Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Young Adult

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Time for another beauty by Renee Ahdieh! She is quickly becoming oNE of my favorite authors and when the ARC  (advanced reader copy) of Flame in the Mist came into the store, my coworkers were nice enough to make sure it wound up in my hands!

Synopsis

There was only ever one expectation for Mariko, a prominent samurai’s daughter: that she would marry. Her twin brother was the one trained in the way of the warrior while Mariko was left to nurture her love of science and invention in secret. But on her way to the imperial city, where she was to meet her betrothed for the very first time, her convoy is attacked and everything changes. The assassins kill everyone – or so they think. Despite almost being burned alive, Mariko escapes.

Driven by vengeance, she flees the forest and seeks out her would-be assassins, the Black Clan, joining their ranks disguised as a peasant boy. She’s determined to discover who ordered her death and why – and to make them pay. Little does she expect to fall in love. And never did she expect to have to choose between them and everything she’s ever known. But when the secrets of the imperial city, the Black Clan, and her family converge, choose is exactly what she must do.

Review

Firstly, YAY GIRL POWER! Reading a new book by Renee Ahdieh reminds me just how much I really do love her first duology, The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. I had been holding off on reading Flame in the Mist until I was going on vacation because I knew once I got to the really good and juicy parts about halfway in, I wouldn’t be able to put it down – and I certainly did not want anything to interfere with my ability to read it straight through!

As with my review of Wrath and Dawn last week, I marvel over Renee Ahdieh’s storytelling. She creates such compelling characters and intricate plot lines that I love to sink my teeth into. She also has been some of the wittiest protagonists I have ever read to date. Her female protagonists are feminists – proud and fierce but still have their weaknesses and flaws. Her love interests for said feminist protagonists remind me of a certain male in A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy in the sense that they are loyal to their women and encouraging them be themselves 100%.

But back to Flame in the Mist specifically – I love the take on Japanese mythology (it is not at all based on Mulan, whatever rumors you may hear) and how Renee Ahdieh twists in a bit of Robin Hood lore as well (whether it is purposeful or coincidence I’m not sure, but I love it!). Mariko is a protagonist to be admired as well, and Ahdieh’s now trademark style of romance is still swoon-worthy, even for the most callused and cold-hearted of readers. I recommend it thoroughly and I cannot wait for the second book in the duology next May!

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $17.99 • 9780399171635 • 416 pages • published May 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.03 out of 5 stars • read in August 2017

Renee Ahdieh’s Website

Flame in the Mist on Goodreads

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Flame in the Mist

 

Fantasy, Fiction

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted came to me highly recommended by a former coworker – she and I have very similar tastes (we call each other book-twins), so I figured it would be a sure thing.

Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows everyone knows that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Review

Uprooted is the story that I always expected to come from the annals of the tradition of storytelling embraced by Eastern Europeans. The storytelling is rich in detail, the world truly comes alive off the pages, and the characters are complex and rich, but the plot? Logic structure? Eh, not so much. Life often takes many twists and turns and is more akin to a serialized television show with numerous story arcs than it is to a stand-alone 300+ page novel, but that doesn’t mean I want the storytelling of the novel to be like that of real life. I want consistency and flow.

At the start of Uprooted, and honestly for the first half of the book, it is the story of Agnieszka, and how she is chosen against her will to live with the “dragon” for 10 years without any access to her family or loved ones. When she starts to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, the story suddenly switches gears to focus on the far off world of the royal family. And when things start to get stale at the palace, the story takes a 180 again and goes back into forest which ties back to the beginning in the sense that we’ve always known the forest to be in some way shape or form sentient, but not malicious as it becomes towards the end of the story.

Honestly, with all the direction changes, I genuinely don’t remember how the story ended. I haven’t remember since the day after I finished it.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780804179058 • 464 pages • originally published May 2015, this edition published March 2016 by Del Rey Books • average Goodreads rating 4.13 out of 5 • read in April 2016

Naomi Novik’s Website

Uprooted on Goodreads

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Uprooted

Fantasy, Fiction, Screenplay

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to rename the Millennial generation the Harry Potter generation. The series is one of the most unifying features of my generation. I was first introduced to the magical world at the at the age of nine, a year after the first book was released in the states. I attended at least three midnight release parties for the books and at least as many, if not more, midnight releases of the movies. I watched the students at my alma mater play college-level Quidditch and I have a wonderful friend who hosts a whole Harry Potter weekend every January. She also got to see the Cursed Child play in London and joined in our great delight when the bookstore that I work at decided to revive the midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Synopsis

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes darkness comes from unexpected places.

Review

I no longer own a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I returned it. I couldn’t stand to see it sitting on my bookshelf with the other seven books. Last week the paperback edition was released and it may have rectified some of the issues that I will bring up in my review below. This review was originally written in August 2016.

