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9.1/10
Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld et al.
Fiction , Reviews / July 16, 2017

Title: Zeroes Author: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti, Genre: Young Adult Publisher: Simon and Schuster Release Date: September 27, 2016 Format: Kindle / Audio Pages: 576 Narrator: Amber Benson Read Date: 09 July 2017 Told from separate viewpoints, teens Scam, Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, Bellwether, and Kelsie, all born in the year 2000 and living in Cambria, California, have superhuman abilities that give them interesting but not heroic lives until they must work as a community to respond to a high stakes crisis. Mix strange, difficult to control powers in with adolescent angst about fitting in, and an action packed plot and you have the basic recipe for a good novel.  Add in adult bad guys, less than great parents, and a whole lot of bad decisions and you’ve got Zeroes. Westerfeld, Biancotti and Canagan have created an ensemble cast of teenagers that have powers that seem more a burden than a gift.  There is Crash who can destroy modern technology but sees no positive purpose to it.  Anonymous is literally forgettable and faces an extreme form of adolescent loneliness because his power is that no one remembers anything about him.  Physically blind, Flicker can jump into others to see, but…

2
7.2/10
Review: The Paper Magician Series by Charlie Holmberg

Title: The Paper Magician Author: Charlie N. Holmberg Genre: Fiction Publisher: 47North Release Date: July 8, 2014 Format: Kindle Source: Amazon Read Date: Feb 17, 2015; May 11, 2017; May 23, 2017 Under the tutelage of magician Emery Thane, Ceony Twill discovers the wonders of paper magic, but when her teacher’s life is threatened, she must face the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic to save him. The Paper Magician Series — Charlie N. Holmberg In The Paper Magician, set in an alternate turn of the 20th Century, Holmberg has created a unique magical world for the series.  Trained and licensed magicians work with only one particular medium among those available — all involving man-made materials. We first meet Ceony at the close of her education when she is to begin her apprenticeship.  Ceony wants to work in metal — to be a smelter. However, after completing magic school (all theory because students can’t perform magic until they bond with their material) she is instead assigned to apprentice with a folder — a paper magician because there are only eleven left in England. Ceony is not happy about it, but finds that she wants to please her teacher, Magician Thane. The…

0
9.1/10
Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Fiction , Reviews / April 2, 2017

Title: Rebel of the Sands Author: Alwyn Hamilton Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Publisher: Viking Childrens Books Release Date: March 8, 2016 Format: Kindle Pages: 320 Source: purchased Read Date: 07 February 2017 “Amani is desperate to leave the dead-end town of Dustwalk, and she’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to help her escape. But after she meets Jin, the mysterious rebel running from the Sultan’s army, she unlocks the powerful truth about the desert nation of Miraji…and herself”– In her excellent debut fantasy novel, Rebel of the Sands, Alwyn Hamilton sets us in a depressed desert village of miners and rough characters.  A wild blend of outlaw western and Middle-eastern based mythos with a dash of political intrigue, Rebel of the Sands engaged from the opening chapter to the closing pages, with a blend of well-drawn characters, magic, adventure, and a fast-paced, twisting plot. Amani, the narrator, is an orphan raised by an aunt and uncle who want nothing to do with her except marry her off, or in the case of the uncle, marry her.  Determined to leave, Amani disguises herself as a boy and attempts to win money in a shooting competition.  She ends up competing with a…

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9.9/10
Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Best Reads , Fiction , Reviews / March 12, 2017

Title: The Underground Railroad Author: Colson Whitehead Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Publisher: Doubleday Books Release Date: August 2, 2016 Format: Kindle Pages: 320 Source: Hartford Public Library Read Date: 06 March 2017 From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Colson Whitehead first learned about the Underground Railroad as a schoolboy and visualized it being like the NYC Metro.  That visual is key to his tackling the horrific history of slavery in the US and the attempt of one woman to find freedom in a world that does not…

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8.6/10
Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Title: Water for Elephants Author: Sara Gruen Genre: Fiction, Historical Publisher: Algonquin Books Release Date: 2006 Format: kindle & audiobook Pages: 335 Narrator: David LeDoux & John Randolph Jones Read Date: 21 January 2016 Ninety-something-year-old Jacob Jankowski remembers his time in the circus as a young man during the Great Depression, and his friendship with Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, and Rosie, the elephant, who gave them hope. Any novel written in the first person runs the risk of a common, unremarkable narrator, far more than a third person narration. Part of the joy of reading Gruen’s Water for Elephants is the memorable narrator in Jacob Jankowski, particularly when it is the elderly version of Jacob speaking. He describes himself as “90. Or 93.”  The elder Jacob’s narrative is interwoven with that of a Jacob in his twenties. The elder’s storyline — Jacob in a nursing home — is amusing and sad at the same time, but ends wonderfully, bringing the story to full circle. Jacob’s descriptions of the fellow home residents, the caregivers, his family, and the vagaries and trials of growing old are amusing and touching.  Jacob feels abandoned by his family and frustrated by the…

0
6.5/10
Review: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Fiction , Reviews / March 7, 2017

Title: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Author: Gregory Maguire Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Fairytale Rewrite Publisher: Harper Collins Release Date: September 29, 2009 Format: kindle & audiobook Pages: 432 Source: purchased Narrator: John McDonough Read Date: 27 February 2017 When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? Gregory Maguire has created a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Gregory Maguire’s novel transforms the world of Oz, expanding on Baum’s original works and most importantly, telling the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. In Elphaba (later to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West), we have a classic outsider. Her green color and manner set her apart, but so does her upbringing. As she grows up, her political activism again separates her and makes her a target. She is told she is cursed, and despite her brilliant mind, and deep passion for protecting those oppressed,…

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8.6/10
Review: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
Fiction , Reviews / March 2, 2017

Title: The Queen of the Night Author: Alexander Chee Genre: Fiction Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Release Date: February 2, 2016 Format: Kindle Pages: 561 Source: purchased Narrator: Lisa Flannigan Read Date: 31 January 2017 In the Paris of the Second French Empire, what did it take to rise from courtesan to diva? From a ferociously talented writer who is “the fire, in my opinion. And the light” (Junot Diaz) comes a blazing portrait of a woman who creates her own fate. Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera with every accolade except one: she has never created an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When she is approached with an offer to do just that, it comes with a caveat—the opera must be based on a secret from her past that she has thought long buried. Who has exposed her? In pursuit of answers she’s drawn back into her past. An orphan who left the American frontier in search of her mother’s family in Europe, Lilliet was swept up in the glitzy, gritty world of Paris at the height of Napoleon III’s rule. There she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from maid to Empress Eugenie to…

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8.5/10
Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Fiction , Reviews / February 26, 2017

Title: Sharp Objects Author: Gillian Flynn Genre: Fiction Publisher: Broadway Books Release Date: November 25, 2014 Format: Kindle Pages: 272 Source: purchased Read Date: 21 January 2017 Reluctantly returning to her hometown after an eight-year absence to investigate the murders of two preteen girls, reporter Camille Preaker is reunited with her neurotic mother and enigmatic, 13-year-old half-sister and discovers secrets of her own past. By the #1 best-selling author of Gone Girl. Reprint. Admittedly late to the phenomenon that is Gillian Flynn, I decided to start with her first novel, Sharp Objects.  Her debut novel is no slacker in the thriller genre and she tackles not one, but two tough mental health issues in a sensitive manner, allowing the reader to sympathize with the main character. Flynn has created a flawed, often unlikable narrator that one can empathize with even as the reader shudders at the life she returns to and teeters on the edge of falling into her own past. Camille, a Chicago reporter fresh off a stint in a mental health facility, is asked to return to her hometown to report on a murder of a young girl. Her relationship with her mother and the death of her…

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8.9/10
Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Fiction , Reviews , Throw-back-Thursday reviews / February 23, 2017

Title: When She Woke Author: Hillary Jordan Genre: Fiction, Sci-Fi, Dystopian Publisher: Algonquin Books Release Date: 2011 Format: Hardcover Pages: 344 Source: purchased Read Date: 23 February 2013 In the future, abortion has become a crime as a series of events threatens the existence of the United States. One woman wakes up to discover that her skin color has been changed to red as punishment for having the procedure done. Now she must embark on a dangerous journey in order to find refuge from a hostile and threatening society. With When She Woke Hillary Jordan has written a powerful dystopia that tackles, among other ideas, our attitude towards criminal justice, and what it means to pay for one’s crime, separation of church and state, and freedom.Combining Hawthorne’s public humiliation of sinners (even the protagonist’s name, Hannah Payne, echoes Hester Prynne and the opening chapter is titled “The Scaffold”) from The Scarlet Letter with reality TV, abolitionists’ Underground Railroad, the extreme religious/political right, big brother technology, and a personal awakening story, Hillary Jordan gives us a scary glimpse into an all too possible near future. The novel opens with two great sentences: When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned,…

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9.8/10
Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Title: Never Let Me Go Author: Kazuo Ishiguro Genre: Fiction Publisher: Vintage Books Release Date: 2006 Format: Kindle & Audiobook Pages: 288 Source: Purchased Narrator: Rosalyn Landor Read Date: 29 January 2016 A reunion with two childhood friends draws Kathy and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into their lives at Hailsham, an isolated private school in the English countryside, and a confrontation with the truth about their childhoods. Ishiguro, a master of subtle and understated prose, has another excellent novel in Never Let Me Go. The narrator, Kathy tells the story of her friendship with Ruth and Tommy, from their earliest days at their private boarding school to adulthood, through its ups and downs, until only Kathy is left. While many come to the novel knowing what makes these characters special, even those without prior knowledge should figure it out with little difficulty, early on. While never stating things explicitly, the clues are in plain sight, even if Ishiguro never tackles the topic head-on. What is the true focus and brilliance of Ishiguro’s novel isn’t the what, but rather, the how. The reader follows these three characters, raised to this purpose that unnerves contemporary audiences. In a masterful play…