This Light Between Us

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II

First Lines: He was seventeen the first time he saw her. A February dusk in 1943 on the cold plains of Manzanar. The snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains loomed in the distance, stoic and stark.

As someone who teaches the Holocaust in school every year through novels, I’m always on the lookout for anything new and different. This book, which make a young French Jewish girl and a Japanese-American boy penpals before and during WWII, seemed like it could be a really good addition to my novel list. I needed to read it.

In 1935, when 10-year-old Alex Maki is given a French pen pal for class, he’s disgusted to learn that Charlie Levy is a girl. Despite his reluctance to talk to her, letters fly across the Atlantic between the two of them. They share their hopes for the future and friendship with each other. Until Pearl Harbor and the growing Nazi persecution of Jews force both of them into situations that will make them confront the darker sides of humanity. From the plains of Manzanar to the horrors of Auschwitz and the brutality of European battlefields, they can only hold on to two things: the letters between them and the hope their friendship brings them.

The thing that drew me to this book is how original it is. There are so many Holocaust books out there, but it was really interesting to see one that tied it to Japanese internment camps in the US. It opens up a conversation and I like that.

And honestly, that became my favorite thing about this story. Alex is our narrator, so it heavily favors his experiences in the internment camps, but he is desperate for news of Charlie in France and we learn how that trickle of information came through, how he kept up with the events in Europe to learn what may be happening to her.

It’s a very realistic story. It doesn’t shy away from casual racism or legal rights violations or the worst parts of human nature. It doesn’t shy away from death or greed or brutality. At times, it’s quite painful. But in a story like this, one that is a horrific black eye on American history and covers even worse abroad, that painful realism is necessary to understanding how wrong it was.

Alex, as a character, is charming and naive in the beginning. He doesn’t understand why the government’s doing this to them and why his neighbors and friends are suddenly pretending they don’t have history. We also see so much of him come out in his letters to Charlie and how their friendship grows over time.

My only problem with this book is that the beginning is incredibly slow. I had such a hard time feeling like the story was going anywhere. The initial few chapters are almost entirely letters sent by 9- and 10-year-olds, which isn’t super interesting. It was necessary for character development, but I did seriously consider just giving up on the book a couple of times when I just wasn’t sure I could slog through more. But I’m glad I stuck with it and pressed on.

It’s a touching story. It’s unique and interesting while still having a whole lot of heart.

Sing Me Forgotten

Sing Me Forgotten

First Lines: I am a shadow. A shimmer of black satin. A wraith in the dark.

Sorry I haven’t been updating much lately. There was a death in the family on the day my last post went live and I’ve been trying to adjust since then and find a return to normal. It’s been a process. It’s actually kind of ironic, in that case, that this is the book I’m reviewing first, given its emphasis on memory.

Isla was born with a rare power, one that people fear so much she was supposed to have been killed at birth. When people sings, Isla can manipulate memories. Saved at a young age from death by opera house owner Cyril, she’s lived in the opulent opera house ever since. All he asks is that she uses her powers to keep ticket sales high–and that she stays out of sight. Even now, if she’s seen, it means death for her and her protector. But then she meets Emeric, whose voice is unlike anything she’s ever heard before. She’s drawn to the charming boy whose memories hint at ways she can finally be free. As Isda spends more time with Emeric, she becomes more hopeful about gaining her freedom. But the price of freedom will be higher than she ever could have anticipated…

From the moment I read the blurb, I thought this sounded vaguely like The Phantom of the Opera, a thought that was only confirmed as I read the book. And as a fan of that story, I truly wanted to enjoy this.

And in a lot of ways, I did. I loved the way music was incorporated into the story. I loved the setting (a French-esque fantasy world where memories are currency, so memory is valued above all else). I even liked Isda and her internal conflict of what makes a person a monster. (Ok, let me rephrase my earlier Phantom comment. It’s Phantom mixed with Hunchback. Both set in France, both dealing with deformities, both confining the tragic figure in a place of music and culture, ALL LIKE THIS BOOK.)

For the first half or two thirds of the book, I would have given this a 4 rating. Yes, there were moments of predictability. Yes, there were moments where it was hard to really get a handle on some of the world building. (It’s a relatively short book for a fantasy novel. Things happen quickly with little exposition.) But I generally liked it. It was the last bit of the book that sort of ruined the experience for me. Not that it was bad, exactly. It has honest and probably true to the characters if I’m being honest. It just wasn’t how I wanted things to go. It felt like it dove too far into melodrama and clichés to me. But it did feel like how some of the characters would react, so what can you do?

For a debut fantasy novel, this was really good, even if I didn’t totally buy into the ending. This is definitely an author to watch.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous

First Lines: “Thank you for coming on such short notice, Mr. and Mrs. Song.” Mr. Lyons straightened the slightly askew HEADMASTER plaque on his desk before continuing.

I went on vacation with my boyfriend a few weeks back and I was looking for a very specific kind of book to take with me: something funny and simple and easy to pick up whenever there was a little down time. This looked like it might be just the thing.

Sunny Song has summer goals, namely to snag Rafael Kim as her boyfriend and get 100k followers on social media. What wasn’t on her list? Accidentally filming a PG-13 viral cooking video (#browniegate), which earned her a one-way ticket to social detox camp in Iowa. IOWA. For a MONTH. This up and coming social media star is going to learn how to run a farm, which so does not help her business plans. If she wants to get the future she’s always wanted, she’s going to need a way back to WiFi. But when a few unexpected friendship and one too-cute farm boy show up in her new life, Sunny might have to reconsider how much of her life she wants to spend online…

I will admit that it was funny. Sunny is obsessed with getting more followers and it leads to some…unfortunate incidents. Her family has had enough and ships this city girl (LA) to Iowa for digital detox camp, where she could have jobs like shearing sheep or milking cows. Obviously, this has comedy potential, and it does deliver on the humor. It’s almost over-the-top humor at times, but it was entertaining.

Maybe this is me as a 30 year old talking, but I just thought this story lacked the depth to balance out the humor. Sure, Sunny does have some internal conflicts. But I felt like there were so many dropped plotlines, so many moments where the story jumped around that it was hard to feel like it all connected into anything. I didn’t feel like the story had any real flow.

Now that I’ve said that, I did think the story had some good messages about our relationship with social media. It was interesting to watch Sunny realize just how she was tied to her phone. But again, it was pointed out rather matter-of-factly and not in a way that really let us see Sunny’s transformation as much. I don’t exactly know how I would have improved it, but it all just read a little off to me, like there was too much telling and not enough showing.

It’s not a bad read at all. I thought it was cute and funny, with a lot of flawed characters trying to improve themselves.

Retribution Rails (Vengeance Road, #2)

Retribution Rails (Vengeance Road, #2)

First Lines: There’s a nice stretch of rail between Painted Rock and Gila Bend, and that’s where we’ll take the train.

A while back, I got hold of the first book in this semi-related duology (more on that in a bit). I liked the history in it and the danger, enough that I wanted to check out this one.

Reece Murphy doesn’t want to be an outlaw. Forced to join the infamous Rose Riders because of a strange coin he has in his possession, Reece vows that he’ll find the man who gave it to him and get his revenge. What Reece never expects is that he’ll get his best shot at that thanks to an aspiring female journalist. Reece met Charlotte Vaughn on a botched train robbery, but his interest in her is piqued when she mentions rumors about a gunslinger in Prescott. She could be his ticket to freedom–or the noose. Because Charlotte has a mission of her own, and if she needs to manipulate Reece to get it…so be it. But Charlotte and Reece may not be the only ones out for revenge…

I like this semi-series (the two books take place ten years apart and follow different characters), particularly its depiction of the West. It’s brutal and beautiful. It’s lawless and hopeful in equal measures. People truly are making their own futures, good or bad. It’s a uniquely American story in so many ways.

I liked Charlotte and Reece in this book. I thought they were really different from Kate and Jesse, which was a cool way to put their own twist on the story. Charlotte is an aspiring journalist, even though everyone tells her women can’t be journalists. Reece is known as the Rose Kid, a young man who was forced to join the Rose Riders gang of outlaws. He’s just biding his time until he can get out, but it’s not that easy. Reece is definitely more “street smart” than Charlotte is, but Charlotte had her own skills too. She’s tenacious, for one thing. She doesn’t let anything go.

I love the setting, I love the characters. The plot was mostly good (definitely nothing egregiously wrong with it), it was just that sometimes I felt it was slow or too simple in how it solved problems. Still, it was a good read. I really enjoyed this.

Lore

Lore

First Lines: Her mother had once told her that the only way to truly know someone was to fight them. In Lore’s experience, the only thing fighting actually revealed was the spot on their body someone least wanted to be punched.