When it comes to stage plays, I have a very distinct bias. I’ve studied them, written them, and had my own works performed on stage. Also, working in a bookstore, I’m aware of the publication history of the physical book copy of Cursed Child and, in short, it was a rush job. While the dust jacket of the hardcover edition makes it very clear that the edition released to the public on July 31st 2016 was a Special Rehearsal Edition, it really never should have seen the light of day. It is missing many of the key elements a stage play – stage directions (admittedly pointless for the vast majority of the intended audience) are noticeably absent, but more importantly, there is no description of action that happens without dialogue. If something is only an on stage visual, there is no record of it in the script. I hold out hope that the paperback edition will correct a lot of these problems.

Now that I’ve griped about the format, let us discuss plot. What a trainwreck. It comes across as bad fan-fiction. And yes, those who disagree with me, including many of my friends, are quick to remind me that it is meant to be seen on stage and experienced, but the magic of production can only do so much to ease the pain of a barely mediocre plot. One of my biggest gripes with the Harry Potter series as a whole is the lack of consistency and plethora of plot holes. While I don’t believe the intention with Cursed Child was to fix any problems in the original seven books, it certainly didn’t help matters as it just introduced a whole lot more, particularly regarding Bellatrix and Voldemort. As I’d like to keep this spoiler free, I won’t say why, suffice to say that revisionist history is rarely a good or effective idea.

What’s worst about this whole thing is that the negative reaction to Cursed Child means that the script for the movie of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will most likely under perform. And while Cursed Child was clearly a rush job in publication, Fantastic Beasts will be a completed piece – the production has had years to polish it and make sure that it is pristine. So I hold out hope that it will be better than Cursed Child, but I don’t think the rest of Rowling’s disgruntled readers will be ask optimistic.

Rating: 3 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $12.99 • 9781338216660 • 336 pages • originally published July 2016, this edition published July 2017 by Arthur A. Levine Books • average Goodreads rating 3.76 out of 5 • read in July 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Website

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Laura & I at the midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Towne Book Center & Cafe

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Copy

Biography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art

Women in Sports by Rachel Ignotofsky

Why did I decide to read Women in Sports… I hope I’ve established through my selection of books so far that I absolutely adore all books that celebrate strong women and positive female role models. Sports in particular hold a very special place in my heart – those are my hockey skates in the picture – and I will do everything in my power to make sure that all little girls in my life know that they can do and be anything – including the world’s best ice hockey goalie. 

Synopsis

Women in Sports highlights the achievements and stories of fifty notable women athletes from the 1800s to today, including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than forty sports. The athletes featured include well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone  Biles, as well as lesser-known champions like Toni Stone, the first woman to play baseball in a professional men’s league, and skateboarding pioneer Patti McGee. The book also contains infographics on topics that sporty women want to know about such as muscle anatomy, a timeline of women’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams. Women in Sports celebrates the success of the tough, bold, and fearless women who paved the way for today’s athletes.

Review

Sports have always played a big role in my life. Whether I was playing them or watching them with my friends and family, I have loved them always. Growing up, I did gymnastics, ballet, roller bladed, biked, swam, played softball and skated like a fiend. I skiied, played basketball, and was nearly recruited to Brown University as an ice hockey goalie. My sister played soccer and tennis, my dad was a gymnast and sailor, my mom was a three sport athlete and my grandfather played four sports and for the Philadelphia Eagles. To say sports are in my blood is an understatement. The first book I ever finished writing was about a teenage hockey star.

Downside, I wasn’t really great at any sport, not a one. The jokes about ice hockey goalies were true for me – I was not a great skater. Upside, I loved it, so I worked hard and I practiced. When I found out that the author of Women in Science was writing about women in sports, I started begging our rep to send me an ARC (advanced reader copy) or finished copy of the book. Nine months ago. I knew I had to have this book.

I love this book – of all the compendium books of great women, this is by far one of my favorites. The art style is perfect for the style of book – think infographics, but with a bit more text. The decisions for which wonderful women to include must have been a challenging one, but it is definitely a worthy list – variety of sports and backgrounds of each of the women is diverse. If you are looking for inspiration for yourself, your daughter, your niece, your student, your granddaughter AND (or) your son, nephew, grandson, this is a fabulous book to encourage them to be their best and to never stop trying to excel.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $16.99 • 9781607749783 • 128 pages • published in July 2017 by Ten Speed Press • average Goodreads rating 4.19 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Rachel Ignotofsky’s Website

Women in Sports on Goodreads

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Women in Sports 2

 

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Travel

My Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons

In January 2016, I went with my boss to an ABA (American Booksellers Association) event called “Winter Institute.” It is the biggest gathering of independent booksellers and my boss reminded me that in addition to learning lots about the book world and being starstruck by all the authors present, I should bring a book back for each of my coworkers. My coworker Su is the most difficult person to pick out books for, so this is the one I brought back for her. She thought I was nuts, until she started to read it. And then she couldn’t shut up about it! On her recommendation, my book decided to read it last September.

