Fantasy, Fiction

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon

I love fairy tale retellings, they are one of my favorite subgenres of fantasy and like Beauty, and other works by Carolyn Turgeon, the combination of fairytales promised in The Fairest of Them All pulled me in.

Synopsis

In an enchanted forest, the maiden Rapunzel’s beautiful voice captivates a young prince hunting nearby. Overcome, he climbs her long golden hair to her tower and they spend an afternoon of passion together, but by nightfall the prince must return to his kingdom, and his betrothed.

Now king, he weds his intended and the kingdom rejoices when a daughter named Snow White is born. Beyond the castle walls, Rapunzel waits in her crumbling tower, gathering news of her beloved from those who come to her seeking wisdom. She tried to mend her broken heart but her love lingers, pulsing in the magic tendrils of her hair.

The king, too, is haunted by his memories, but after his queen’s mysterious death, he is finally able to follow his heart into the darkness of the forest. But can Rapunzel trade the shadows of the forest for the castle and be the innocent beauty he remembers?

Review

Like Mermaid before it (review to come soon!), I enjoyed the combination and twist of multiple fairy tales wound together, in this case, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, as well as Turgeon’s storytelling. By a twist of fate, and more than a little scheming on Mathena’s (Mother Gothel’s) part, Rapunzel finds herself stepmother to Snow White. However, instead of being the purely  evil queen the character has been portrayed as in previous reimaginings of the classic tale, Rapunzel really wants to have a happy, perfect family with the King, Josef, and Snow White.

Unfortunately, Rapunzel eventually discovers she has been nothing more than a pawn in her mother’s plan for revenge against the monarchy and she falls prey to the jealousy of Snow White stereotypical of the evil stepmother archetype. Thus ensues the expected plan to eradicate the beloved Snow White. Also, like Mermaid, the twist is a dark one and a happy ending is far from guaranteed.

The Fairest of Them All took me over a month to read, a mark that I was struggling a bit to make it through and my only complaint is that far too little actually happens in Turgeon’s retelling for the fact that it spans nearly two decades. While backstory is important, here the same information could have been covered in flashbacks or another more palatable method.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.00 • 9781451683783 • 262 pages • published August 2013 by Touchstone Books • average Goodreads rating 3.8 out of 5 • read March 2016

Carolyn Turgeon’s Website

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Fairest of Them All

Fiction, Historical

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I enjoy a well written WWII narrative as much as the next person – there’s a reason there is a whole sub-genre of historical fiction dedicated to the time period – 70+ years later it still holds the world’s attention, particular in the current world climate that seems to threaten WWIII. I picked up The Nightingale not only because it’s a WWII story, but because it is the story of two sisters and as an older sister, it is a character relationship I can relate to well.

Synopsis

France, 1939 : In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says good-bye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France… but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaëtan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can… completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and time again to save others.

Review

The Nightingale is a tale of the women’s war. With few resources and even fewer allies, the women of France fought back against the Nazis, oftentimes right under their noses. The Nightingale is a tale of remarkable courage and bravery and impossible decisions. Impossible decisions that, more often than not, only make things worse.

Our two protagonists, sisters Vianne and Isabelle, could not be more different. Ten years apart in age, their lives could not be more different. Vianne is mother and wife, steadfast in her ways in her small village and Isabelle is rebellious student, constantly moving and finding new directions, new paths, to follow. But The Nightingale does not start with their differences. It begins fifty years later, in the 1990s, with one of the sisters, we do not know which one, narrating and beginning to tell the story of the sisters’ experiences in France.

It begins with an exploration of family and love and how crucial such things are to surviving unbelievable adversity and hardship. The story quickly jumps back to the “beginning” of the story in 1939, and the decision making begins. Really, what is life, besides a constant stream of decision making? Over the course of 500+ pages, Vianne and Isabelle are forced to make decision after decision, the outcome of each and every one having incredible effects on the trajectory of their lives.

The sisters’ love for each other is constantly put to the test, and they do not always respond to such challenges with love and compassion. More than once, their arguments are of the strength that one or the other walks away doesn’t look back or come back for quite some time. But The Nightingale is not, at its heart, a book of regret, but a book of hope. A book of hope that no other family is put through the trials and tribulations that faced the women, and these two particular women and their families, of France ever again.

Over the course of the coming months, there will be a number of reviews of World War II fictional works populating this space. They are all unique and different, but certainly with many similarities. I have enjoyed each one, and I have bawled my eyes out while reading each and every one. As the granddaughter of a German woman who survived growing up in Nürnberg during such a difficult time and has had to live with the stigma of being a German of that generation, it is important to me that I hear as many voices from that time as possible to try to do my part to make sure that the world does not experience such horrors again.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.99 • 9781250080400 • 592 pages • first published in February 2015, this edition published April 2017 by St. Martin’s Griffin • average Goodreads rating 4.54 out of 5 • read in March 2016

Kristin Hannah’s Website

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Nightingale

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

First : Marie Lu is coming to the book store that I work at in less than a month!!! Second : At BookCon in the spring of 2015, I listened to a bunch of teenage girls tell Marie Lu during a panel how much they loved her books and how her characters were so relateable. As the go-to girl at the store for YA fantasy recommendations, I figured it was my responsibility to find out what these girls loved so much about her work. it was also the first book chosen for the short-lived YA book club.

Synopsis

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Review

I loved the idea of The Young Elites, the story of the villain, or in this case, the eventual villain. Marie Lu marketed the story of Adelina as that of the anti-hero, and anti-hero she certainly is. I was first introduced to Marie Lu’s writing, and subsequently The Young Elites when I attended BookCon in the spring of 2015, it just took me quite awhile to finally start reading.

