Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

The Girl from Everywhere
Author: Heidi Heilig
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: February 16, 2016

The Girl from Everywhere is about a girl named Nix who lives aboard a time traveling ship captained by her father Slate. Slate is seeking a map to return to a time where Nix's mother is still alive so that he can save her. The story asks, how much would you sacrifice for love?

I really enjoyed the premise of the story but the world-building was lacking. A lot of things just didn't make sense to me. I'm not sure if this is because I was listening to the audiobook, but I think things just needed to be clearer. I wanted to know more about map lore, the differences between fantasy and reality maps, and why only some people can use maps to time travel. These things weren't discussed in a meaningful way and it made the magic less magical to me.

That being said the characters made up for a lot of the issues I had with the world-building. Kashmir was my favorite. A thief from a desert land, who had the most obvious crush on Nix. He was clearly who I was rooting for in the love triangle that Nix finds herself in. I'm sure you just cringed when I mentioned the love triangle but I honestly didn't mind it. The two people Nix is interested in represent two futures she could have had if she wasn't a time traveler. Blake, a local boy from the time she should be living in in Hawaii represents what could have been and Kashmir represents her present. I liked this dichotomy. I do wish the secondary characters had been more fleshed out. They were all interchangeable to me and I mostly just thought of them as "the crew" rather than as individuals, I hope that in the sequel the author has time to expand on these characters.

The audiobook narration was fantastic. I liked the voices that Kim Mai Guest used, her deep Kashmir voice and even the dog bark she did to represent Blake's dog was fun. I like it when narrator's get into voicing the characters, and you could tell this narrator was enjoying herself.

I liked this book and would recommend the audiobook specifically. It was about a 9 hour listen and I never once found myself bored by either the story or the narrator. I had a couple of little things; characters and world-building, that could have been more polished but overall this was a solid debut novel and I'll definitely be reading (or listening to) the sequel.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Books I LOVED with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads


1 Foreign to You by Jeremy Martin 
2 The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer
3 Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee 


4 Stolen Time by Daniel Rollins
5 The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen


6 Play Me Backwards by Adam Selzer
7 Velvet by Temple West 
8 Return Once More by Trisha Leigh


9 Calvin by Martine Leavitt
10 Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork

The Enchanted Sonata 
Author: Heather Dixon Wallwork
Publisher: The Wallworkshop
Publication Date: October 23, 2018
Goodreads

Review:

This clever little book combines the Nutcracker ballet with another famous story, that of the Pied Piper. At the beginning of this novel, Clara receives a nutcracker and enchanted storybook for Christmas. Clara begins reading the book that night and finds out that the piper has turned all of the children into toys and the prince of the empire, Nikolai into a life-sized Nutcracker. Clara is then transported into this whimsical, holiday world where rats the size of bears are locked into a war with the people of the empire.

Clara and the Nutcracker find each other and team up to defeat the piper, push the rats back into their territory, and get Clara back to her world in time for the holiday piano recital she has been working towards for years. Well, at least that's the plan, and things don't go as planned.

I thought the relationship between Clara and Nutcracker was cute. It was a sweet kind of fairytale romance and went really well with the whimsy and lightness of the story. My only issue was that after Clara learned Nutcracker was, in fact, Nikolai the soon to be emperor she kept calling him Nutcracker. I didn't like that this choice not to use his name. It made it feel like there was a distance between the two characters when there wasn't.

My favorite thing about this book ended up being two middle-aged side characters that Clara accidentally transports to the Nutcrackers world. They decide to stay even when Clara offers to take them back. There were a few side-stories like this one throughout the book that really drove home the holiday magic aspect. And that is exactly what I was looking for when I picked up this book something fun and full of holiday magic.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Ten Most Recent Additions to My To-Read List

It's been a little while since I last participated in Top 10 Tuesday, but I'm so excited about what is coming up on my to be read list that I HAD to share! 


1 House of Salt & Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
2 Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao
3 Fairy-Strick by Amy Sumida


4 The Wicked and the Divine: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen
5 Lovely War by Julie Berry


6 This Book is Not Yet Rated by Peter Bognanni
7 The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie
8 The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones


9 Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller
10 Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

The Princess Diarist 
Author: Carrie Fisher
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Goodreads

Review:

Listening to this audiobook is a little eerie. It is narrated by Carrie Fisher and her daughter Billie Lourd. It was weird, and strangely comforting, to hear Fisher's voice after her passing. Eeriness aside I can't image the story being told any other way.

This memoir offers personal stories, as Carrie Fisher recalled them, about auditioning for Star Wars, the filming of A New Hope, and the press tour the actors went on following the release of the movie. It is also sprinkled with diary entries, more akin to poetry than a true diary, and anecdotes about Fisher's brief affair with Harrison Ford during filming.

