifiable.  It’s all of that writing from a curious mind.  He just sees things differently, in a way that makes you as the reader feel not so alone in noticing weird things too.  I like that.

I will admit, though, that I’m more of a fan of Gregson’s love poems.  While Wildly Into the Dark does have love poems, the vast majority of them are more philosophical and, on a couple of occasions, political.  There’s nothing wrong with it (the poems are still quite good), but they just aren’t my usual interest area.  But overall, the collection of poetry is quite good if you enjoy poetry.  (As a teacher, I am well aware of how many people do not.  I get to hear it every day.)

As I mentioned, the publisher had another reason for contacting me: $1 of every preordered book goes to To Write Love on Her Arms.  (Official release date is March 28, 2017.)  This is an organization I have a lot of respect for and I would absolutely love it if anyone interested in this book enough to buy it would preorder it so TWLOHA gets some of the proceeds.  I wanted to give them a shout-out for that.

If you’d like more information about preordering or the book, go here.  It’s Gregson’s website and he’s got all the details there.

Thank you to any and all who give this book a second look!

Dangerous Lies

20909906First Lines: An angry rap shook the motel room door.  I lay perfectly still on the mattress, my skin hot and clammy.

Oh my gosh, it’s a book review!  The odds of seeing one of those on here anymore is like trying to spot a unicorn.  I picked this up at the library a while ago when I got nostalgic for the suspense in Black Ice, Becca Fitzpatrick’s first foray into suspense thrillers.  I thought this would be worth it.

After witnessing a horrific crime, a girl is given a new identity and a new home.  She becomes Stella Gordon and moves to Thunder Basin, Nebraska.  But Stella isn’t ready to give up her life just yet.  Why should she give up her boyfriend, her high school career, her life–because someone else committed a crime and she needs to testify against them?  How can she be expected to start a life in Nebraska, of all places?  Stella begins to count the days until she turns 18 and can legally set out on her own…but things change when she meets Chet Falconer and it becomes harder for her to keep her distance.  She knows she can’t tell Chet about her past, but the guilt of constantly lying to him is starting to eat her alive.  And just when Stella begins to feel safe in her new home, she’ll realize that her enemies are much closer than she believed…

While this had moments of feeling like a thriller/suspense story, it’s way more mellow than Black Ice. Basically, this is the story of Stella as she struggles to feel normal in the middle of Nebraska after being relocated there by the witness protection program. Yes, there’s quite a bit of stuff about how she landed in witness protection, but this book is equally about her culture shock, coming from Philly.  So it’s not much about the suspense as it is about her learning about life, love, and forgiveness.

Stella is a good protagonist for this story because she’s stubborn and strong, even though sometimes she’s too stubborn for her own good. I kind of like that, though. And I also liked that she had moments of weakness that made her seem more flawed. She’s more annoying at the beginning than she is later.  And I only say that in retrospect because I don’t remember finding her annoying in the beginning at all.

The plot was good as well, though I felt like it tended to jump around a lot. There are quite a few loose ends in this story that never fully get answered. They are left vague, perhaps to force you to make your own conclusions. That wasn’t really a tactic I liked, but I’ll freely admit that I had a hard time putting this book down. I read most of it in one sitting.

Mostly, I enjoyed the characters in this book and how they all interact. I like trying to figure people out, so to watch Stella do that in a town she doesn’t know or truly understand was fun. And there are definitely some interesting characters, as you would expect in any small town. There are secrets, gossips, corruption, and cover-ups. It’s always interesting.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting cast of characters and a serious look at the problems in life from addiction to teenage pregnancy.  But if you’re looking for a hardcore thriller, this probably isn’t your book.

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)

17849112First Lines: Everyone thinks I’m dead.

Ok, so if the beginning of this book wasn’t a big ol’ spoiler for the previous book, I would definitely give you more information.  But as it stands, that one sentence is all you get for first lines.  This was a book I moved to the top of my to-read list like a year ago and I finally tried reading it.  (I move quickly, you see.)  But first, I reread Angelfall to remember the story and the characters.  Best. Idea. Ever.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

To Penryn, the world after the angel apocalypse looks nothing like the world she knew before.  Making it seem normal again isn’t easy, especially after a group of people attack her sister, Paige, thinking Paige is a monster.  What ends in a massacre leaves a family torn apart and Paige disappears.  Desperate to find her again, Penryn takes to the empty streets of San Francisco, but a question lingers: where is everybody?  Her search reveals the angels’ plans and the depths they are willing to go to for control.  Meanwhile, Raffe can’t rejoin the angel ranks unless he gets his wings back.  But stuck between helping Penryn survive or his wings, which will he choose?