My coworker Kim and I decided to make The Young Elites the first book in our short lived Young Adult Book Club at the book store because of the idea that the main character is not, by definition, a good person, as so many protagonists, especially in YA, often are. And the book has stayed with me far longer than the members of the YA book club.

Marie Lu is a wonderful world builder and character creator, but the plot oftentimes takes a second seat to those two things. While detailed and intriguing, the progress often felt forced and jilted, and I personally would have rather gotten to spend a whole lot more time inside Adelina’s head. The constant questioning of good versus bad and where exactly she fell is a question that I think all young adults ask themselves on a regular basis – am I a good person, or am I just doing what society expects of me?

In a political climate where it has become essential to stand up for each other and the rights of those who are not the straight while males who run our political environment, a discussion like that which Adelina puts forth is an important one to say the least. So while I cannot call myself the biggest fan of this book in particular, the role it plays in YA literature is far too large to ignore.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780147511683 • 384 pages • originally published in October 2014, this edition published August 2015 by Speak • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read April 2016

Marie Lu’s Website

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Young Elites (2)

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

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Sociology

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker

Shortly after Strong is the New Pretty came out and jumped onto the bestsellers list, my coworker’s stepmother came into the store and scoffed in disdain at the cover and claimed that we (society) were now turning girls into boys. I was livid, absolutely livid to say the least and my coworker had to restrain me to keep me from screaming at her stepmother. Far from my proudest moment, but one that inspired a passionate response, one that I shared in my review both and the store and below in this post here.

Synopsis

Girls being fearless. Girls being silly. Girls being wild, stubborn, and proud. Girls whose faces are smeared with dirt and lit up with joy. With more than 150 full-color and black-and-white photographs, Strong is the New Pretty is a powerful visual celebration of the strength and spirit of girls – athletic girls and bookish girls, artsy girls and contemplative girls, girls holding their best friends’ hands and girls running through the sprinkler. It’s the book that says to girls, be yourself because that’s what makes you strong. Divided into nine chapters, including Confident is Strong, Wild is Strong, Kind is Strong, Determined is Strong, and Creative is Strong, Strong is the New Pretty says beauty has nothing to do with looks – it’s showing the world what’s inside you that counts. It’s inspiring, it’s liberating, and it conveys a powerful message for every girl, for every mother and father of a girl, for teachers and counselors and mentors and coaches.

Review

There is nothing that makes me angrier or more upset than people criticizing anyone for trying to express themselves. Kate Parker opens the book with an introduction that starts with a story about her hair getting in her way when playing soccer and how happy she was to have it chopped off into a bowl cut. When I was 6, I did the same thing. I wanted to be just like Kerri Strug. I wanted to play ice hockey. I used to pester my parents for an older brother and was given the explanation that as the oldest child, I would not be getting an older brother to play hockey with. (Little did my parents anticipate they would get divorced and I would get my older brother! But that’s beside the point.)

Basically, I wanted to do everything – play sports, play instruments, run races, ride by bike around our lake, jump in the stream beside my dad’s house, take art classes, read constantly – I had more interests than there were hours in the day to pursue them, which is still the case. And the greatest thing about my childhood? My parents let me. Regardless of my parents’ differences, they were united on at least one front : my sister and I were allowed to pursue basically anything that we wanted, we were allowed to try anything we wanted, even shop in the boys clothing section if that’s what we wanted.

I wish there was a book like Strong is the New Pretty around when I was a child and had to explain to the boys in my class and my friends’ parents that being a tomboy was perfectly acceptable. Kate Parker takes the approach to raising girls that my parents did and for that, I am most grateful to her. As one of my friends is expecting her first child, a girl, in a few short months, I want her daughter to know that she can be whatever, and whoever, she wants to be, both when she’s a kid and when she grows up.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $17.95 • 9780761189138 • 256 pages • published March 2017 by Workman Publishing • average Goodreads rating 4.56 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Kate T. Parker’s Website

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Strong is the New Pretty (2)

 

Contemporary, Fiction

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The bookstore that I work at has a number of book clubs, the largest being the original, with 25 to 30 members and last night, they celebrated their 14th year in existence. Typically, they read former bestsellers, which they vote upon every three months or so. Last November, they voted overwhelmingly to read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. I don’t normally pick up the book for the book club, I have my own, The Modern Readers, but after everyone at the store, staff and customer alike, started raving about it, I figured it was one to pick up!

Synopsis

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over – and see everything anew.

Review

I have recommended this book at the store and given it as a gift more times than I can count since reading it in November last year. Gabrielle Zevin’s storytelling is top notch, the pacing is very measured and the page turning comes quite quickly. I laughed, I cried, a shared in A.J.’s joy and despair. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry runs the full gamut of emotions.

The story centers not just on life in the bookstore, but the publishing world and life on a small island as well. Zevin expertly weaves together the stories of not just A. J. and his family, but all of the richly developed and intriguing supporting characters as well. From A. J.’s unexpected best friend, his former sister-in-law, the dynamic and lovely publishing rep, and the seasonal and regular bookstore customers, each is given utmost love and care from their creator, their author. It is clear to any reader that Zevin cares about her characters and she does not take their fates lightly.

It is a perfect summer vacation, beach or airplane read and is a quick one at that. I strongly recommend it for people who enjoy an intriguing and fulfilling story.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $14.95 • 9781616204518 • 288 pages • originally published April 2014, this edition published December 2014 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill • average Goodreads rating 3.97 out of 5 • read in December 2016

Gabrielle Zevin’s Website

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Storied Life of A J Fikry

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