Book Reviews

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace

“One more hour until I prove to Visidia that I’m meant to be their heir… Two more hours until I’m engaged to a man I’ll never love… Three more hours until I give the command to ready a ship to set sail tomorrow, and demand to know every secret about this kingdom that’s ever been kept from me.”

In what I can only describe as a magical turn of fate, I happen to work with one of Adalyn Grace’s brothers. Upon learning of my obsession passion for books, he informed me that his sister was the author of All the Stars and Teeth. Within the past year I have been developing an appreciation for young adult/fantasy books so I decided to add it to my list.

I ended up forsaking everything else I was reading to finish this one first.

All the Stars and Teeth is a high fantasy novel that explores the very real boundaries of curiosity and corruption, and the choices we make when caught between power and the desire to do what’s right.

(What is high fantasy, you ask? Click here for Goodreads’ description.)

I was captivated by the mystical Kingdom of Visidia and at least a little jealous of the adventure that Amora, Princess of Visidia, embarks upon as she sets sail to save herself and her kingdom – and not just because she finds herself in the company of the handsome rogue Bastian! Who hasn’t daydreamed about going on a heroic and life-changing quest?

Amora’s character really resonated with me. She has so many qualities I wish I could see in myself: brave and adventurous with a self-confidence I fail to muster on a regular basis. She is unafraid to go after what she wants most.

In this interview, Grace describes Amora’s character as “morally grey”. I liked this about Amora; it made her realistic and relatable. No heroine should be pristine; I would argue that our “flaws” are often what make us the most human.

The story itself was fresh yet comforting because it reminded me of things that I already liked. While reading, I got vibes of Children of Blood and Bone, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Hunger Games. But don’t be misled – this story stands alone, too.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters continue to develop in the next installment, All the Tides of Fate, set to release in February of 2021.

Have you read All the Stars and Teeth? Let me know in the comments!

Learn more about Adalyn Grace at her website and on her Instagram.

Happy reading, friends! ❤

Book Reviews

Review: The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork

Winter is approaching quickly! The last part of 2020 seems to be flying by and the holiday season is almost upon us.

The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork is a perfect addition to this winter’s TBR.

It’s a music-laden and intriguing twist on the nutcracker story. I was going to wait until December to read it – but I couldn’t help myself! Once I started, I didn’t want to stop.

This magical tale follows young pianist Clara as she experiences not only the bewitchment of her first crush on another piano protégé, but also the enchantments of Prince Nikolai Volkonsky’s kingdom of Imperia.

In an article on NPR, we learn that the original author of The Nutcracker was E. T. A. Hoffman, and at the time he titled it Nutcracker and Mouse King. At one time, Hoffman also wrote that music “reveals an unknown kingdom to mankind: a world that has nothing in common with the outward, material world that surrounds it, and in which we leave behind all predetermined conceptual feelings in order to give ourselves up to the inexpressible.”

In The Enchanted Sonata, music literally reveals an unknown kingdom. Music plays a very special role in the story so I won’t give away everything. Just know you’re in for a treat. 🙂

(There are a couple grisly moments that I would be hesitant to share with very young readers but all-in-all The Enchanted Sonata is a family-friendly story.)

What are your favorite holiday and winter reads? Let me know in the comments!

Learn more about Heather Dixon Wallwork at her website and view her adorable artwork on Instagram.

Book Reviews, Special Guests

Where Light Enters & Q+A with Author Noel Silvia

Where Light Enters is a powerful and moving debut by emerging author Noel Silvia. Read on for my review and a mini Q+A with the author where he shares his inspiration for the novel and his favorite authors!

After a lifeless body is discovered by the river, readers are led back in time to meet multiple characters and the struggles they face in childhood and as adults, culminating in the final events that bring us back to the discovery of the body.

Throughout the book, we are reminded of the hope and light inside of us that keeps us alive and that we can share with others.

