Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon: A Review

I chose to read Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon for the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #32, a book by a WOC (or, woman of color). I had several fantastic choices just from among my own bookshelves, so I didn’t have to look far. I added this book to my library after reading Nicola Yoon’s other book, The Sun is Also a Star for last year’s challenge. I fell in love with her breezy, hopeful style in the midst of tragedy and family drama. And Everything, Everything did not disappoint.

This book tells the story of Madeline, an 18-year old girl suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency. She has essentially been locked away inside her own home her entire life, with very little contact from the outside. The only people she has regular contact with are her mother and full-time nurse, Carla.

Madeline knows she must stay inside and that her mother is doing everything possible to keep her from getting sick. While not always, she is at present content with her life – with her books, her online classes and movie nights with her mom. But then a new family moves in next door, and Madeline’s contented life begins to turn inside out.

I couldn’t help being drawn into Madeline’s story. I felt very sympathetic toward her and her situation despite the sometimes foolish decisions she made. And the end that came was not the end I anticipated.

I chose the audio version of this book, excellently narrated by Bahni Turpin and Robbie Daymond. I enjoyed this book very much.

The Reckoners Series, by Brandon Sanderson: A Review

I have been working my way through Brandon Sanderson’s books since I discovered him while reading The Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan. A couple of years ago I learned that he writes more than just long, epic fantasy series. I found Steelheart, book one of The Reckoners series while browsing through the teen section at my library. I absolutely loved it. But it wasn’t until this year that I finally managed to finish the series.

Books two and three both fit into the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge. I read Firefight for prompt #4, a book I think should be turned into a movie, and Calamity for prompt #18, a book about someone with a superpower.

For David Charleston, the story began ten years ago when Calamity appeared in the sky. At the same time, ordinary people began manifesting extraordinary powers. David witnessed one of these gifted individuals – now called Epics – murder his father. And for ten years, David has been observing, collecting data and plotting revenge.

Then, the Reckoners arrive in his home town, and David contrives a way to contact them with the intention of joining their ranks. The Reckoners are a shadowy group of ordinary humans who study Epics and search out their weakness – every Epic has one – with the intention of assassinating them.

Book one, Steelheart, is all about David’s quest for revenge on the Epic who killed his father – Steelheart, a man who can transform anything inorganic into steel. Oh, and he’s invulnerable.

In book two, Firefight, David and the Reckoners continue their battle against the Epics, taking the fight to the city formerly known as Manhattan. But now David’s quest has shifted from vengeance to something else. As he has pursued his quest, David has learned a great deal about Epics he didn’t know before. And maybe – just maybe – there’s a cure.

The series concludes with book three, Calamity. The more David has learned about the Epics, the more convinced he has become that they can be redeemed. While everything and everyone seems to turn against him, he insists on going up against the most powerful Epic of all.

Whether he is writing epic fantasy sagas or superpowered adventures, Sanderson is a fantastic storyteller. In this series, he writes from David’s perspective, so the reader witnesses everything through his eyes. We learn what David learns, as he learns it, so the action is immediate and close.

I loved these books! There is a short novella, Mitosis, that goes between books one and two, but you can enjoy the series without reading it. I know this, because I did it. I didn’t learn of the novella’s existence until I was already well into book two. Book two does make reference to events that transpire in this in-between time, so I will definitely read it when I can.

Warcross, by Marie Lu: A Review

I had been looking forward to reading Warcross, by Marie Lu for some time. So when I came across the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #39, a book revolving around a puzzle or game, I was excited to finally make reading it a priority. From the Goodreads blurb:

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game – it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. … Hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. … Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the Warcross Championships – only to accidentally glitch herself into the action.

Warcross tells the story of Emika Chen, a down-on-her-luck hacker and bounty hunter living in Manhattan. Her rent is due and her last bounty got scooped by another hunter, so Emika finds herself taking desperate and risky action to avoid being thrown out on the streets. Expecting to get arrested for her trespass, Emika is stunned to receive a call from the game’s creator instead – with a job offer.

Emika ends up transported to Tokyo where she is inserted into the Championships as a player. She’s there to uncover a security problem, but finds something much more sinister instead.

The game descriptions are phenomenal and the action is fast-paced and fun. While I enjoyed this book, and will read the sequel eventually, it was a bit predictable. It wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped.

