Tag Archives: rating: four-stars

We Now Return to Regular Life by Martin Wilson

We Now Return to Regular Life

We Now Return to Regular Life by Martin Wilson

Published by: Dial Books on August 1, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sam Walsh went missing three years ago, presumed kidnapped and gone without a trace. His older sister, Beth, believed he was dead. His best friend, Josh, was wracked with guilt that maybe he could have done something to stop him from being taken. They both worried that they somehow contributed to Sam’s disappearance. But when Sam is found alive, their worlds change all over again. While Sam is indeed Sam, his experience and his ordeal have changed him. As Beth and Josh deal with relating to the new Sam, Sam also needs to find a way to adapt to his own new reality. And then there’s the age-old question: Do we talk about everything that happened as a means of processing it, or do we keep it all bottled up with the hope that we can just move past it? And the answer may be somewhere in between–a happy medium that is different for all three of them.

Told from the perspectives of Beth and Josh, this is a powerful and poignant story about love, regret, growing up, secrets, trauma, and simply dealing with the realities of life. This is likely to be a challenging read for some, especially considering the truth of what happened to Sam. But the author deals with the subject matter in a real and raw way, while demonstrating a sensitivity to Sam and to the others affected and impacted by the ordeal. There is no quick fix here for anyone. And sometimes we have to open doors when we know we won’t like what’s on the other side because if we leave the door closed, what’s there will simply continue to haunt us. There’s a lot for these teenagers to deal with in this story, but there’s also a strength that each one of them demonstrates that I can only say is inspiring and instructional.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Published by: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 21, 2012
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Aristotle (Ari) could be described as a bit of a loner, keeping people at least an arm’s length away. But when he goes to the swimming pool one day in the summer (even though he can’t really swim), he finds a potential new friend in Dante. Although Dante is also a bit of a loner, he’s less jaded and more spirited than Ari, which seems at first like it may not bode well for a budding friendship. As the two get to know each other better, however, they learn that they can find commonality even in their differences. They face a number of challenges, both individually and together, that bring them together in ways neither expected.

This is a beautifully-written and compelling narrative. Written from Ari’s perspective, there is an authenticity to the narration that brings the characters to life on the page. The development of the characters (including those in the background) is defined and believable, presented in ways that make sense in the context of the plot and that keep readers connected to and grounded in this universe. Incredibly enjoyable and moving at the same time.

 

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Published by: Simon & Schuster in 1999 (original publication)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Reuben St. Clair has given an extra credit assignment in his social studies class for years, asking students to come up with something they can do to change the world for the better. But never has he seen a student take the project as seriously as Trevor McKinney whose project, “Pay It Forward,” has wide-reaching and unexpected effects that create a national movement. The simplicity of Trevor’s idea makes it easy to achieve, and his dedication to seeing it through invigorates the project with a real spirit. But his dedication to its success might also blind him to the the actual successes it is achieving overall. In the end, this is a story about how a little extra kindness in our world can go a long way to make a difference for those we help but also stretch to people we have never even met.

I did really enjoy this book, but I must tell you it immediately made me dislike the film (I think I was only a chapter in . Unfortunately, the film is white-washed in a number of ways and important content that apparently wouldn’t play well to mainstream filmgoers at the time of the movie’s release (alcoholism, child abuse, LGBT characters, hate crimes, etc.) was written out of the film adaptation. And what’s sad is that the story is far less powerful for it. I do encourage people to read the book, even if you’ve seen the movie (and liked it or didn’t), as I think the story in its original form is impactful, inspiring, and interesting.