The Princess Diarist was a quick listen (5 hours) but it offered a glimpse into the Carrie Fisher's memories of filming and how playing the famous Princess Leia affected her life in both positive and negative ways. But mostly positive.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit
Author: JRR Tolkien
Goodreads


Review:

I'm almost embarrassed, as someone who reads a lot, to admit that I have never read anything by J.R.R. Tolkien. In my defense, I'm not a big fan of high fantasy so the stories have never appealed to me. That being said my husband and I just finished a movie marathon where we watched all of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies (in that order) so I decided to give the book chance. Which I'm happy I did.

To make the story more enjoyable I decided to listen to the audiobook. I enjoyed the bright narration and the short musical interludes that proceeded each chapter. I think this form made the story feel more like a movie, rather than me drudging through another high fantasy novel I'm only marginally engaged with. 

Now, this is going to sound kind of ridiculous but I'm rating this novel 4-stars because I actually enjoyed the movie series more. This story is pretty short and the details weren't as fleshed out as I expected. Peter Jackson turned this single book into three movies so naturally, he included things that were merely alluded to in the original but were expanded on in the movie in greater detail. He also included things that weren't in the book at all. I can see how this would upset fans who love the story and wanted the movie to stay as true to it as possible. For me, I liked all of the side things Peter Jackson added; the relationship between the girl elf and the dwarf, Legolas, Bard's family, and my personal favorite part of the movie where Smaug is dipped in gold. Those moments were scene sealers for me so to not seem them mirrored in the print was a little disappointing. 

Overall, this was an enjoyable listen. I enjoyed the full cast of characters and the hero's journey that Bilbo embarks on. This is truly a timeless tale and if you're like me and haven't read it yet definitely give the audiobook a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.



Sunday, January 20, 2019

Empty Mansion: The Mysterious Life of Hugette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Authors: Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell Jr.
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: September 10, 2018

Review: 

Huguette Clark is infinitely fascinating. Her life is just plain interesting. Her father was W.A Clark a Copper titan in the same league as Carnegie, Morgan, and Vanderbilt; and her mother was a former ward of Clark he married. Well, eventually married. These familial surprises, twists and turns are part of the charm of this journalistic-style biography of Huguette, her family, and what happened to her fortune following her death.

I don't want to spoil too much so I won't go into a lengthy history of Huguette's life but suffice to say that the average reader will know little of this family's history or about Huguette's reclusive life. Bill Dedman also includes relevant historical information from the early days of the 20th century. I liked this aspect of the story because it involves the development of the Pacific Northwest and Montana. I grew up and currently live in this area so I'd been to all or most of the locations mentioned, it was interesting to think of these places the way they would have been 100 years ago, especially Butte. A few years ago my Mom and I were driving from South Dakota to Washington when our car basically gave up on the pass just before Butte, Montana and we ended up staying in the town for a few days. It was fun to learn more about this town and how Clark shaped it. 

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. I really liked the narration, especially the commentary by the co-authors and the recordings of Huguette's voice. She had a very distinctive voice and one of her doctors described her as "cute as pie". I think that is an apt description of the woman I got to know while reading this book. 

Huguette did not live the life of a typical person. She lived life on her own terms, enjoyed what she liked whether that be dolls or Smurfs. She was generous to those in her tight-knit circle and after her death, unsurprisingly everyone argued over her money. This book changed my opinion on Huguette. At the beginning I thought of her as a rich old lady who got taken advantage of and was kept in a hospital, alienated from the world. I'm not so sure of that now. Like I said, Huguette lived life on her own terms and she had the money to do so. That doesn't mean she was taken advantage of. It means she did what she wanted whether that be creating lavish dollhouses or staying in a hospital. I think that is my biggest takeaway from this pseudo-biography. Live the life you want to live. Huguette did, and I think she lived a happy life.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

White Stag by Kara Barbieri Blog Tour


White Stag
Author: Kara Barbieri 
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: January 8, 2019

Synopsis:

White Stag, the first book in a brutally stunning series by Kara Barbieri, involves a young girl who finds herself becoming more monster than human and must uncover dangerous truths about who she is and the place has become her home.

As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground,
Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.
Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.


Excerpt

WHITE STAG EXCERPT
1

MASQUERADE

THE FIRST THING I learned as a hunter was how to hide. There was a skill in disappearing in the trees like the wind and merging into the river like stones; masquerading yourself as something you weren’t was what kept you alive in the end. Most humans didn’t think the masquerade was as important as the kill, and most humans ended up paying for it with their lifeblood.

Here, as the only mortal in a hall of monsters, I was very glad that I was not most humans.

