Vacation and the Griswolds

I’m back from vacation!  Polen family vacations have a semi-disastrous history.  Trust me – you don’t want to travel with us.  The first cruise we took resulted in a hurricane.  Then there was the time we were stuck in an airport for hours because as near as the airline could tell, someone from California cancelled our flight reservations – we didn’t even know anyone from CA.  But what about that memorable week we spent in Hawaii for our honeymoon with temps in the low 50s and nearly constant rain which, of course, led to the roads flooding on the day we were headed to the airport to leave.  Those are just the highlights that come to mind right now.  We’ve concluded we must be related to the Griswold family.  After years of just talking about it, we’d finally made a decision to go to Italy in the fall and had just received a tentative itinerary from our travel agent in early March, so we’re halfway convinced we might have had something to do with the coronavirus.

So why should last week be any different?  While it was wonderful to spend time with our family and have both sons with us, the beach was cold and rainy every day except one – the last one.  We were able to get on the beach for a couple hours one day, but the last day was mostly sunny at least.  It was also the only day I even put on a swimsuit.  Other days, we played board games, went to an escape room, and I read two books.  We’ve also had our share of vacations with glorious weather, along with wearing heavy coats and gloves in Florida, but the important thing is that we spent time together, and that’s always a plus.  Here’s a pic of a gorgeous sunrise – the morning we were leaving.

As far as restaurants, with the exception of one, all staff wore masks and gloves and tables were spaced far apart.  Folks on the beach also kept their distance for the most part, but the majority of people we encountered at grocery stores and tourist attractions didn’t wear masks.  Here in KY, our numbers are going down, so I’m hoping people don’t get too comfortable and let guidelines fall to the wayside.

Update time – several weeks back, I mentioned my oldest son had been interviewing for new jobs after losing his due to COVID.  I’m thrilled to say he accepted one last week which doesn’t require him to move and is completely remote.  Thanks so much for all your positive thoughts, vibes, and encouragement sent his way!

Have a great week and stay healthy!

 

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power #bookreview #YA #mystery

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape. 

This is my first reading experience with this author.  I’d heard good things about her first book, Wilder Girls, so I jumped at the opportunity to read her newest release.

The reader is immediately thrust into Margot’s life – neglected and emotionally abused by her mother and without a support system.  She’s basically on her own, and it’s easy to sympathize with her.  The author’s writing style is descriptive without overloading the reader with details – which is always a plus for me.  She paints a bleak picture of the small town setting where Margot finds her family, and the moment she arrives, you know something’s off kilter.

Other than one very odd discovery and Margot’s increasing feelings of unease, not much happens in the first half of the book.  Once things get going, the pace picks up and things become very….bizarre.  I’d picked up on several hints, but hoped the story would take a different direction.

This is an original plot, and although I’m usually a fan of the weird and strange, this grim story was mostly a miss for me.  Looking at other reviews, I’m in the minority on this one, and it won’t keep me from reading future books by this author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

 

TRUEL1F3 (LIF3L1KE #3) by Jay Kristoff #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Best friends have become enemies. Lovers have become strangers. And deciding whose side you’re on could be the difference between life and death. For Eve and Lemon, discovering the truth about themselves–and each other–was too much for their friendship to take. But with the country on the brink of a new world war–this time between the BioMaas swarm at CityHive and Daedalus’s army at Megopolis, loyalties will be pushed to the brink, unlikely alliances will form and with them, betrayals. But the threat doesn’t stop there, because the lifelikes are determined to access the program that will set every robot free, a task requiring both Eve and Ana, the girl she was created to replace. In the end, violent clashes and heartbreaking choices reveal the true heroes . . . and they may not be who you think they are.

With it’s gritty, Mad Max-like world and highly charismatic characters (Lemon Fresh is so brilliful!), this has become one of my favorite YA sci-fi series.  In this final book, I was excited, yet hesitant to read it because I was afraid of what Kristoff might do to some of my favorite characters.  In several scenes, I nearly halfway covered my eyes.