10 - September 2016 - My Holiday in North Korea

Synopsis

Most people want out of North Korea. Wendy Simmons wanted in.

In My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth, Wendy shares a glimpse of North Korea as it’s never been seen before. Even though it’s the scariest place on earth, somehow Wendy forgot to check her sense of humor at the border.

But Wendy’s initial amusement and bewilderment soon turned to frustration and growing paranoia. Before long, she learned the essential conundrum of tourism in North Korea: travel is truly a love affair. But, just like love, it’s a two-way street. And North Korea deprives you of all this. They want you to fall in love with the singular vision of the country they’re willing to show you and nothing more.

Review

If you’ve ever wondered what life is really like in North Korea, this is not the book for you. If you’ve ever wondered why North Korea wants you to think life is really like there, then this is the book for you. Wendy Simmons is one of a very limited number of Americans granted access to a tour of the country, a fully planned, fully monitored, full devoid of any genuine moments, tour of the “empire.”

We’ve all heard stories about how the people are brainwashed into thinking that their country really is the greatest on Earth and far better than any other in the world, but few have witnessed the truth firsthand as Wendy has, the truth being, that they really do seem to believe it.

This review is so brief because words really cannot describe the incredulity I experienced while reading – simply to say that you should go read it. Read it now. Read it immediately.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $19.95 • 9780795347047 • 312 pages • published May 2016 by Rosettabooks • average Goodreads rating 3.7 out of 5 • read in September 2016

Wendy E. Simmons’ Website

My Holiday in North Korea on Goodreads

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My Holiday in North Korea
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Biography, Non-Fiction

Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

A year and a half ago, shortly after I started working at an indie bookstore, I started a book club, The Modern Readers. It was not only a way to read new and interesting things, but also a way to meet new people and make new friends who have similar interests as myself. The Modern Readers have read everything from horror to chick lit, military history to science books, and there have been books I’ve loved, and books I’ve loathed, but I’m glad I read them. Notorious RBG is one of my favorite Modern Readers’ picks.

(Each month I create a sign for the store for the book club and the one for Notorious RBG below is by far my favorite!)

14 - January 2017 - Notorious RBG

Synopsis

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame – she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.

Review

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my heroes. While I’ve always had an ear for politics (when your mother works in public education, you learn about politics young), but it wasn’t until I took AP Government back my senior year of high school that I finally started to think about politics for myself and make up my own mind about how I would react to certain political events instead of parroting my mother’s opinions.

When we studied particular court cases, I always looked for opinions written by either Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Sandra Day O’Connor, and I used to compare the two of them for fun. My political education continued at the University of Pittsburgh – the full title of my major was: Early American History and the Foundations of American Government with a special focus in American legal history and it’s foundations in British common law. Yep, I’m a dork. For awhile I thought about becoming a lawyer, until I realized I didn’t like political philosophy… but I digress – back to RBG!

A few years ago, Shana Knizhnik created the now famous Notorious RBG meme and it took off like a shot, particularly as RBG’s opinions and dissents were starting to be discussed more by the American public, not just the news and law lovers like myself. She is an icon – not only for lawyers, but for women everywhere. Her fight to be taken seriously throughout all stages of her career, especially as a young mother, was difficult to say the least. Her husband supported her and never limited her opportunities to be the best in her field. Just as RBG owed a great deal to Sandra Day O’Connor breaking the gender barrier on the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor would not be in the positions they are today as her benchmates if RBG had fought as hard as she did.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a remarkable woman and her the story of her life is one that I will share with every child I know, if for no other reason than to fully drive home the point that they can be absolutely anything that they want to be, so long as they work hard at it!

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $22.99 • 9780062415837 • 227 pages • published October 2015 by Dey Street Books • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in January 2017

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Notorious RBG

Fiction, Historical

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

I broke my own self-imposed rule – I watched The Last Kingdom on Netflix before I read The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. I had picked up the first book in the series after my sister gave my husband the most recent in the Saxon Chronicles for Christmas one year, not only because I was intrigued, but because the actor who plays Uhtred was on the cover and he looks almost exactly like my husband, to the extent that his own mother, my mother-in-law, agrees!

Synopsis

In the middle years of the ninth century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England – and the course of history – depended on one man, one king.

The Last Kingdom is a rousing epic adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love, and battle as seen through the eyes of a young warrior who straddled two worlds.

Review

As I write this review today, I am happily watching season 2 of The Last Kingdom on Netflix, a season that I have anxiously been awaiting for nearly a year now. Between a new season of Vikings, a new season of The Last Kingdom, and a story of my own about the viking princess turned pirate Alvilda, I feel like I am practically in Valhalla. But onto the review!