Insight by Tasha Eurich

Insight

Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich

Published by: Crown on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Self-awareness has become somewhat of a buzzword in the business and education sectors. And it seems to make sense. After all, the way we work with others, the way we lead, and the way we work to deliver results all comes back to understanding who we are and how others perceive us. But self-awareness is not simply acquired through a little light introspection and then calling it good. As Tasha Eurich points out in this book, self-awareness is developed and refined over time, and it often involves doing some work that is uncomfortable and sometimes undesirable. But when one considers that leaders and teams who lack self-awareness consistency perform a much lower levels than those who exhibit healthier levels of self-awareness, it is something that cannot be ignored. The more self-aware individual is not only more productive and fulfilled at work, but they also tend to be happier outside of work and more likely to achieve their personal goals. Eurich provides a number of strategies that readers can use to develop their own self-awareness while also offering tactics for dealing with those we encounter in work and in life who are not self-aware (and especially those who have no apparent desire to get there, either).

[Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher via Blogging For Books.]

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

A Taste of Honey

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Published by: Tor on October 25, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Aqib bgm Sadiqi finds that his association to the royal family (fourth cousin) can be a blessing and a curse. Sure, relative fame and fortune have their privileges. But there are expectations that come with a role that he never asked to take on. And those expectations may stand in the way of Aqib’s rapidly-blossoming affection (and lust) for Lucrio, a Daluçan soldier who would be well below his station even without the expectation that Aqib take for himself a blushing bride. Some things in life are worth fighting for, however, especially when one gets a small taste of what life could be and the path of least resistance means leaving that feeling and that life behind. But if society is good at anything, it’s telling people how to live…and can Aqib and Lucrio stand up against that and make it through with that feeling and their life together still intact?

Reading this novella, for me, was like falling down a hole into this world, a world in which I have never been, to the point where I could feel the longing, the desire, the loss, the frustration, etc. that Aqib experiences. Wilson has created a rich fantasy world with enough backstory and the right connections to our own society that readers should have no trouble connecting with and understanding the characters, even though they are not our contemporaries. At the same time, the pacing of the story and the sequence of events allows readers to get lost in this world, with no desire to come out until the story is finished. And being novella-length, this is one that you need not feel bad at all for devouring in one sitting.

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Peter Darling

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Published by: Less Than Three Press on February 15, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Peter Pan left Neverland ten years ago, willing to give growing up a try, even if it was in a world where he never felt comfortable. But they say time will always tell, and in this case it told Peter that he could not leave his truth behind. So he returns to Neverland, only to find that the game has changed. In fact, there is far more danger than fun. And when he crosses paths with his arch-nemesis, Captain Hook, he finds that time has also brought about new feelings that he never experienced before…

I love a well-written adaptation. And I love fantasy. So this is an absolutely winning combination for me as a reader. This is also the first work by Austin Chant that I have read, but I am willing to label myself a fan. The complexity of the characters, the slow and organic reveals, and the ways of being true to the original while telling a new story demonstrate a skill in storytelling. We definitely need more well-written stories with transgender characters like this to reflect the diversity of human experience. And while this is a fantasy story, the humanity is universal.

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Miracles

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Series: The Divine Cities, Book 3
Published by: Broadway Books on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sigrud je Harkvaldsson has been waiting to be called up by his old friend, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, thinking it possible the day may never come. But when Shara is assassinated, Sigrud knows he must act, that he must avenge his friend. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Shara was more active than anyone expected in retirement and she fully intended for Sigrud to pick up her war exactly where she left off. And when it comes to anything mysterious going on in Bulikov, you can almost guarantee there’s some connection to the Divinities. And even though they’ve all supposedly been defeated, they always seem to keep coming back. But to win Shara’s war and, as it seems, to survive, Sigrud will need to find a way to put an end to what amounts to an ancient curse that tests the limits of even his own understanding.

This is an action-packed final installment in what I personally consider to be an epic fantasy trilogy. It is interesting to read a Sigrud-driven story, considering his involvement in the previous two books. And there are elements here that tie back to the very beginning, where the motivations for the events that triggered the start of the first book are explained. And the explanation and Sigrud’s journey take readers down some unexpected paths. An excellent read, and a fitting close to this series…

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program.]