This book is unique for multiple reasons. Those interested in linguistics will enjoy seeing the lesser-known but widely spoken Esperanto language interspersed in the dialogue – lending to the international feel of the book. (Learn more about Esperanto here.)

The Esperanto language is accompanied by the novel’s open-to-interpretation setting. The book has no specific setting, allowing the reader to picture the story taking place where they feel fits best. Where you picture the story taking place may be entirely different from where I picture it. There not being a specific setting does not mean the story lacks one; there is plenty of detail for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Most of the characters remain unnamed and are referred to by a nickname or their distinguishing features (“The Matron” or “the man in the purple suit”). I did not think this detracted from the story. The sections of the book each center around one character while maintaining the theme of interconnection, which helps readers avoid getting the characters confused with each other.

There is also an emphasis on color and music throughout, with the idea that music is magic. Lovers of the violin, rejoice!

Caution: The text deals with some very weighty topics – war, suicide, human trafficking, drug abuse, and addiction. I would not recommend this novel to young readers.

10% of the profits from this book will go to charities that work to combat human trafficking and work to help individuals suffering from trauma, two of the big themes in the story.

Lastly, readers will notice various Christian elements but I would not classify this as a Christian novel. It is what the subtitle claims: a novel of hope. We all have a choice to follow the light and to help others in what can be a cruel, unfair world. When we cannot find the light ourselves, it can still find us.

***

Q+A

Congratulations on completing and publishing your first novel! What inspired you to begin working on Where Light Enters?
Music has always inspired me. Even an instrumental piece can tell a visual story. A good song makes me want to explore that world. I keep a log of all of my story ideas, and enough threads started emerging where I saw how I could weave them together in a cohesive narrative tapestry. The COVID lockdown was when I finally decided, “it’s now or never”, and I had to do something to feel functional. That need to be productive inspired me to write. I may not have lost weight during this time, but I gained a book that I’m proud of.

What was the most challenging part of the writing process for you?
As da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Knowing when to stop tinkering with the text was primarily the most challenging thing for me. I felt like a parent sending their child off on the first day of school; I had to trust that it was ready, and would be fine on its own.

Was there anything that surprised you about the writing process?
I was surprised how short/long it took to write certain things. There were some chapters that I wrote the entire first draft in less than an hour, and then there were some singular sentences that I spent several hours on, trying to find the perfect words to use in the right arrangement.

Why did you decide to self-publish?
For this book, I wrote to write. My goal was to write a book that I was proud of and would be something that I would want to read. I wanted to try and find my voice as an author, and I did not want to have that altered by someone trying to sell books that were more marketable. My greatest fear would be waiting a year to get signed, only to have the publisher want me to add sparkling vampires and change the setting to a dystopian future. Not that there’s anything wrong with those stories, but they’re not the kind of stories I felt comfortable telling.

What can you share about your upcoming novel Ricochet Day?
I love the theme of interconnection and the ways people are brought together. It was something that I explored in Where Light Enters, but in Ricochet Day, I really want to push those ideas. It’s (hopefully) going to be a lot lighter tone, but still explore these concepts as we follow a group of seemingly non-connected characters over the course of one day. I’m having fun right now arranging the plot, as the narrative will be very “Rube Goldberg”-esque.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Do you have a favorite author?
I love books that make me have an emotional reaction. Authors like Christopher Moore or Tim Dorsey have a great comedic flow that always make me laugh. Then there are authors like Amy Tan or Khaled Hosseini who always make me cry, even in the triumphant moments. There’s nothing worse than art that doesn’t move you.

***

Many thanks to special guest Noel Silvia!

Purchase a paperback or e-book of Where Light Enters on Amazon.

To learn more about Noel Silvia’s insights and future projects, visit his author page on Goodreads.

Happy reading, friends, and “may the light find you.”

*I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I am not an affiliate marketer therefore do not receive compensation for purchases made through links on this website.