Y’all, I love this series.  There’s something that’s so different about it and I wish I could put my finger on it. But I’ll do my best.

Penryn is such a fascinating lead. She’s independent and self-reliant for such a realistic and reasonable reason: her mentally ill (and unstable) mother has never been able to care for her or her sister. So for Penryn to be clever and resourceful makes sense. She has strong survival instincts that only come more in handy in this apocalypse. I love that she’s sassy and a fighter. It makes every scene where she gets to fight back that much more exciting.

The minor characters also are a complete joy because they are so nuanced. I adore Raffe, I have a crush on Dee and Dum, and I have a place inside of me where I just want to pummel the angels for destroying Penryn’s world. But even the angels (looking at you, Uriel) have nuanced motivations and personalities. There was one moment in this book where Uriel was startled by something that happened and it sticks with me because it shows that he wasn’t planning on something happening the way it did. Penryn assessed the situation perfectly and I just can’t get over how simply perfect that one little sentence was.

The action is as amazing as ever. We haven’t seen the last of the scorpion creatures and they certainly bring a level of insanity and terror to every scene they are in. They’re just creepy and wrong. But at least we have Penryn around to kick butt (literally…just wait and see what she does in this one!) and take names. The fights are intense and I just love the way a couple of them turned out.

The world of this apocalyptic Silicon Valley is just amazing. I may never have been there, but it doesn’t matter. I can picture all the destruction and devastation as easily as if I had seen it myself. Ee pulls in a lot of landmarks that also help set the scene well.

What I loved best about this book was this tension with whether or not Penryn and Raffe would find each other again. There are a few…twists…that come along the way that I thought were well done.

Seriously, is there anything this book can’t do?

Vassa in the Night

28220892First Lines: When Night looked down, it saw its own eyes staring back at it.  Two big black eyes, both full of stars.  At first Night ignored them.

I got this book a few months back from Uppercase, but I kind of let it sit on my shelf forever because I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I hadn’t really heard of it at all before it arrived in the mail and it seemed like the type of book I had to be in just the right mood to read.

In the  enchanted city of Brooklyn, there are two types of people: the people who can party without worrying about anything and the people stuck in the working class district where the chance of death is much, much higher.  This is Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters.  Nearby is a convenience store owned by Babs Yagga, a women whose policy is to behead anyone caught shoplifting in her store–and sometimes innocent people when the mood strikes.  When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs, Vassa knows this could easily be a suicide mission.  But with a little big of luck and a magical wooden doll from her mother named Erg, Vassa might just break the curse and free her neighboorhood.  But when Bab’s doesn’t play fair, what will Vassa do?

This book was weird.  Like A.G. Howard’s Splintered series weird.  The kind of weird where you have to read sections two or three times and you still don’t actually understand what’s happening.

Vassa is a teenage girl in Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit in. Her stepsisters don’t understand her and her only real friend is a talking doll named Erg. As a trick (sort of a game of chicken, really), Vassa’s sister insists that Vassa go to the nearby BY’s store, where most people who go in after dark never make it out alive.  I thought Vassa was incredibly dumb for even taking her stepsister’s dare, and my opinion of her didn’t improve much throughout the story.

The story is just so bizarre that it’s very hard to follow and I found myself getting bored of it because it was so hard to follow. I kept giving up. I’d read a chapter or two and put it down to do something more interesting.  That’s never a good sign.

There was very little about the first half of this story that I liked. I never had a single character that I clicked with who kept me reading. I never had a moment where I was excited about what I was reading. Even the climax wasn’t terribly exciting for me besides the fact that I was almost done with the book.

The story only really started to improve when it was in its last twenty pages or so. Once the loose ends started getting wrapped up, I finally started feeling like the story was falling into place. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly encouraging. I had to put up with 270 pages before that.

(Some of you are probably wondering why I even bothered finishing this. I own it, bought through Uppercase. I felt obligated to read it all the way to the end.)

It was just too much.  It tries to play into many fairy tale tropes while simultaneously turning them on their head.  But it felt like it was trying to do this with every trope instead of just focusing on a couple.  It’s overwhelming.  Not one I’ll be reading again.

American Street

30256109First Lines: If only I could break the glass separating me and Manman with my thoughts alone.  On one side of the glass doors are the long lines of people with their photos and papers that prove that they belong here in America, that are allowed to taste a bit of this free air.