When it came to the reading of The Last Kingdom, I half listened to the audiobook and half read from the physical book. The audiobook is wonderful – having already watched the first season of the television show, it was admittedly hard to hear a different voice reading the thoughts and feelings of Uhtred when I had grown so used to Alexander Dreymon, but Jonathan Keeble does a great job as reader. The audiobook also makes it easier to keep track of the characters and places, since, as with most books set in the time, almost every characters name is difficult to read and pronounce without assistance.

Uhtred is, as a main character, very similar to Quentin of The Magicians trilogy, and I have to admit, I characterize my relationship with them both as if they were real. Readers’ imaginations do tend to be quite vivid! I have a love-hate relationship with each, but it is perhaps stronger on the love side with the cocky and arrogant Uhtred. (A full review of The Magicians and my love/hate relationship with Quentin and the show to come in the near future!) The Uhtred who narrates The Last Kingdom, is a much older man, recounting the stories of his youthful adventures. As the first of 10 volumes in the Saxon Tales, it begins first with Uhtred’s childhood and how he came to be a man who straddles the worlds of Christian Wessex and Thor’s Danes.

The story is character driven, understandably with Uhtred as the narrator, and the pacing is quick as the story quickly progresses to cover numerous battles and life stages of our illustrious main character. It moves quickly and excitingly and is the perfect read/listen for anyone who enjoys the show, which remains loyal to the first book (I cannot speak of the rest of the books as I have not yet read them), or anyone who enjoys a thrilling historical fiction adventure!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Details: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780062438621 • 368 pages • originally published in 2004, this edition published September 2015 by Harper Paperbacks • average Goodreads rating 4.23 out of 5 • read in February 2017

Bernard Cornwell’s Website

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Last Kingdom (3)

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Sociology

Pantsuit Nation by Libby Chamberlain

I requested a copy of Pantsuit Nation from one of the publisher reps who visit the bookstore that I work at. Often times, if a book is not released as an ARC, or Advanced Reader Copy, it is unlikely for a publisher to just send a free copy of a finished book… but this time, I got lucky and the finished copy of Pantsuit Nation was happily awaiting me in my cubby one morning at work!

Synopsis

Pantsuit Nation celebrates the power of collective storytelling. We amplify the voices of those who have been historically underrepresented, excluded, and marginalized. We listen. We are strong in our diversity. We invite conversation – true conversation – about the issues that are most fundamental to us and to our identities.

We believe that feminism is intersectional. We believe the “women’s rights are human rights.” WE believe that progress around racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, rights for people with disabilities, religious freedom, and the first to combat hatred and bigotry in all forms is most effective when emboldened and humanized through first-person narrative. We believe that politics is personal, and that progressive movement happens when the empathetic potential of a story is unleashed.

Stories spark change. Taken individually, a story can create a tiny opening in a once-closed space. It is a glimmer. As Pantsuit Nation, millions of glimmers combine to create the kind of bright light that can’t be ignored or overshadowed.

Review

Shortly before the election last November, my mother, who is far more present on Facebook than her two twenty-something daughters, shared with us that she had recently joined a Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. Needless to say, Laura and I were most intrigued – we had all become a bit “news obsessed,” watching the media circus known as Decision 2016 and knew of both our mom’s, and Hillary Clinton’s, obsession with pantsuits.

My mother has worn her power suit for pretty much my entire life as she worked in just about every facet of public education, first for the state of Pennsylvania, and now on a national level. The idea of standing with Hillary in a pantsuit, appealed greatly to our mother’s sensibilities, it was a natural thing for her to do anyway, but for Laura and me, we didn’t usually dress in the power suit vein. But Mom invited Laura and me to the private Facebook group anyway, knowing there was little chance we’d don the garb, but we would enjoy the stories.

And the stories, oh the stories shared in that Facebook group that are now published in print in Pantsuit Nation. They made us smile, they made us cry, they made us angry, and they made us realize that we are not alone. And most importantly, the stories, coming from people off absolutely all walks of life, made us realize that voting for Hillary went so much deeper than wanting a woman in office. Voting for Hillary meant exercising our human right to vote, our human right to stand up to oppression, and our human right to be heard together as one voice, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, etc.

So, should you pick up a copy of Pantsuit Nation? Well, let’s see: Do you feel lost and hopeless in America’s current political climate? Do you need some inspiration and hope? Do you appreciate the power of collective story telling? Is your heart open to change and being inspired by the unexpected? Then yes. Yes, you should.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $27.99 • 9781250153326 • 288 pages • published May 2017 by Flatiron Books • average Goodreads rating 4.6 out of 5 • read in May 2017

Pantsuit Nation Website

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Pantsuit Power Flash Mob for Hillary

Pantsuit Nation