A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab

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A Gathering of Shadows FinalIn the second installment of the Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, Delilah Bard is aboard the Night Spire as its best thief, while Kell is being closely watched by the King of Red London. It’s been four months since the fateful night where Kell tied his life with Rhy’s, defeated Holland and the Danes, and returned the black stone to Black London, and the urge to run grows stronger in him every day. But he is not alone. Prince Rhy’s mood has turned dark, and to avoid the thoughts that haunt him at night, the prince focuses all of his time and energy into the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament held between London and its surrounding countries. But unbeknownst to most, this year’s tournament will hold many secrets and surprises for all involved.

I’ve said it before and I will say it until the day I die: Victoria Schwab knows how to tell a story. One aspect of her writing that I will always admire is the pacing. Schwab has a way of telling a story quickly, but not too quickly. She doesn’t bog the reader down with recapping what had happened in the previous book, and instead weaves it throughout the new story, placing nuggets at the right spot where the reader will say, “Ah, yes! I remember now.” She also weaves in new characters with the old. Although Delilah Bard is still my favorite character, Alucard Emery has become a close second with his charm and wit.

Out of all of Schwab’s story, A Gathering of Shadows pays the closest homage to Harry Potter with the Essen Tasch. However, it still tells a story all of its own. There are a few unanswered questions by the end, as well as a cliff hanger that will make your heart drop, but all of that makes me even more excited to pick up the final installment in the trilogy, A Conjuring of Light. Seriously, if you haven’t started this trilogy yet, what are you waiting for?

Inked by Eric Smith

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22511892What if a tattoo held the answers to your fate?

Unsure of who he wants to be, Caenum is worried about what the magic ink will reveal when he receives it on his 18th birthday. But when something happens to the Scribes scheduled to give him his Ink, Caenum has more to worry about. Namely, The Citadel who are now after everyone he loves.

With the help of his best friend Dreya and a reluctant new companion Kenzi, Caenum must navigate the world outside his little town, dodging both The Citadel and Unprinted who are after them, to find Sanctuary all while discovering the things he never knew hiding just beneath his skin.

If you’re looking for a fast read, Inked by Eric Smith is your book. I was able to read this book in about two days. Magical and addicting, Smith is able to create a world without throwing too much at the reader at once. He slowly unravels the world and the characters, which was great because it led me to believe that certain things would happen, only to be surprised later when something I wasn’t expecting occurred. My favorite character was Dreya. I thought Smith did an amazing job at describing her and I loved the dynamic between Dreya and Caenum.

Overall, I loved the premise of this book. However, I wish that Smith had fleshed out the characters and the world just a bit more so the reader could really get a feel for everything. Luckily, there is a sequel so I can return to this fascinating world and find out what happens to the characters I became attached to.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

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x500What would you do if you learned you were going to die today? That’s the premise behind Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End – where a service called Death Cast is started to let people know the day they’re going to die. What they don’t know is how or when.

Mateo Torrez always lived life in the slow lane, choosing to spend most of his time shut away instead of living it up the way he secretly wants to. But life’s not all bad. He has his best friend, Lidia; his godchild, Penny; and his dad, who is currently in a coma, to keep him preoccupied. When Mateo’s phone releases the Death Cast ring at 12:22 AM, he’s devastated. All his dreams of branching out will never come true. So, on his last day he decides to change his introverted ways: Mateo joins the Last Friend app to find someone who will help him live life to the fullest. What he doesn’t expect is to meet Rufus Emeterio: a kid who has already lost his family – and established a new one in the Pluto’s and their foster family – and who is on Death Cast’s list as well. Mateo also doesn’t expect to fall in love, but there’s a first time for everything, right?

This was my first taste of Adam Silver’s writing, and it definitely won’t be my last. Despite knowing how the book is going to end from the outset, there is a lot still inside the story to learn. In fact, within the first 100 pages I thought I knew how the book was going to end. I expected Silvera to be tricking us, to pull a quick one and surprise the reader in the end. However, I was wrong, and on more than one instance because Silvera has a way of making the reader think one thing will happen only to bring in something else. The reader gets to witness two characters grow through knowing each other. Although we know Mateo and Rufus are going to die, you still root for them, hoping – praying – that they somehow beat the odds and become the first people who do not die on the day they are meant to.

Beyond Mateo and Rufus, there are other characters intertwined into their story. We get to meet characters who aren’t going to die and who are going to die and see how their story plays along with the main characters. How things might have ended up differently if the two had made a different choice from the beginning. So, there’s a lot more depth to this story than there seems to be on the outset, and I really enjoyed that.

I also loved that Silvera is not only writing for the LBGTQ community, but also for people of color as well. This book was different than many of the other young adult books I read because it featured two people of color who also happened to be gay and bi. I loved seeing the diversity, and that’s just another reason that I want to read more of his work, as well as tell more people about it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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coverThe Haunting of Hill House is only the second story I’ve ever read by Shirley Jackson. Like the majority of people, I read The Lottery in school, and probably wouldn’t have gone much further than that had it not been recommended to me. Obviously, I need to break out of that habit.