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Series: York, Book 1
Published by: Walden Pond Press on May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz like where they live. Not only is there a community in their apartment building, but it is one of the five remaining Morningstarr buildings, part of the architectural vision of the mysterious Morningstarr twins who built much of early New York City. But the Morningstarrs did more than just build magnificent buildings before they disappeared; they built a puzzle, the Old York Cipher, into their design of the city. And legend has it that the one who solves it will find an untold treasure waiting at the end. Tess, Theo, and Jaime set out on a mission to solve a puzzle that no one has been able to solve for nearly 200 years. They hope doing so will prove the cipher is real and save their building. And they also know that once the remaining buildings are destroyed, the likelihood of anyone ever solving the puzzle will go from slim to none. Their journey involves solving a mystery, but it is not one that is without danger. For where there is talk of treasure, there will always be people with less-than-honorable intentions sniffing around…

This is a fun urban fantasy story with some hints of steam punk that I really enjoyed reading. Following these amateur sleuths on their adventure was even a bit exhilarating at times. This is billed as a middle grades book, and it has a spirit and energy that fits for that audience (but also audiences of all ages) quite well. It is a bit on the hefty side for middle grades, both in terms of length and some aspects of the plot, but I think it would be a great choice for earlier advanced readers or older students looking to jump into reading longer novels.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher.]

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Cold Summer

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Published by: Sky Pony Press on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Kale Jackson has an exciting special ability, but it is one that he is beginning to think is not quite so exciting anymore. He travels through time. That might sound fascinating to many people, but Kale cannot control it. Though he can usually tell when he’s likely to travel shortly before he does, he can’t stop it or force it to happen. And with his recent travels taking him back to World War II, fighting on the front lines as a sharpshooter, the danger has taken much of the fun out of the whole experience. Of course there’s also the fact that he cannot explain to most people why he disappears for days at a time without any notice. They would never believe him–including his own father.

But one person who has always believed Kale is Harper, a childhood friend who used to live next door. And when Kale finds out she’s returned for the summer, he has the smallest glimmer of hope that quickly fades. In the years that have gone by Kale has changed. But so has Harper. Although she promised she would never ask Kale where he travels, she is more assertive and insistent that Kale not resign himself to being alone. The two quickly reforge a friendship that has the potential to become something more. That is, until Harper looks up Kale’s involvement in World War II online. What she finds has the potential to change everything.
This is a wonderfully written young adult science fiction story that doesn’t rely on all of the tropes that are so common these days in the genre. Yes, there’s angst and a budding relationship, but they don’t drive the story. Instead we see Kale, a young man who feels very much at the mercy of this thing he can’t control or explain, finding his way back to feeling like he has some agency over his life. And we see Harper, a young woman who has recently claimed her own agency, working to feel comfortable with her choices while trying to help Kale do the same. And everyone will have to love Uncle Jasper. Definitely recommended reading!

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Published by: Bloomsbury on September 20, 2011
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Princes in exile generally know they cannot expect too many great things out of life. Which is where Patroclus found himself when he was sent to the court of King Peleus. What he did not expect was to become friends with the king’s son, Achilles, and forge a quick and defining bond. The two become fast friends and there is the lingering sense for Patroclus that their connection might mean something more. A sense that Achilles’s mother, the sea goddess Thetis, does not appreciate at all. And Thetis makes it her mission to keep the two of them apart–for her son’s own good, obviously.

But things change for everyone when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped. Princes from all around are asked to join in the fight–and Achilles cannot escape the call. Despite the danger, Patroclus must decide whether to go with Achilles into battle, knowing in his heart that they cannot live apart. And knowing that the battlefield might just be where everything about both of their lives is truly tested…

I’ll be honest that I was a bit sold on this book before I even opened it up. Mythology, fantasy, romance, etc. are all things I tend to enjoy. But when I opened it up and fell into the story that Madeline Miller crafted, I was surprised at the wonderful construction of this book. Telling epic tales is not easy. It can be even more challenging when it is a story with which many readers may already have some familiarity. But Miller’s narrative is fresh, engaging, and compelling. And this has quickly risen to near the top of my favorite mythology-based novels. If you haven’t read it and have even a passive interest in any of its genre tags, considering picking it up at your earliest convenience!