I receive this as an ARC from Edelweiss (I’m cutting it close; it comes out February 14, 2017.)  Before I saw it on Edelweiss, I’d never heard of this book.  But the description sounded awesome and I wanted to give it a shot.

This was supposed to be Fabiola Toussaint’s chance to live the perfect American life.  With her mother, she was going to move into the little house on the corner of American and Joy Streets with her cousins and aunt.  But after they leave Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by US immigration, leaving Fabiola on her own as she tries to navigate the complex world of Detroit’s west side with her cousins Chantal, Princess, and Donna.  Just as Fabiola begins to figure out this strange new place, a dangerous offer presents itself to her and Fabiola must decide how much she’s willing to pay to live the American dream.

Can I just start by saying how timely this novel is?  The fact that it’s being released only weeks after a massive American travel ban that is separating families the same way Fabiola is separated from her mother?  I know these book releases are planned far in advance, but the timing is astounding.

Ok, here’s what I liked: I liked the infusion of Haitian culture and American culture. I liked seeing Fabiola try to understand American culture while her cousins, most of whom never saw Haiti, struggle to understand her culture and beliefs.  It’s a real culture shock for both sides.  (Especially when you see what happens on Thanksgiving!)

I thought Fabiola was a dynamic character. She begins scared and completely out of her element, especially as her mother remains detained in New Jersey. She’s on her own, with family she doesn’t remember. Then, as the story progresses, she grows into a stronger, braver girl who is beginning to find her place in this new city and new family. I liked seeing that confidence build.

I also liked how none of the characters were black-and-white heroes or villains. The characters you believe are good make mistakes–monstrous ones. The characters you hate have redeeming moments that make you think there’s still a chance for them to mend their ways. You can’t call any of them good or bad because everyone is both. Just like in life.

I also felt this was a stark and jarring view of life for many African-Americans and teenagers. I will be the first to admit that I have absolutely no idea of what the hardships are that people face in places like Detroit, that seem to be written off by everyone else as a dying city (which it’s not). But this book was shocking and, at times, uncomfortable. My world is nothing like that. And I had no idea that this was what it took to survive in these places.

Here’s what I didn’t like so much: the portrayal of Fab’s cousins and aunt. While I understand why they are so complicated, they also managed to seem flat. There was almost too much going on in their lives and by the time I got adjusted to what I’d just read, we were throwing more on top of it. For such main characters, they underwent virtually no change at all. And Matant Jo was barely in the story at all.

The story also seemed a bit unfocused. While we’re waiting to see what happens to Fab’s mother, we’re also watching her Haitian culture mix with American culture, Donna’s story, Pri’s story, Chantal’s story, how brutal American schools are, Dray’s story, Kasim’s story, and this backstory about a white girl who died taking bad drugs. There is literally so much going on that I could type out three full pages on the plot alone. Half of the time, I forgot about Fab’s mother.

This is neither negative nor positive, but I would like to just throw it out there that this is an incredibly dark book.  There is a massive amount of profanity, drug references, and violence in this story. It’s on virtually every page, which helps drill home what teenagers in Fab’s situation deal with on a daily basis. But it’s also a lot and sometimes it’s exhausting because it’s so common.

Overall, I thought this was a daring book that shows the struggle of teenagers we don’t normally get to read about.

Long May She Reign

30320053First Lines: A hundred doves burst out of the pie.  I don’t know why I was surprised.  Of course there were a few hundred doves in the pie.  It had been the size of a table, and the king wouldn’t open his birthday celebration by actually feeding his guests.  Not when he could amaze us all with his extravagance instead.

ARC attack!  (I got tired of saying “ARC alert” and this sounded so much more fun.)  So I received a copy of this from Edelweiss in return for a review, but this had been on my to-read list for a while before I got it.  You’ll see why in just a minute.  But anyway, this book comes out on February 21, 2017, if you were curious.

Freya should never have been queen.  As the 23rd person in line to inherit the throne, the odds were astronomically stacked against this budding scientist ever wearing the crown.  But that was all before an extravagant banquet becomes a deadly affair and Freya is one of the few left standing.  While she may have escaped death, she’s not safe.  Her councilors don’t respect her, the nobles ignore her, and the lingering mystery of who actually killed the king could bring her reign to a quick end.  Freya may never have wanted to be queen, but she’s going to be the best queen she can be, and that means finding the murderer before they try to kill her.  The only problem is that she can’t trust anyone.  Not her advisers, not the king’s illegitimate son, not even her own father.  Can she find the murderer before she loses her crown?