Since it’s been about a year between books, I really appreciated the recap at the beginning of this novel.  It’s kind of hard to review the final book of a series without spoilers, so this will be brief.  Emotions were all over the map with this one – heart-gushing moments followed by roller coaster plunges into wildly intense action for pages.  Epic battles, cruel blindsides, devious villains with world-ending plans – I wondered if my heart could take it.  The ending satisfied me, with the exception of the fate of one character.  My feelings for this character remained conflicted for most of the series, and I’m not sure they got what they deserved.  So I guess it makes sense that I’ll probably remain undecided.

Still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this intense, complex series with fabulous characters.  It’s one I’d highly recommend to sci-fi fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger. 

I saw Les Miserables on Broadway years ago, but I honestly don’t remember anything about it.  Musicals aren’t really my thing, but I was outvoted on our show choice that night.  The biggest reason I requested this book was the comparison to Six of Crows.

Knowing little to nothing about Les Mis, I probably missed most of the same character names, plot points, etc., but I don’t think lack of knowledge of that story should hinder anyone reading this novel.  The descriptions of the nine guilds at the beginning were a little overwhelming at first, but they quickly became one of my favorite parts of the story.  Nina’s world is dark, gritty, and dangerous – starvation, sex slavery, and death are common; consequently, she has to learn to adapt and survive at an early age.  Strong, fierce, and clever, she’s an easy character to root for.  Pacing is brisk and tense heists are plenty, but a couple of time jumps may leave you struggling for a few pages to find your footing.

I did question how a nine-year-old Nina in one night transforms into a talented thief who evades highly-trained royal guards.  Maybe some backstory woven in to explain her skills would have helped.  Something I didn’t connect with at all was her strong bond with Ettie and willingness to sacrifice nearly everything for her.  After a several years time jump, Ettie is suddenly there, and the reader is given no history of their relationship.  Initially, Nina is planning to sell Ettie into sex slavery to save her own sister, but then changes her mind.  Nearly everything that happens from that point on is due to their sisterly relationship, and the lack of connection on my part made it difficult to understand Nina’s choices.

Don’t get me wrong – I definitely enjoyed this story.  It’s a wonderful debut with charismatic characters and some suprisingly humorous moments.  Prior knowledge of Les Mis isn’t required, but you may get more from the story if you’re familiar with it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

WWW Wednesday: What Am I Reading? #amreading

WWW Wednesday is a meme from Sam at Taking On A World Of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m a fan of Roth’s Divergent series, but she’s moved into the adult area with this new book, which has mixed reviews.  It popped up on my NetGalley shelf (not sure how exactly), and by the description it sounds perfect for me, but I’m struggling with it.  The writing is wonderfully descriptive, but I don’t especially care for any of the characters.  I keep reading because I feel like I’m on the verge of something, but so far it hasn’t happened.  I even flipped to the back and read the ending, which is something I rarely do.  At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll finish this book.

The first novel written for an adult audience by the mega-selling author of the Divergent franchise: five twenty-something heroes famous for saving the world when they were teenagers must face even greater demons—and reconsider what it means to be a hero . . . by destiny or by choice.

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended. 

I’m a HUGE fan of Wilson’s Repairman Jack series, and this short novel is a prequel/companion to Nightworld, the last book of that series.  Jack’s absent from this one and I miss him horribly, but it was so nice to sink back into his world, creepy and dangerous as it is.  I’d highly recommend this series to fans of the mysterious and otherworldly.

Twilight has come. Night will follow.

It will begin in the heavens and end in the Earth

But before that…the rules will be broken

The Change is coming and the world as we know it is ending. Sixteen-year-old Ellie has changed. She looks the same but her mother detects someone else looking out through her blue eyes. Ellie builds a “shelter” in her room with an entrance that leads…elsewhere.

And what of the convoy of tractor trailers Hari Tate watches drive up a mountain road and return without the trailers…leaving nothing on the mountain. What are they shipping?

And the writer who finds a hole in the floor of his NYC apartment and tumbles through into… elsewhere.