Invited to Hill House to help discover the mysteries behind hauntings, Eleanor becomes friendly with her companions: Dr. Montague, the originator of the experiment looking to publish evidence of a true haunting; Luke, the future inheritor of the estate; and Theodora, an outgoing woman and Dr. Montague’s assistant. Only a few days after their stay, there is no doubt that something odd is going on in Hill House – and it’s calling for Eleanor. But will the house get to them before they can get out?

I wasn’t expecting The Haunting of Hill House to be as scary as it was. The book started off as a beautifully descriptive tale of a lonely woman breaking free from her solitary and ordinary life and quickly escalated to a story that had my heart racing and made me afraid to be alone in my house at night. If there’s one thing that I’m afraid of, it’s ghosts (despite the ongoing debate of whether they’re real or not). It’s a short tale with interesting characters that will make you question seemingly  innocent incidents happening around you.

Shirley Jackson is definitely one of the better horror story writers I have come across and would recommend anyone interested in horror – or just good literature, in general – dive into this story.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

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23604559As children we live on fairy tales. They tend to be the first stories we’re told, our first insights into the world of make believe. It’s no different for Elsa. But what Elsa doesn’t know is that the fairy tales her grandmother tells her are more than just stories, and that there are truths behind the fantasy.

Elsa’s grandmother is eccentric and out spoken, never afraid to say what’s on her mind or do what she wants, even at the age of 87. Many people would describe her as “perky”. To Elsa, that is just granny. Every night, Elsa and her grandmother travel to the Land-of-Almost-Awake where they go on adventures and meet all different kinds of people. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is sent to deliver letters from her grandmother to the other members of the house. Within the letters is a simple message: I’m sorry. For what, Elsa does not know. Nor does she know why her grandmother made her promise not to hate her after Elsa learns who she was before she became a grandmother. One way or another, Elsa is determined to learn the answers to these mysteries.

Similar to A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry made me experience the gamut of human emotions. Backman has a way of making a reader laugh out loud with one sentence and then reduce them to tears in the next. The writing is clear and concise, and the story was well paced, keeping the reader intrigued with no lulls in the plot. I would say there is nothing that I didn’t like about this book. Once I began to read it, I did not want to stop, but when I had to I was constantly thinking about it. I even recommended it to at least two people before I was even finished reading it.

Backman incorporated stories about the lives of the other members of the house disguised as fairy tales to help move the plot along, giving the reader information about characters before you know that that’s who it was about. There were several points in the story where I caught on and it was the greatest to feel that “Ah ha!” moment. It was satisfying to be shown the backgrounds of different characters in such a creative way, and I really appreciated how it was done. Although the stories are not similar, the way the fairy tales were used reminded of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert—another amazing book that made my heart sing.

After reading and falling in love with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, I am determined to read all of Fredrick Backman’s books, and I hope that I can convince other readers to do the same.

everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too by jomny sun

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x500The world can be an unknown and scary place, especially when you’re all alone from another planet.

In what will probably be the cutest book I will read all year (although suggestions for contenders are welcome), the story follows jomny sun, a lonely aliebn, who is sent to Earth to observe humabns. While visiting, he comes across a cast of creatures just as lonely as he is. This illustrated book is filled with multiple perspectives on life, love and happiness bound to inspire and move readers.

everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is a quick read, which is a bad and good thing. Bad because it’s over way too soon, but good because you can start it over right away! In fact, I would recommend reading it multiple times (or at least very slowly) in order to be able to take in and process all that the story has to offer. There were several pages that I read multiple times because I either loved what was written on them or wanted to really look at the accompanying illustrations. Despite its simplistic look, everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is filled with words that will make your heart smile and your brain think. It also makes the perfect coloring book!

If you liked this book, I suggest following the author, Jonathan Sun, on Twitter: @jonnysun.

 

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

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81xdla-eahlThe world is a complicated and messy place. I would say that no one really knows what they are doing, which is kind of a good thing because it let’s us know that we’re not alone. But what if you were chosen to decide the fate of the world?

That’s what Henry Denton is faced with. For years he’s been abducted by aliens, a fact that leads him to become an outcast at school. The only way he has been able to get through it is with the help of his boyfriend. But when his boyfriend dies by suicide, he leaves Henry to deal with not only the torment, but the grief, all alone. One night when he is abducted, he learns that the world is going to end in 144 days and all he has to do to save it is push a red button. At first the choice seems easy: Why should he save the world after it’s been so cruel to him? But as the days pass by, Henry realizes the choice is not as cut and dry as he first believes.

We Are the Ants is a beautifully written young adult novel highlighting the struggles that come with being a teenager. The only thing I wish this book had was a more concrete ending. Not that the book was ruined without one. I loved reading about Henry as he worked to come to terms with who he is to the world and how everyone plays a part in the grand scheme of things. The connections the characters had with each other were genuine and lovely, but painful at the same time. There were times where I just wanted to grab Henry and hold on to him and never let him go. But there were also times where I wanted to slap some sense into him. To make him see just how important he is. So, even though the book did not have a concrete ending, it was still a beautiful and emotional read, leaving me wanting more from Shaun David Hutchinson.

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

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HoB.jpgIf you’re looking for a short (read: 106 pages), amazingly awesome and creepy page turner you need go no further than Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw.

I happened to come across this book because I read an article on new releases in 2017 that featured the sequel, A Song for Quiet. I immediately fell in love with the cover art (seriously, go look it up. It’s gorgeous!), and once I realized it was the second in a series, I knew I had to get my hands on the first. Because I really wanted to read A Song for Quiet. This can be kind of scary because what if you don’t like the first book? Do you still read the second one? What if it’s just as disappointing as the first? It all comes down to: Is it worth it?

Trust me, friends, Hammers on Bone is worth it.

The story follows John Persons, a private investigator hired by a 10-year-old boy to kill his abusive stepdad, McKinsey. But there’s something else that leads Persons to investigate: McKinsey is also a monster. Being one himself, Persons is no stranger when it comes to dealing with monsters. But can Persons manage to stop McKinsey spreading the alien presence he is infected with without giving in to his own horrifying potential?

I think my favorite aspect about Khaw’s writing is her ability to paint the most beautiful and creepy pictures. Her word choices are impeccable and allow the reader to vividly see what is happening in the story. Although Hammers on Bone is short, it is the perfect pocket read, providing just a taste of the world within its pages that keep the reader wanting more. The short length also allows for multiple reads, which helps if you want to re-read it prior to diving into A Song for Quiet.

 

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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297673Over the past several years I have begun to enjoy reading memoirs. There’s something about learning about someone else’s life that fascinates and captivates me. I guess it has something to do with being able to relate with someone you have never met and understanding that you are not alone. Although The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is fiction, I thought that it read similarly to a memoir, which actually surprised me since I had started the book anticipating a fictitious story surrounding Oscar Wao. However, Oscar may be the main focus of the story, but his family plays a large role and helps the story unfold from multiple angles.

I have to admit that it took me several years after being recommended this book to actually read it because of the footnotes included with the story. Lame excuse, I know. But there’s something about seeing paragraphs of footnotes that makes me lose my resolve. Luckily, I am not alone. A coworker who had just finished reading this book said he was put off at first by the footnotes as well, but he assured me that they really weren’t that bad. And he was right. Although lengthy, the footnotes provide a lot of great historical and pop culture information that help in the telling of the story. In fact, the book may not work so well without them.

One of the coolest parts about the book was the amount of Spanish used throughout. It made the story feel authentic, which I loved, despite it holding me back a little. Since I don’t know any Spanish, I had to keep my phone nearby to look up the phrases (Junot Diaz does not provide a translation, which only became problematic with the more slang terms) which slowed my reading. But a lot of the phrases were repeated throughout the book and by the end I barely needed to look them up.

So this is the lesson I learned from reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Do not be afraid to read out of your comfort zone. A whole new world may be opened to you.

 

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny

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26156474When we lose someone—whether it’s our parent, sibling, grandparent, friend, pet, etc.—grief is there to put its arms around us, to hold our hand through all of the firsts, and to never, truly ever let go. Even as the years pass, you may do something or see something that may send a jolt through you of remembrance and a cocktail of feelings. I spent the majority of my childhood mourning over the loss of my mother, and even though my dad died two years ago there are still certain things that make me wish I could call him up and tell him about it. In the memoir It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too), Nora McInerny explores the loss of her father and her husband both weeks after miscarrying her second child through a collection of stories, essays, and lists guaranteed to make you laugh, cry, and feel all of the feels.

I was first introduced to Nora McInerny through her Podcast: Terrible, Thanks For Asking, which asks the question “How are you?” with the intent for people to answer honestly. I don’t quite remember how I found the Podcast, but I found it several months after my dad passed away from Parkinson’s Disease and it helped me deal with a lot of emotions I was feeling. So, I knew reading this book would probably be a good idea. And it was.

I personally found it helpful that I listened to Terrible, Thanks For Asking prior to reading It’s Okay to Laugh because then I could hear Nora narrate her stories as I read them. Which may or may not have made some of them funnier than were probably meant to be. While reading, I felt like Nora was a close friend giving me the low down on what to expect from my loss. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything because all of these things have happened before. You are not special. But she doesn’t do so harshly. She’s just being honest and putting herself out there by sharing her experiences with sickness, death, and grief with a bunch of strangers on and off the Internet.

I would recommend this book for anyone going through a tough time, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or something else entirely. But if you haven’t experienced anything devastating, you should also read this book because it is not all about loss. There were a few chapters that just left me feeling empowered and inspired overall and which could speak to anyone at any point in their life.