I kept my steps silent and my back straight as I passed beneath the white marble pillars. My eyes flickered around me every so often, counting hallways, retracing my steps, so I could escape at a moment’s notice. The Erlking’s palace was treacherous, full of twists and turns, stairways that led into nowhere, and places where the hallways dropped to gaping chasms. According to Soren, there were also hollow spaces in the walls where you could slink around unnoticed to the mundane and the monstrous eye, but you could hear and see all that went on in the open world. The lair of a king, I thought bitterly. I dared not say it out loud in case someone was near. But beside me, Soren sensed my disgust and made a sound deep in his throat. It could’ve been agreement.

Soren examined his king’s palace with the usual contempt; his cold, calculating eyes took in everything and betrayed nothing. His lips turned down in a frown that was almost etched permanently into his face. Sometimes I forgot he was capable of other expressions. He didn’t even smile when he was killing things; as far as goblins went, that was a symptom of chronic depression. He lifted his bored gaze at the gurgling, choking sound coming from his right, and it took all my willpower not to follow his line of sight. When I felt the subtle whoosh of power transfer from one body to the next, my fingers twitched to where I’d slung my bow, only to remember too late that it had been left at the entrance of the keep in accordance with ancient tradition.

A scream echoed off the cavernous passageways as we made our way to the great hall where everyone gathered. It sent chills down my spine with its shrillness before it was abruptly cut off. Somehow, that made me shiver even more. Ancient tradition and custom aside, nothing could stop a goblin from killing you if that was what they desired. My hand reached for my nonexistent bow again, only to be captured by cold, pale fingers.

Soren’s upper lip curled, but his voice was low and steady. “The next time you reach for a weapon that isn’t there might be the last time you have hands to reach with,” he warned. “A move like that will invite conflict.”

I yanked myself away from his grip and suppressed the urge to wipe my hand on my tunic like a child wiping away cooties. “Force of habit.”

Soren shook his head slightly before continuing on, his frown deepening with each step he took.

“Don’t look so excited. Someone might get the wrong idea.”

He raised a fine white eyebrow at me. “I don’t look excited. I’m scowling.”

I bit back a sigh. “It’s sarcasm.”

“I’ve told you before, I don’t understand it,” he said.

“None of goblinkind understands sarcasm,” I said. “In another hundred years I’m going to lose my understanding completely.”

Another hundred years. It hadn’t hit me yet, not until I said it out loud. Another hundred years. It had been a hundred years since my village was slaughtered, a hundred years as a thrall in Soren’s service. Well, ninety-nine years and eight months, anyway, but who’s counting? Despite the century passing by, I still looked the same as I had when I was forcefully brought into this cursed land. Or, at least, mostly; the scars on my chest hadn’t been there a hundred years ago, and the now-hollow spot where my right breast should have been burned. The four months when I’d belonged to another were not something I liked to think about. I still woke up screaming from nightmares about it. My throat went dry and I swallowed. Soren isn’t Lydian.

“You look tense,” Soren said, breaking me out of my thoughts. I’d crossed my arms over my chest. Not good. A movement like that was a sign of weakness. It was obvious to everyone that I was the weakest being here, but showing it would do me no good.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I just don’t like this place.”

“Hmm,” Soren said, eyes flickering around the hall. “It does lack a certain touch.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked.

“The entire design of the palace is trite and overdone.”

I blinked. “Okay, then.”

By now we’d entered the great hall where the reception was held. Every hundred years, the goblins were required to visit the Erlking and swear their fealty. Of course, their loyalty only extended to him as long as he was the most powerful—goblins weren’t the type of creature to follow someone weaker than themselves.

The palace, for what it was worth, was much grander than most other parts of the goblin domain. Soren’s manor was all wood, stone, and ice, permanently freezing. Nothing grew—I knew because I had tried multiple times to start a garden—but the roots never took to the Permafrost. Here, it was warm, though not warm enough that I couldn’t feel the aching chill deep in my bones. The walls were made of pure white marble with intricate designs far above what a goblin was capable of creating, and streaked with yellow and red gold like open veins. It was obviously made by humans. Goblinkind were incredible predators and hunters, gifted by the Permafrost itself, but like all creatures, they had their flaws. The inability to create anything that wasn’t used for destruction was one of the main reasons humankind were often stolen from their lands on raids and put to work in the Permafrost.

Soren’s scowl deepened as we passed under a canopy of ice wrought to look like vines and flowers. “I feel like I need to vomit,” he said.

I stopped in my tracks. “Really?” I swore, if I ended up having to clean up Soren’s vomit …

He glanced at me, a playful light in his lilac eyes. “Sarcasm? Did I do it right?”

“No.” I forced myself not to roll my eyes. “Sarcasm would be when you use irony to show your contempt.”

“Irony?” He shook his head, his long white hair falling into his face.

“Saying one thing when you mean the other, dramatically.”