Enchantée, by Gita Trelease: A Review

I struggled to find a book for ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #10, a book featuring an historical figure. There were few books that I already own that would qualify, and fewer still that interested me enough to add them to my list for 2019. Somewhere along the way, I encountered the book, Enchantée, by Gita Trelease and was drawn in by the premise. When I learned Marie Antoinette, of French Revolution fame, is featured in this book, I decided to give it a go.

Enchantée takes place in 1789 Paris, but an alternate Paris where magic is real. It is the story of Camille as she struggles to survive in a pre-revolution Paris. Orphaned when small pox took both her parents, it falls to Camille to care for her younger sister while struggling to protect herself from an older brother who has turned to drink and gambling. Magic is her only hope. With it, she can turn ordinary metal objects into coins with which to purchase food and other necessary supplies.

A series of events lead her to a more desperate situation where she is forced to turn to a darker magic her mother had forbidden her to use. Camille is soon drawn into a world of plotting and intrigue that she is ill prepared for.

Trelease has written a fantastic story and placed it within an intriguing location at a dangerous time in history. She’s filled this world with compelling characters, each with their own goals, desires, struggles and triumphs. There is a perfect balance of magic, intrigue and romance contained in this story. I was thoroughly charmed by this book, swept off to a magical Paris from the very first page. Quickly drawn in by the girls’ desperate situation and hooked by the romance, I finished this book in only a few days.

This is Trelease’s debut novel. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, magic, intrigue and romance. I look forward to what comes next for this author.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt: A Review

I chose to read The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt for the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge, prompt #5, a book written or inspired by Shakespeare. I’m not sure if the book was inspired by Shakespeare exactly, but the main character in the story is inspired by Shakespeare, so I decided it would do. Besides, I already owned a copy and it’s on the Newbery Honors list, the Shakespeare connection merely provided a place to insert it into this year’s reading list.

The Wednesday Wars is a young adult historical fiction novel featuring Holling Hoodhood. Entering the seventh grade in a school where most students are either Catholic or Jewish, Holling is a Presbyterian. This means that every Wednesday the Catholic and Jewish students each go to their respective churches for religious classes. Holling has no such class to attend, and must therefore remain alone in class with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Holling is convinced Mrs. Baker hates him for this.

Holling is first set to work cleaning chalkboard erasers for Mrs. Baker, and then for other teachers as well, to keep him busy on Wednesday afternoons. Then, Mrs. Baker gives him the assignment to read some of Shakespeare’s plays. Reluctant at first, Holling comes to find he actually enjoys the plays.

Set during the 1967-68 school year in suburban Long Island, the Vietnam War overshadows the story. The story also includes historical events, such as the shootings of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. All of these events, along with the anti-war counterculture that existed at the time, influence and drive the story forward.

Schmidt has presented this story through the first person perspective of Holling, giving him an engaging voice that is easy to relate to. The book is both funny and very moving at times. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this story, and would recommend it to anyone.

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley: A Review

The 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #2, is a book that makes me feel nostalgic. I pondered my choice for this one for a little bit, but soon settled on The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. As a young girl I read many of Farley’s books, including this one. I remember loving it very much. This time, I got to read it aloud with my nine-year old son, which only added to the nostalgia factor.

In this story, a boy, Alec Ramsey, is on his way home to New York from India. I still can hardly believe the idea of a boy his age traveling along like this, but it was a different time. Along the way, a horse, black as midnight, is brought on board, and Alec is fascinated.

Before the ship can reach its destination, there is a massive storm and the ship goes down. In the chaos of evacuation, Alec remembers the horse which has been abandoned, still tied into his stall. Alec manages to cut the horse loose, but in the process is swept overboard. He latches on to the ropes still attached to the horse, and together they make it to a deserted island.

Much of the book details the time spent on the island, Alec’s efforts to survive and to save the horse – which he dubs the Black – as well. Eventually the two are rescued and the second half of the story tells of Alec and the Black’s adventures in New York.

Set in the early 1940s, it might feel dated to some, but Farley captures the excitement of the time very well, drawing no doubt from personal experience to create an intensely believable atmosphere. Also, having recently read the story of Seabiscuit, I enjoyed this aspect of the story even more.

I loved this book all over again. And loved even more my son’s response to it. It was a magical time we shared together, and definitely made me feel nostalgic!

Four, by Veronica Roth: A Review

Several years back I read the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I absolutely loved the first book. I enjoyed the others as well, though not quite as much as the first. But one thing in particular I did enjoy about the last book, is that it included passages from the point of view of Four. And so, when I decided to focus first on books I already own when choosing books for the 2019 Reading Challenge, I found I could use Four, by Veronica Roth for prompt #22 on the ATY challenge, a book with a number in the title or on the cover.