They will all find each other and find their answers in the electromagnetic pulses piercing the Earth from Out There, pulses that no one should hear, but some do. But they are not simply pulses. They are SIGNALZ.

I Killed Zoe Spanos is up next.  Doesn’t it sound like a perfect beach book?  I hope to read this one over vacation – while on the beach.

This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Eden, Eli, Marwan, and Ilanka barely know each other beyond having a class or two together. But when they are all summoned via messaging app to an empty classroom after school, they find a small cube sitting on a desk. Its sides light up with rules for them:

Do not tell anyone about the device. Never leave the device unattended.
And then, Take me with you . . . or else.

At first they think it’s some kind of prank or a social experiment orchestrated by the school administration. Still, they follow its instructions until the newly-formed group starts to splinter. Nobody has time for these games–their lives are complicated enough. But the device seems increasingly invested in the private details of their lives. And disobeying its rules has scary–even life-threatening–consequences . . . 

This is my third book by this author, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

Several reviewers mentioned they were under the impression this was more of a mystery/thriller, but it’s absolutely a sci-fi/thriller – totally my kind of book.  I flew through it in two days.  These four, very relatable teen characters have distinctive personalities, and each is coping with their own complicated problems.  They come from diverse backgrounds and situations, so why they’re thrown together is a mystery to them.  The way they learn in such a short time to depend on each other and offer support was a strong point for me.

And the device!  It’s multi-faceted, and over the course of the story is mysterious, helpful, intrusive, and insidious.  I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, but my need to know what was going on made it a struggle to close this book.  Although the reveal is satisfying and even jarring, I did feel as if the problems the characters faced in their personal lives were wrapped up with a pretty large bow at the end, but I seem to be in the minority on that opinion.

This is a completely engaging read with unnerving sci-fi aspects and one I recommend.  I’ll be looking for more books by this author in the future.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

#AmWriting, #AmWatching, and Vacation

Last Monday I mentioned the final planning and plotting had commenced on the sequel to Subject A36.  This past week, I finally started writing.  I set a timer for thirty minutes and just took off.  Maybe it was a fluke, but writing in thirty minute segments worked for me.  I didn’t worry about editing, word echoes, choosing the perfect word, etc – I just typed.  My word count wasn’t in the stellar range (not C.S. Boyack level, lol), but I was happy with my progress, and I’ll use the same technique this week.

A friend recently loaned us the Band of Brothers series.  We’d never seen it before, but I remembered it winning several awards.  We were hooked from the first episode.  And what a cast!  Many of them weren’t well known or known at all when it was released in 2001, but you’d recognize several now.  We reached the last episode, eager to see what happened to these characters and their lives – and the disc hung up.  I tried another DVD player – no luck.  Tried going straight to the scene – nope.  I checked Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu – all were a bust with streaming unless we wanted to pay.  Our only option is to get the last disc from Netflix.  Instant gratification has totally spoiled us.

I won’t be online much next week, other than the two book reviews I have scheduled to post.  Hubby and I are taking a vacation and maybe the planets aligned or our horoscopes were good that day, but both sons can go with us, and we’re really looking forward to it.  I’ll be in my happy place on a beach with my umbrella and books (social distancing from folks at neighboring umbrellas), hopefully getting caught up on some reading.  Restaurants there still aren’t at full capacity, and that’s fine with us.  We have reservations with a couple of favorites, but also plan to take advantage of local seafood markets.  Masks will be packed along with the books!

Stay safe and healthy and have a great week!

Far From You by Tess Sharpe #bookreview #YA #mystery #LGBT

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared. 

I read this for my book club.  For that month’s selection, we had to read books recommended by other members – which is scary for me.  I’m always afraid I’ll wind up with a romance.  This one contains some romance, but it’s not the primary focus.  And I’m okay with that.

My heart went out to Sophie.  No one believes she’s still clean, and her parents force her back into rehab.  All the while, she’s grieving deeply for her nearly lifelong best friend and counting the days until she’s released so she can find the killer.  Her frustration is palpable, and she has few friends to lean on for help.