Book Reviews

The Maiden of the Storm – My First Adult Romance Review

The Maiden of the StormThe Maiden of the Storm by Michelle Deerwester-Dalrymple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Maiden of the Storm by Michelle Deerwester-Dalrymple is a fast read full of depth, developed characters, and researched content. Historical fiction is my favorite genre and this story really delivers with the historical details, such as clothing, vocabulary, and scenery. As someone who isn’t normally a romance reader, I can say this story has me hooked on Michelle Deerwester-Dalrymple. She has taken tremendous care to put the best in her books and her words stirred something within me. The tale of Riana, daughter of the village chieftain, and Horatio, captive Roman solder, combines passion, pleasure, and pride – and I will be reading it again!

*I received a free copy of the ARC in exchange for an honest review.*

View all my reviews

Book Reviews

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Kya lives alone in a shack by the marsh, cared for from a distance by a handful of people, all the while earning the title of Marsh Girl – although not earning the harsh treatment that comes with it. Her path crosses with Tate, her first love, and Chase, former high school athlete. They feel drawn to her the way some people feel drawn to the marsh – one as someone who loves it and one as someone who wants to conquer it. Among the gulls and the grasses of the marsh, Kya has learned humanity through the wild things. Can it save her when it matters most?

Written by zoologist Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing is bittersweet and beautiful – my favorite combination in a book.

The story of Kya, left by her mother and siblings to live alone first with her alcoholic father and then by herself, is sad and earnest.

The pace in the beginning of the book is slow, and I think some readers take issue with that. It’s not fast-action thriller but there is enough suspense to draw you in and make your heart pound.

The slow pace in the beginning set the tone for the turbulence of the second half of the book – where the timelines draw closer and closer and everything comes together

Where the Crawdads Sing is Delia Owens’ first novel and I haven’t read any of her other published works, but I feel from this story and based on her career that she is a master at setting the scene and bringing us closer to nature through patience while sharing the beauty of even the smallest creatures.

One cannot be in a rush amongst the wild things.

I also love the poetry that is shared throughout the book, such as this excerpt:

Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? Did you love it or do you think it doesn’t live up to the hype? Let me know!

Stay tuned for my next Nature in the Novel post, featuring Where the Crawdads Sing!

Happy reading, friends 🙂

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Last Story of Mina Lee

“What would the world look like if she made it her own, even temporarily, for a moment, fleeting, so that she could experience again the throb, the hunger of being alive, eyes wide, teeth showing?”

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a gripping tale. It’s addictive, edgy, and so full of truth.

And I really mean addictive! I could not resist picking this up while I was still in the middle of another book. But I had to finish it asap. No regrets!

The story goes back-and-forth between Margot and Mina, two women trying to make their way on the West Coast.

Margot, set in the present, discovers her mother’s body, still and unmistakably dead. Despite her initial shock, suspicion immediately sets in. As Margot goes on a quest to discover the truth about her mother’s untimely demise, she ends up discovering more about her mother – and herself – than she thought possible.

The story of Mina, Margot’s mother, is set in the beginning of her new life in the United States, years that lead up to and include Margot’s birth. She finds, with mixed feelings, camaraderie in coworkers and a few new friends. Through her new relationships and finding her way in a new place, Mina must navigate the murky waters that come with starting over while coping with the pains of the past.

As Margot traverses the mysteries surrounding her mother’s death, she must also grapple with the mysteries of her own mind. How much of her life has been shaped by who she thought her mother was? Who could Margot be if she allowed herself to just be?

This novel explores immigration, power, status, the American dream, loss, heartbreak, and what it means to belong. The characters learn lessons on owning their lives for who they are and what they have done – and it some cases, what they have not done.

This is a mystery without reading like a mystery. The characters are diverse and well-developed. I like that the storyline alternates between Margot and Mina – vastly different but similar in ways that run deeper than the surface.

Have you read The Last Story of Mina Lee? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought or if it’s on your tbr!