“This is beneath me,” he muttered. Then, even quieter, he said, “This place is in dire need of a redecoration.”

“I’m not even entirely sure what to say to that.” With those words, he flashed me a wicked grin that said little and suggested much. I turned away, actually rolling my eyes this time. For a powerful goblin lord, Soren definitely had the ability to act utterly childish. It could be almost endearing at times. This, however, was not one of those times.

In the hall, the gazes on the back of my neck were sharp as knives. I kept my head straight, trying my hardest not to pay attention to the wolfish faces of the other attendees.

From a distance they could almost be mistaken for human. They varied in size and shape and the color of their skin, hair, and eyes much like humans did. But even so, there was a sharpness to their features, a wildness, that could never be mistaken for human. The figures dressed in hunting leathers, long and lean, would only seek to torment me if I paid them any attention. As the only human in the hall, I was a curiosity. After all, what self-respecting goblin would bring a thrall to an event as important as this? That could very easily get me killed, and I wasn’t planning on dying anytime soon. My hand almost twitched again, but I stopped it just in time, heeding Soren’s warning.

We finally crossed the floor to where the Erlking sat. Like Soren’s, the Goblin King’s hair was long. But unlike Soren, whose hair was whiter than the snow, the Erlking’s hair was brown. Not my brown, the color of fallen leaves, underbrush, and dark cherry wood, but murky, muddy brown. It was the color of bog mud that sucks down both humans and animals alike and it somehow managed to make his yellow-toned skin even sallower. He was the strongest of all goblins, and I hated him for it. I also feared him—I was smart enough for that—but the fear was drowned out by the blood rushing in my ears as I locked eyes with Soren’s king.

Soren turned to me. “Stay here.” His eyes turned hard, the glimmer of light leaving them. Whatever softness he had before drained away until what was left was the hard, cold killer he was known to be, and with it went the last shreds of warmth in his voice. “Until I tell you otherwise.” Subtly, he jerked his pointer finger at the ground in a wordless warning.

I bowed my head. “Don’t take too long.”

“I don’t plan to,” he said, more to himself than to me, before approaching the Erlking’s throne. He went to one knee. “My king.”

I eyed Soren from underneath the curtain of my hair. His hands were clenched in fists at his sides. He must’ve sensed something from the Erlking, from the other goblins, something. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Cautiously, I directed my gaze to the Goblin King himself, aware that if I looked at him the wrong way, I might be inviting my own death. While the behavior and treatment of thralls varied widely among goblins, I had a feeling submissiveness was required for any human in the Erlking’s path.

This close, the Erlking’s eyes were dark in his shriveled husk of skin and there was a tinge of sickness in the air as he breathed his raspy breaths. His eyes flickered up to meet mine and I bowed my head again. Don’t attract attention.

Soren spat out the vows required of him in the old tongue of his kind, the words gravelly and thick. He paused every so often, like he was waiting for when he would be free to drive his hand through his king’s chest, continuing on with disappointment every time.

The tension around the room grew heavier, pressing down on those gathered. Somehow, like dogs sniffing out blood, they all knew the king was weak. Beautiful she-goblins and terrifying goblin brutes were all standing there waiting until it was legal to kill him.

Beside the weakened king’s throne, a white stag rested on a pile of rushes. Its eyes were closed, its breath slow. Its skin and antlers shone with youth, but the ancient power it leaked pressed heavy against my shoulders. That power was older than anything else in the world—maybe older than the world itself.

Goblins were, before all things, hunters. Born to reap and not to sow. Cursed with pain upon doing any action that did not in some way fit into the power the Permafrost gave them, the goblins fittingly had the submission of the stag as the symbol of their king’s ultimate power. Until it runs.

I didn’t want to think about what happened after that.

Soren continued to say his vows. The guttural language was like ice shards to my ears, and I shuddered. Catching myself about to fidget, I dug my fingers into my thigh. Control yourself, Janneke, I thought. If they can do it, you can.

A soft voice whispered in my ear, “Is that you, Janneka?” His breath tickled the back of my neck, and every muscle in my body immediately locked. Icy dread trickled down my spine, rooting me in place.

Don’t pay attention to him. He’ll go away.

“I know you can hear me, sweetling.”

Yes, I could hear him, and the sound of his voice made me want to vomit. My mouth went dry.

CREDIT: WHITE STAG by KARA BARBIERI Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of Wednesday Books.


About Kara
Kara Barbieri is a writer living in the tiny town of Hayward, Wisconsin. An avid fantasy fan, she began writing White Stag at eighteen and posting it to Wattpad soon after under the name of ‘Pandean’. When she’s not writing, you can find her marathoning Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reviving gothic fashion, and jamming to synthpop. Follow Kara on Twitter @PandeanPanic