I want to start by pointing out that this is a YA standalone fantasy novel.  I think that means I’ve officially found a unicorn, since the rarity is basically the same.  Seriously, how many of those exist?  Not very many, I’ve found.

I really did like Freya. This scientific, shy girl wanted nothing more than to escape court and basically live in her laboratory conducting experiments. But when she does get thrust into the spotlight, she learns from her mistakes. She sees what isn’t working, even if (or especially if) it was originally based on advice from others, and makes adjustments. Even though she didn’t want it, she wants to be the best queen she can be. And that attitude was fascinating.

The minor characters were compelling as well. Everyone from the king’s illegitimate son William Fitzroy to Freya’s best friend Naomi to the advisers. No one was perfect. Everyone had a quirk or two, and you truly didn’t know who was being quirky and who was being suspicious. I really liked that it was so difficult to really know what they were actually thinking/doing.

The mystery was pretty good as well. There are definitely clues along the way that give it away if you pay enough attention, but it was also really nice to get lost in the suspicions because, frankly, no one is not suspicious. Everyone has their own agenda and weeding through those takes time. So that was fun.

I will say that the ending was a little lackluster after everything else that had been going on in the story. It didn’t feel as tense as I was hoping it would be, given the situation it was. It was still a good ending, but I wanted a little more from it than I got.

But overall, I thought this was a really fun and entertaining book.

Victoria

51e3y0cfeylFirst Lines: A shaft of dawn light fell on the crack in the corner of the ceiling.  Yesterday it had looked like a pair of spectacles, but overnight a spider had embroidered the fissure, filling in the gaps, so that now it looked, she thought, like a crown.

Ok, so I’ll be the first to tell you that this isn’t technically a YA book.  But we are dealing with a barely-eighteen-year-old girl who finds herself to be the Queen of England.  So…that counts, right?  I’m a big follower of Queen Victoria’s early years (I mean really, how difficult would that job have been?  I do not envy her.), so when I saw this at the library, I had to grab it.

In 1837, Alexandrina Victoria became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.  Many had no faith in her.  After growing up completely sheltered by her mother and her comptroller, Sir John Conroy, Victoria knew little about the way the world truly worked.  But from the very beginning, she was determined to show everyone (especially her ministers) that she was her own woman–and she started by dropping her Alexandrina name.  Quickly, she wins over Lord Melbourne, who becomes her private secretary.  Perhaps he could have been more if Victoria wasn’t destined to marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg and Gotha.  Having met him as a child, Victoria was less than enamored with Albert.  There’s no way she could want someone like him as a husband…

I want to start by saying that I already knew a lot about Victoria’s youth thanks to the fabulous movie The Young Victoria.  Sure, it takes a few liberties with her story, but it’s incredibly entertaining.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t work as well for me as I hoped it would. I thought the beginning was slow. Why? Because it was (perhaps obviously so) nearly identical to The Young Victoria. Granted, they are based on the same sources (Victoria was a methodica diarist), but I always assumed the movie took more liberties, you know? Turns out it’s quite factual, which is great, but it meant that nothing new was being added as I read this book. Hence, I found it slow. And this is predominately the reason why I gave it a lower rating. It took a really long time to feel invested in this.

I needed something to spice it up, and I found it in the oddest place. See, I thought it was going to be the scenes of Victoria and Albert (who, let’s face it, make an adorable couple on and off screen), but it was really the scenes with Victoria and Lord Melbourne. Odd, right? But it’s a complicated relationship these two have, and this book really shows the nuances there. That was kind of fascinating, especially since the story shows both how Victoria views their relationship and how Melbourne does. Now how much of that is factual, I don’t know. But it was interesting.

I think this book does do a nice job showing Victoria’s personality: strong, stubborn (sometimes to a fault), a bit vengeful and vindictive, witty, humorous, and sometimes short-sighted. It didn’t shy away from her worse traits, nor did it try to paint her with the blackest brush. It just made her look like the teenage girl she was, the one who was clearly unprepared for the role she had to fill but tried to make the best of it. She learned quickly, especially once she started trusting the right people.

Also, this book doesn’t shy away from the volatile relationship between Victoria and Albert. For as good as they were together, they had some wicked fights. But they seemed to even each other out at the same time that they presented a challenge, so I think that’s adorable.

So yeah. Overall, I found it to be informative and showing a wide array of emotions not only from our heroine but also from other major and minor characters. It was just really slow to get going.

Oh, and if you’re interested in this but don’t have time to read the book right now, Daisy Goodwin wrote this book at the same time she wrote the screenplay for a new PBS series, Victoria, which premieres Sunday, January 15.  I am so there.