Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Published: January 8, 2019

Genre: Mystery, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 336

Synopsis: Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery's never been there, but she's heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it's hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone's declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she's in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous--and most people aren't good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it's safest to keep your secrets to yourself.

Thoughts: It's been a little while since I read a book in such a short amount of time - only five days, ha! Granted, I have read a book in just a handful of hours before (that would be The Fault in Our Stars in case you're wondering), but it's been quite a long time. Also, I mean, I did start reading it on a three hour plane ride and proceeded to finish half the book in that time, so otherwise it probably would have taken longer.

But I digress, you don't care about my reading habits! I guess that was just all a long way of saying that I did really enjoy this book! McManus does a great job of setting up the worlds of both leads Ellery and Malcolm, and how they end up coming together through the many mysteries that plague the small town they are both living in.

The story moved at a great pace, building up the mystery and giving clues at what felt like all the right moments. Things did come to a head perhaps a little bit abruptly, but then again, you don't really want the story to draw things out when it gets to that ending point either. So yes, I did appreciate that the ending was quick and satisfying.

What was also nice was that it wasn't just about the main mystery, there were also some side mysteries going on too that had more to do with the main characters, giving the final resolution more meaning as it focused more on those things than just the resolution of the main mystery. I just noticed that the synopsis doesn't even mention Malcolm, even though he and Ellery both share first-person narrative duties here. I guess synopsis-wise, it was just easier to talk about her alone. But I enjoyed both of their chapters, which isn't always the case when authors switch between characters.

If you enjoy mysteries, I'd definitely give this a go! It's a quick read and satisfying!

Rating: 4.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Circe by Madeline Miller

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Book Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Published: August 28, 2018

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 320

Synopsis: In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancĂ©, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.

Thoughts: Man did I want to like this book. It's sort of a combination of fantasy and science fiction, leaning more toward the fantasy, which should be my dang bread and butter. But it took me a whole month to read because, if I'm being honest, I was just kind of... bored. I wanted more to actually happen. More twists. More turns. More, you know, stuff.

I read one review that called it fast-paced and I was like what book did you just read? Though the book isn't long, and certainly Amani does change throughout the course of the novel, the action itself is very limited. I often find myself projecting what I think a big twist might be in many books, and oftentimes I am right. But here I was just left waiting for that twist, and it never came. Who knows, maybe it will come in the future, but it was pretty much the only thing I kept reading on hoping to find.

Now, the world-building and the descriptions are all very well done. I feel like I understand the world, the way the people are oppressed by this other empire and all, very well. And Maram, who is sort of the villain, but not at the same time, is a very intriguing character who could have been the main focus of the book as well just because she has a backstory that is arguably more unique than Amani's.

What was most disappointing to me, though, had to be the ending. I got to the last sentences and was like wait, this is the end? That's it? I can tell it's meant to continue, but it felt like an incomplete story. Maybe it's because I read the whole climax in very staccato bits rather than all together at once, but it really didn't make me want to continue on in the series, sadly. Again, I was waiting for a twist that didn't come, at least not in the way I was expecting or hoping, so I just was left unsatisfied.

All of this being said, many people have given it rave reviews on Goodreads, so maybe I'm just not the right audience!

Rating: 2.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Legendary (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Supernatural 14x14 "Ouroboros"

As you may have noticed, I did not write up this review on Thursday night after the episode aired. I know this means it will get less hits and such, but I figure why put myself under a certain kind of pressure for a few hits. I don't love the show as much as I used to, I don't feel the urgency to watch it like I once did, so I'm going to watch and write these up by the weekend, but without a set date in mind. At least for now that is the plan. Part of this decision may stem from the fact that I was extra disappointed with the previous episode, but it's also been a long time coming.
Misha Collins as Castiel, Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester, Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester in Supernatural 14x14 "Ouroboros"
Okay, on to this episode. Things are essentially back to normal, apart from Dean confessing to Castiel that he's not really sleeping with the effort to keep Michael at bay. But the four guys are all out on a hunt together, chasing down a dude that's killing other dudes and eating them. It turns out that said dude is a Gorgon, a la Medusa, who paralyzes his victims and uses snakes and such. Do we care about this Monster of the Week? Not really.

The important thing here is that he is able to see everyone but Castiel and Jack coming, seemingly because of their angel-ness and near-angel-ness. Which means that, with the help of Rowena's tracking spell, those two will be able to get close to this Gorgon before he spots them with his near-future visions, unlike the brothers Winchester. So, they track him down, fight a bit, Castiel gets hit with the paralyzing stuff, which works for some reason, the Gorgon tells some story about an egg that relates to Jack, basically insinuating he might be the real bad guy or some such. Blah blah, they kill him. But not before Dean gets hit on the head, which leads to the rest of the episode. Oh, and Jack uses his angel powers (the ones that will eventually drain him of his soul if he keeps doing it) to heal Castiel, who of course doesn't want him to keep doing that, etc.

Ruth Connell as Rowena in Supernatural 14x14 "Ouroboros"They head back to the bunker, and they are unsure what to do about Dean, who is still unconscious. Because that might mean Michael can get out, right? Right. He manages to sort of escape, at least in the way that he can talk to Rowena in her mind, and get her to agree to let him in, which... whatever. Over people flip flopping between good and evil, honestly. She lets him in, kills a bunch of people in the bunker, including that Maggie girl who's been hanging around and not doing much.