Four is a collection of five short stories told from the perspective of Tobias Eaton, introduced in Divergent by the name Four. The stories included in this collection are “Free Four: Tobias Tells the Divergent Knife-Throwing Scene,” “The Transfer,” “The Initiate,” “The Son,” and “The Traitor.” In these stories, we get to see how Tobias came to be a part of the Dauntless faction and his meeting Tris for the first time.

After having read the Divergent trilogy, I really enjoyed this look into Four’s life. This is a short book, so it reads quick. It is a lot of fun to read. It’s been awhile since I read the original series, and reading this book made me want to revisit it.

Four is a great companion book to the original series. If you have read and enjoyed the other books, I would definitely recommend this one as well. I would say though, if you haven’t read the whole series yet, I’d read that first. This collection of stories will definitely spoil parts of the main series if you read it first.

The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer: A Review

I read Cinder, book one of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, last year as part of my “Year of the Woman” reading challenge. This year, I knew I wanted to finish some of the many series I’ve started in the last couple of years, and The Lunar Chronicles was one I managed to find places for on my 2019 Reading Challenges. Scarlet and Cress (books two and three) fit Popsugar’s prompts #11, a book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover, and #35, a book by an author whose first and last name start with the same letter. I found a place for book four, Winter, on ATY’s list with prompt #28, a book related to something cold.

These books contain brilliant retellings of popular fairy tale stories. Meyer has seamlessly put Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White into a futuristic society with cyborgs, androids, lunar colonies and bio-engineered human/wolf hybrids.

The four books contain a single story arc centered around ambitious Queen Levana of Luna who has designs on controlling both her own people as well as those of Earth. Central to her ambition is Kaito, the newly crowned Emperor of the Commonwealth on Earth.

Each of the four books adds a new element to the overall story, a new character. Each character adds their own piece to the story, without which, they could not succeed.

Meyer’s style is fun and entertaining. She combines just the right amount of intrigue and adventure with just the right amount of romance and despair. Furthermore, I took much delight in finding the tiny details she took from the original fairy tales, changing them just enough so that they fit perfectly into her own version of the stories.

I thoroughly enjoyed these books. The fairy tale aspect was a lot of fun, but even if you’re not into that, if you like young adult dystopian style fiction, I’d recommend giving this series a try.

Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: A Review

For the 2019 Reading Challenge, a book with no or unusual chapters, I chose to read Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This book joined my to-read list sometime last year after seeing it discussed frequently on Goodreads. The premise had me intrigued…

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra – who are barely even talking to each other – are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

To be honest, though, I was a bit daunted by what I’d heard about the format of the book. It is an epistolary novel, told through IM messages, military briefings, emails, transcripts and so on. My experience with this sort of novel hasn’t been that great so far.

This book tells the story of Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend, Ezra Mason. They live on a planet which is an unsanctioned mining operation. It is invaded by a rival corporation and thus begins a massive chase as the survivors flee through space, pursued by the invaders. Besides this pursuit, they are beset by internal issues as well. Such as an AI system that took damage in the initial attack and a mutating virus spreading quickly through the refugee fleet.

Because of the book’s format, you are never directly involved in the action. But I was never disengaged from this story. It is intense. The suspense is executed superbly, and the characters feel real and relatable. This book had me at times furious, terrified and devastated. In a word, thrilled. I am definitely continuing with this series!

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon: A Review

I chose to read The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon for the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #24, a book that takes place in a single day. I picked this book off a list of such books, having no idea what might fit this category.

This is the story of Natasha and Daniel. Seventeen-year-old Natasha is the daughter of Jamaican parents in the United States illegally. She has her future planned out – college, career. Until her father has a run in with the law setting her entire family on a course toward deportation. Daniel, also seventeen, is the second son of Korean immigrants. Until recently, he has been the disappointing son, never as good as his golden boy older brother. Now, however, his brother has disgraced himself and it is up to Daniel to pursue life goals that bring honor to his family. These sudden life changes set Natasha and Daniel on a collision course leading to an otherwise impossible romance.

This book isn’t only about Natasha and Daniel and their whirlwind romance, however. It is also the story of a depressed security officer at the immigration office. It is about mothers and fathers and brothers. About dreams unrealized and goals unfulfilled.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee and Dominic Hoffman. Their performance is outstanding. I loved having different voices for each of the characters.

I loved this book. It has fantastic energy. I laughed and I cried. I will definitely read more by Nicola Yoon!