Happy reading, friends! 🙂

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Space Between Worlds

Cara is a traverser – jumping between worlds by both the mercy of Goddess Nyame and the intentional hands of science. She spends every day with a woman she loves from afar while trying to reconcile the present with the past… That is, until a powerful announcement is made and Cara begins to believe that while she can’t alter destiny, she can still exercise her free will to choose between what’s right right now and what’s right for all.

When I hear “sci-fi” my brain automatically goes to things like The Twilight Zone or intergalactic travel (I grew up in a Star Trek household). The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson is sci-fi that feels…. accessible. While not caught up in the technical aspects I usually lose interest in, there’s just enough for it to set the scene without rubbing it in your face. The emotions of the characters also create the drama that keeps me (and hopefully you!) coming. back. for. more.

The Space Between Worlds is also visually enticing. The juxtaposition of the technologically-advanced Wiley City and the left-behind-in-the-dust (literally) Rurals and Ashtown are something I would love to see on the big screen.

The Wiley City skyscrapers complete with gardens and courtyards are probably not far off from what our future holds. A quick Google image search of skyscraper vertical gardening gives you an idea.

It has the futuristic, post-apocalyptic thing going on which I think will never go out of style as long as we are pre-apocalyptic. Think The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent, etc. Why are we so drawn to these books? A post-apocalyptic world seems so – forgive me – out of this world but is so full of heroes it’s hard not to be drawn to it.

Other than having a good plot and excellent character development, The Space Between Worlds is DIVERSE. The plot does not center around a cisgender, white protagonist with a few diverse characters sprinkled in to the edges for good measure. The story is about humanity, all of it, pulling back its layers and exposing its deep truths.

With appropriately-timed revelations and the continuous theme of the relationship between science and religion, there is plenty in The Space Between Worlds to spark conversation. It would be a great book club selection.

Have you read The Space Between Worlds? Would you want to world-travel? I would honestly much rather be the world-traveler than the person who is visited by a traveler because I would be INSANELY jealous!

Happy reading, friends!

Beliefs and opinions reflected in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the beliefs and opinions of the author and/or publisher.

Book Reviews

Book Review: THICK and Other Essays

THICK and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD, was one of my August Book of the Month Club selections. It is eye-opening, descriptive, and academic (the 20 pages of notes and references rocked my world).

THICK is not a history book. While McMillan Cottom draws on personal experiences, it is not specifically autobiographical enough to be a classic memoir. It is academic without reading like a textbook. It does combine all of these elements. McMillan Cottom says in the text that it’s a loose version of “opinion writing”.

THICK is not a long read, but it is hefty. It’s not a book that feels right to devour in one afternoon because a) some of the sentences I had to read five times, out loud, slowly, and reword to make my brain comprehend them and b) this is Important Stuff.

What is Important Stuff? Historically, those who held power, money, and title decided what other people should think was important. For a long time, certain groups’ opinions on what was and was not important did not matter – especially if they couldn’t read, couldn’t write, and couldn’t speak English, and therefore could not vote.

“If my work is about anything it is about making plain precisely how prestige, money, and power structure our so-called democratic institutions so that most of us will always fail.”

Tressie Mcmillan cottom – “Girl 6” in THICK AND OTHER ESSAYS

Black women and Black peoples should not be delegated to the role of a statistic. Yet they are. And people still don’t believe them, and they choose to not believe or rely on statistics that don’t mesh with a pre-determined opinion.

Important Stuff includes anti-racism not only by educating ourselves and admitting to ourselves, if not others, that we are wrong – even if we don’t profit from systemic traits, we at least are not worse off because of it – but by also acting upon it. I look at my life and think of how so many people say “I don’t see color” and I remember when that’s something i would thought was progressive. But it only hides the issue. It doesn’t change reality.

Reading THICK and Other Essays can be part of the catalyst for us all to learn more while we do more.

To learn more about Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD, and her other works, visit her website.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Death of Vivek Oji

How would you live if you carried a secret that someone would hurt you for? More, how would you die?