It’s probably no secret to those of you who have been following my reviews for a while, but in the past year I’ve become a big fan of Alexandra Bracken. I’m slowly working my way through her published works and this one definitely caught my eye from the moment I first saw it.

Every seven years, the Agon begins. Nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, a punishment for past rebellions. They are hunted by descendants of ancient bloodlines who all want to kill these gods and absorb their power and immortality. Years ago, Lore walked away from this life. After her family was brutally murdered by a rival bloodline, wanting nothing more to do with this world unless it’s about getting revenge against the man–now god–who ordered their deaths. Except as the newest Agon begins, two participants need Lore’s help: Castor, a childhood friend who Lore believed to be dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, one of the last remaining original gods. Athena offers Lore what she can’t turn down: revenge and a way to leave the Agon forever. But Lore’s decision comes at a deadly cost she may not be willing to pay…

I actually genuinely really liked this. (Are there enough adverbs in that sentence?) I thought it was interesting and engaging and fun. It’s basically Greek mythology meets The Hunger Games. I didn’t realize it was a standalone until I finished it. That impresses and disappoints me.

The story follows Lore, a seventeen year old (who definitely does NOT act like she’s seventeen, but we’ll get to that) who discovered her entire family murdered seven years ago at the end of the Agon, a week-long hunt every seven years where the Greek gods become mortal and can be killed. Since then, she’s tried to escape her heritage and the Agon, wanting out. But when the Agon comes again, she finds herself dragged back into it.

First of all, I love this take on the Greek gods. The fact that they can turn mortal while still retaining some of their powers is cool. The wide range of personalities and backstabbing between them also really made the story. I felt everything was really well fleshed out, from the mythology and world building to how this Agon and hunters thing works. It was fun to sink into this world–and super easy to do so.

The characters were also really cool. As I mentioned, Lore feels much older than 17. At first, I thought it was just because of all the darkness she’s gone through, it had matured her, but now I definitely think this is the one misstep in the writing. Honestly, she acts like she’s in her twenties and I had a very hard time believing she was just seventeen, considering she’d been someone’s caretaker for a few years and a runaway at twelve and no one cared. Like…that’s odd. She was a great heroine, but I just did not feel like anyone in this story was actually a teenager. That was the most unbelievable part of a story about Greek gods getting killed in New York City.

Still, despite all that, I truly did like the story. I thought it was fun and fast because I got so pulled into the story. Lots of twists, lots of turns. Lots of fun. Easily my favorite read of this summer.

Dance of Shadows (Dance of Shadows, #1)

Dance of Shadows (Dance of Shadows, #1)

First Lines: In the harsh glare of the lights, Chloe’s shadow stretched across the stage. Her toes pointed and taut, her arms fluttering like wings, she arched her neck and watched as her own silhouette seemed to move without her…

I bought this book a long time ago for super cheap and I have been meaning to get around to it for a long time. (Why is it so much harder to read books I own?) I consider myself a dancer, though I never took ballet or anything like that. But that means I’m always drawn to stories about dance and with the touch of paranormal in this one, I thought it would be something I enjoyed.

Vanessa has just been enrolled in the world-renowned New York Ballet Academy. It would be the dream of a lifetime–if it wasn’t that this was the same school her sister, Margaret, disappeared from three years ago. Vanessa is here in part to find out what happened to Margaret. But when Vanessa lands a lead role in a NYBA production most girls would kill for, she’s suddenly thrown into a world of secrets that stretches beyond NYBA. Someone–or something–wants to use Vanessa for more than her talent. Will she be able to fight back…or could she end up sharing the same strange fate as her sister?

Some things about this book turned out to be pretty good. The characters, while sometimes not being fully fleshed out or just following stereotypes, were still usually entertaining. It’s just that there are so many named characters that, beyond Vanessa and a couple of her closest friends, you really don’t get to know anyone else well at all. Teachers, enemies, villains, everyone is really just a stereotype. You have mean girls, mysterious persons who know more than they should, people who are only in the story to drop a bombshell and you never hear from them again, etc.

The mystery was intriguing most of the time. I thought it started off well and I had questions about it all the time as new little clues came to light. But the final “payoff”…boy, was that not what I wanted. Sure I saw it going that way, but it was kind of weird. And I thought the ending had some tone problems because, for as serious as it was, there were a ton of jokes being cracked the whole time.

I do like the subject matter. As a dancer myself (though not a ballet dancer), I related to a lot that Vanessa talks about and experiences. So I did like that a whole story revolved around dance so much. But this is just a weird story.