Most chapters rotate between the present and earlier in Sophie’s life, but it wasn’t difficult to keep up – and I listened to the audiobook (which is narrated by the author, who does a wonderful job).  The shifts allow the gradual reveal of backstory and secrets that bring to light multiple suspects.  I guessed who the culprit was, but there’s another component to the story that came as a suprise.

This isn’t my usual genre, but it’s a gripping read and emotional at times.  If you’re looking for a YA mystery, this is one I recommend.

The Traitor Prince by C.J. Redwine #bookreview #fairytale #retelling #TuesdayBookBlog

Javan Najafai, crown prince of Akram, has spent the last ten years at an elite boarding school, far away from his kingdom. But his eagerly awaited return home is cut short when a mysterious imposter takes his place—and no one believes Javan is the true prince.

After barely escaping the imposter’s assassins, Javan is thrown into Maqbara, the kingdom’s most dangerous prison. The only way to gain an audience with the king — and reveal Javan’s identity — is to fight in Maqbara’s yearly tournament. But winning is much harder than acing competitions at school, and soon Javan finds himself beset not just by the terrifying creatures in the arena, but also a band of prisoners allied against him, and even the warden herself.

The only person who can help him is Sajda, who has been enslaved by Maqbara’s warden since she was a child, and whose guarded demeanor and powerful right hook keep the prisoners in check. Working with Sajda might be the only way Javan can escape alive — but she has dangerous secrets.

Together, Javan and Sajda have to outwit the vicious warden, outfight the deadly creatures, and outlast the murderous prisoners intent on killing Javan. If they fail, they’ll be trapped in Maqbara for good—and the secret Sajda’s been hiding will bury them both.

The category for my book club this month was to read a re-telling.  I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for two years, so this was a perfect opportunity to bump it to the top.

This is the third book I’ve read in the Ravenspire series.  Each has taken me on exciting adventures, introduced me to both loveable and loathsome characters, and occasionally ripped my heart out.  Redwine is known for killing off some of her more popular characters.  The Traitor Prince is based on an Arabian tale entitled The False Prince.  I’m not familiar with that story, but this one grabbed me from the first page.  I was so angry at the injustice of Javan’s and Sajda’s situations – his at being thrown into prison while someone else takes his place on the throne, and hers at being enslaved from a young age and discriminated against for a reason I won’t reveal (no spoilers).  By the end of the book, I was so anxious for them to have their revenge and set things right.  And speaking of the ending – it was perfect.

Although part of the same series, each of these books can be read as a standalone.  I also have to comment on the stunning maps included in each novel – beautiful!  The Traitor Prince is a story about fighting against inequity even when things look grim, endearing friendships, undying loyalty, and selfless sacrifice.

#BookConline, #AmWriting, and #TenetTrailer

Over the weekend, I spent Saturday and Sunday watching several author panels at BookConline.  I’ve never been to BookCon in NYC (but it ranks right up there with ComicCon in places I’d love to go), so it was a treat to see so many YA authors together.  World-building, fantasy, epic YA, paranormal – I watched all of them and more.  There were plenty of ARC giveaways, but I figured the odds of me winning were slim, and I’ve got enough to keep me busy for quite a while anyway.

The writing has commenced!  I’ve been working on the sequel to Subject A36 – finally.  Right now I’m putting together character arcs and figuring out some plot points.  The number of POVs may be a challenge – everyone wants to talk, but some of them will just have to settle for letting their story be told through the eyes of another character.  Breaking the news won’t be pretty, I’m thinking.

Have you guys seen the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet?  Inception (one of my favorite movies) was mind-bending and Memento wickedly twisted.  And his Dark Knight series?  You get what I’m saying.  When I first saw the preview for this movie months ago, I had no idea what it was actually about and honestly didn’t care.  It was a Nolan movie.  This new, second trailer goes into more detail and I’m stupid excited to see it in July.  Assuming the theaters are open.  Keeping fingers crossed!

Take care and stay healthy!