What would you do if you lost your only child? How would you weep? Resigned and silent… Loud and unforgiving…

In The Death of Vivek Oji, author Akwaeke Emezi shares sections of Vivek’s life and the lives of those close to him leading up to Vivek’s death and beyond.

Vivek Oji’s death is not a secret. Its occurrence is not the climax of the story.

The title is purposefully vague. While the injuries are presented, we do not know the details. Vivek’s mother, Kavita, goes in search of the truth.

She learns more than she bargained for.

We think, “Not in my town.” “Not where I live.” “That doesn’t happen here.”

And we are wrong.

The unwarranted hatred projected onto gendervariant and LQBTQ+ people throughout the world is real. And it does become violent.

When you read The Death of Vivek Oji, if you take nothing else away, think of what actions you can take to make the world a safer place for all.

What can you do to ensure the richness and fullness of life deserved by every one of us?

Other than that it makes you think, I liked that while the chapters flit between characters, it’s not confusing. Exploration of relationships – platonic, romantic, sexual, and familial – is a vital component of this story.

The character development is good and the plot is enticing. Sometimes the timeline may throw you off but take your time and connect with the characters.

And take time to think about the things in this story that give you pause or make you uncomfortable. Work through and past it.

Let me know what you think of this one, friends! Learn more abut Akwaeke Emezi and their other works and accomplishments here.

Nature in the Novel, Uncategorized

Nature in the Novel: Mexican Gothic

*ATTENTION* This is not a book review. It is a post about ecocritical topics within the novel. Do not read any further if you want to read Mexican Gothic with fresh eyes! Save this post to come back and delve a little deeper. 😊 To see a spoiler-free review, click here. Thanks!

Synopsis reminder:

Noemí Taboada travels to a mansion in the misty woods to keep tabs on her questionably ill and confused cousin who was recently married to the son of an old-wealth family. After some frightening encounters, she soon learns that family secrets flow deeper than the foundation of the house. Will Noemí uncover the truth in time save her cousin, or will she even be able to save herself? 

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the beliefs/opinions of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the publishers, or the Book of the Month Club.

This post is not a book review as much as it is a brief ecocritical discourse/opinion piece.

It’s for the nerds out there.

Intended to get us all thinking critically about what we are reading.

Today we’ll use a few questions from the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s list of ecocritical questions mentioned in a previous post. Let’s dive in! 

Where is the environment placed in the power hierarchy? 

Check out this quote: “The higher the train moved and the closer it got to El Triunfo, though, the more the bucolic landscape changed and Noemí reassessed her idea of it. Deep ravines cut the land, and rugged ridges loomed outside the window. What had been charming rivulets turned into strong, gushing rivers, which spelled doom should anyone be dragged by their currents. ( . . . ) The land kept its riches in the dark, sprouting no trees with fruit. The air grew thin as the train struggled up the mountain until it sputtered and stopped.” (pg 15-16) 

(First of all, I love alliteration in any piece of writing: rugged ridges, sputtered and stopped. My heart sings!) 

A few paragraphs prior to this quote, we learned that Noemí’s family used to vacation in a house by the sea and that the forest lived more on her periphery; it was something that existed but didn’t play a role in her life – or perhaps, it’s role was its absence. Due to her father’s successful business, her family had the luxury of living and vacationing where they chose.  

We then learned that Noemí finds the quaint and colorful views from the bottom of the mountain to be pretty. To Noemí, the quality of the first landscape was in its “bucolic” identity as well as the fact that it at one point held a wealth of silver. As she gets closer to her destination (her cousin’s husband’s family home, aptly named High Place), the description becomes harsh and the “doom” of the gushing rivers foreshadows what awaits Noemí.  

Bonus anthropomorphism: The last sentence in the quote conjures an image of a train literally struggling for breath as it treks up the mountainside. Even before Noemí arrived at High Place, she had a sense of breathlessness.  

We see hierarchy represented in the literal elevation of High Place. When I lived in California, I remember driving down the coast and seeing a lone house above a cliff that looked like it could only be reached by helicopter. In Mexican Gothic, the Doyle family wants to be left alone (unless they can get something out of you) and the mistress of the house definitely doesn’t want anyone upsetting the status quo.

The Doyles view the environment as a tool to be harnessed: It is second-most powerful only to man, and the man who can control it becomes a god.

How is nature empowered or oppressed in this work? 

On the one hand, nature is viewed as something that can be taken or avoided, as is the case with Noemí’s family avoiding the forest. Though she recognizes her cousin’s romantic notions of misty woods and quaint living, Noemí views the Doyle family’s choice of land as inhospitable – too dark, too bleak, too foggy, essentially too depressing. Beyond that, nature is something to be taken advantage of: The family’s deepest secret (which I won’t even spoil here, just in case!) is a gross misuse of a divine offering.    

Through Francis’s eyes, we see a curiosity of nature. His plant enthusiasm is reminiscent of the Victorian era (see this post on Dusty Old Thing for more info about the Victorian plant craze). As we see intelligence used for both good and evil, we also see nature used to heal and to hurt.

How are animals represented in this text and what is their relationship to humans?  

Animals have a few roles in this novel. At one point, Noemi scratches the ears of a dog in town, demonstrating her character’s kindness.

There are moments when Noemi understands that she and her cousin are like the beautiful butterflies immortalized in a collection – beautiful, untouchable, too late to be saved. 

A key animal throughout the text is the snake. An image of it wrapped a circle with its own head in its mouth is the Doyle family symbol and when you find out why, is especially disturbing.

Moreno-Garcia uses the common fear of snakes to her advantage. As the Gothic Library Blog writes in the post Snakes in Gothic Literature, “Associated with deception, temptation, and sin, snakes make powerful symbols of abstract evil, in addition to the connotations they already hold as genuine objects of fear in the real world.” (She also has posts about cats and dogs in horror/gothic lit – check it out!)

Although we never see a real snake, the repeated image of one is enough to get the message across.

I feel that the absence of animals also plays a role in this text. You’ll typically see birds and woodland creatures scurrying about in places full of food and water. Clearly, High Place and it’s grounds are no inviting piece of real estate.

What is the influence on metaphors and representations of the land and the environment on how we treat it?  

One of the things that sticks out to me is the Doyle family’s silver mine. Since it was abandoned and there was no one to take care of it, is prone to flooding. If we don’t take care of nature and/or don’t take care to ensure its protections, it cannot take care of us.

What parallels can be drawn between the sufferings and oppression of groups of people (women, minorities, immigrants, etc.) and treatment of the land? 

Howard Doyle’s references to eugenics, superior and inferior races, and the blatant disregard for the Mexican miners who died under his employ show that he views the “inferior races” as disposable. They were good enough to work in his mine and make him a handsome profit, but they weren’t worth sharing it with. His attitude was much the same about women in general. Noemí and Catalina were his exceptions to the rule – he found them to be ornamental and unconventional therefore wanted them as part of his “collection.” 

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Noemí rightfully takes offense at Howard’s eugenic commentary and at his treatment of the miners. She recognizes that he only views them as tools: Mexican men for mining silver and pretty women for bearing children. One could infer that the author agrees with Noemí and that the ultimate demise of Howard corroborates this message.

Photo by Mitja Juraja on Pexels.com

I do not believe Moreno-Garcia intended this to be an environmental novel in that sense that we should start recycling and become more ecologically conscious, but to me it shows a great deal about how land and people affect and interact with each other.

The beauty of ecocritical questions is that you can apply them to anything. Unless the text is quite technical, it’s hard for it not to be shaped by the landscape in some way.

Thanks for joining me on Oak + River Books’ first Nature in the Novel post! I’m looking forward to doing this again – lots of great novels coming up soon on the TBR.

Happy reading, friends!