But then Jack steps in. He's not having it, no sir. Despite Michael acting all cocky like Jack can't do anything to him, he uses his powers to weaken Michael, and then forces him out of Rowena. He does some stuff to his essence, and then consumes the grace that remains. Jack says he's back to himself, but I guess that's now the question for the rest of the season - is he really?

Random Thoughts:

- I mean, hopefully this is the end of the Michael storyline. It was getting stale and repetitive, for sure.

- Lately I keep thinking what shows that are forced to be over 20 episodes a season might have been if they could have been more like 10-12 instead. Man, so much unnecessary filler would be cut. I know some people like to have a show on for a while so they have something to watch every week that they like, but I'd rather it be good the whole time, you know?

Quotes:

Rowena: You, always blaming witches.
Dean: 'Cause a lot of times it's witches.

Dean: This is like an A/V club presentation.
Jack: What's an A/V club?
Castiel: It's a special group for people who do not play sports.
Dean: Yeah, he's A/V club.

Dean: I'm on a first name basis with a psycho penpal. That's...aces.

Rowena: Of course, Samuel. Until very recently, I was the villain.

Jack: I'm the son of Lucifer, I'm a hunter, and I'm a Winchester.

Previous Episode

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Published: February 24, 2015

Genre: Fantasy

Hardcover Pages: 400

Synopsis: Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Thoughts: One thing I've been discovering since starting these book reviews is that, while I had previously thought I was an equal fan of science fiction and fantasy, it turns out I think I'm actually drawn to fantasy more. I think that tends to be because science fiction can focus on a lot of mechanical and technical things being different or advanced, and apparently I don't find that as interesting.

And now that we've gone on that tangent, let's talk about the book I'm actually reviewing! A Darker Shade of Magic does fall into the fantasy category, and on the surface, I should really like it. It has magic, and adventure, and parallel worlds. How the worlds vary is well done and the lore of the series is pretty cool in general. The story moves at a quick pace pretty much from the get go, which I always appreciate, and does a good job of mixing in the history along with the current happenings.

That said, I didn't love it. There is something a bit stark, something that doesn't quite make me feel much toward the characters. I think part of that lies in the fact that we don't really see Kell very much with his adopted family. While of course it's interesting how he smuggles things between worlds, for me to care about him, I need to know how he feels about everything. The fact that they call him their son, yet he's not. That he loves Rhy like a brother, etc. I mean, that becomes a rather important point later in the book, yet so little time is spent on their relationship in the beginning, it was hard to care very much when certain events went down.

Lila as well I wanted to like more than I actually did. She's meant to be a somewhat unlikable female lead, which I applaud because oftentimes that can be difficult to execute and difficult to get people to sign on to in the first place. My issue with her isn't that she's unlikable on the surface, it's that she's not that likable under that surface. We know next to nothing about, again, how she feels about everything. What makes her actually care about others, why she doesn't care about them (at least outwardly). She's a badass, sure, but I wanted a little chink in the armor, something that showed she was still human.

I debated whether to give it three or four stars, so I had to settle on 3.5. There's a lot of potential here, and I think I might continue on in the series just to find out more about where Kell and Lila came from, because that's a mystery I'm actually interested in, even though some of the mysteries I'm pretty sure I already have figured out.

If any of you have read it, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review: The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Published: January 8, 2015

Genre: Historical, Middle Grade

Hardcover Pages: 316

Synopsis: An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Thoughts: You know what's funny? I always have this notion that I'm not going to like books set during World War II. I've read a few now, and every time I think oh here we go, yet another war story. While I often feel this way about movies as well, sometimes those feelings actually turn out to be true. BUT when it comes to the books I've read, you know what, the few that I've read recently have all been great.

The War that Saved My Life is no exception. I was drawn in immediately by Ada's story, and indeed I read this book faster than I've read most books recently, which is always an indicator to me how much I am enjoying something. I'm a bit of a sucker for protagonists that have a physical struggle in some way, so Ada was fitting into that mold right from the start. She's strong, yet very vulnerable, and has to deal with being thrust into a completely different world than she's used to right off the bat.

The book also represents a unique perspective during the war. So many movies tend to focus on soldiers and battles, while this book focuses on what the regular people back in England, and for most of the book here, the English countryside closest to France, were going through. Putting up blackout curtains, bombings, supplies going scarce. And, most of all, people not knowing what the best thing to do for their children - send them away, or stay home together and risk being bombed?

All of that being said, the real strength here is the relationships and the depth of the characters, in particular both Ada and Susan. Though Susan is seen through Ada's eyes, there are so many clues given about her, that the reader can deduct a great deal about her life without it explicitly being stated. Ada also being able to come into her own and stand up for herself was very satisfying. While the end did feel like it happened very quickly in comparison to the rest of the book, if I'm being honest, I think that was a good choice, as having to read a lot more of certain things wouldn't have been fun, especially when you intrinsically know that somehow things will probably come together.

If you like this book, I would also highly recommend Between Shades of Grey and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Both feature stories of strong young people during World War II struggling to survive. Very different stories, but both hooked me from the start.

Thanks for the recommendation on this one, Brittany! I probably wouldn't have known about it otherwise, as I don't always pay as close attention to middle grade fiction.

Rating: 4.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab