Continue below to read my review of the book, my interview with the author, and be sure to check out the rest of the stops on the 'DRAGONFLY GIRL' blog tour brought to you by RANDOM THINGS TOURS, KATHERINE TEGEN BOOKS, and MARTI LEIMBACH!
'Dragonfly Girl' is the YA debut from Marti Leimbach, the bestselling author of titles such as 'The Man from Saigon,' 'Daniel Isn't Talking,' and 'Dying Young,' the latter of which was her first book.. made into a film starring Julia Roberts. What a way to start a career in writing!
While 'Dragonfly Girl' is her first YA novel, due to her experienced hand in the industry, it's absolutely fluid. A science-based thriller, the story focuses on a brilliant teen named Kira Adams. Though she struggles with some school subjects, her mind works like a well-oiled machine when she has equations in front of her.
At home, her widowed mom is very ill.. and that leaves Kira trying to manage the household and their ever-crushing debts. At school, she's awkward and shy, bullied by other students, and just trying to keep her head down as much as possible.
When she wins an international science award, she draws the attention of a number of powerful people both in and out of the science community. But some of those people are incredibly dangerous and caught up in the spotlight of acclaim, Kira may discover too slowly which she can trust.
Admittedly, in the first two-thirds of the novel, I have never been so engaged in a story. This was a girl I could relate to in a unique way. She's able to rise through the ranks of her chosen profession with ease, despite lacking certain things that are expected. Those around her are baffled, even jealous.. at how easily she succeeds without the experience they have worked for years to gain.
Actually, that's my favorite part of this story. Leimbach somehow manages to capture and convey a meteoric rise that society says shouldn't be possible. Kira thinks little of what she lacks at first, she just gives it a try. Only after winning the contest, does that doubt begin to creep in.. and even then, it's not about her abilities.. it's about the reactions those around her may have upon realizing.
In truth, I wish the story had continued along this trajectory for my personal taste, but I recognize that such a move would have limited the scope far too much. While I felt like the turns taken were unnecessary and even a bit over the top for me, not because they're unreasonable possibilities.. but rather because everything combined together felt extremely unlikely, the plot twists did take it to new dimensions.
As for the characters, Kira is kind of adorable and Lauren is a really good, loyal friend. Again, tying together everything about Lauren makes her seem a bit out of this world, but suspension of disbelief engaged.. she's amazing. Dmitry was probably my favorite. Quite quickly his voice and his mannerisms developed in my mind as I read him. He was the most visceral for me and as such, I couldn't get enough of his appearances.. disheveled as they may be.
Plenty of intrigue and surprises make the book a page-turner. Overall, though Kira swings through a somewhat unlikely social learning curve very quickly toward the end, I still deeply enjoyed the journey and couldn't recommend the book highly enough.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marti Leimbach's latest novel is DRAGONFLY GIRL, a YA action/thriller about a high school girl with a gift for science who discovers a "cure" for death and ends up embroiled in an international rivalry. It is published by Harper Collins in February 2021.
Marti Leimbach is known for her bestsellers, Dying Young, made into a film starring Julia Roberts, and Daniel Isn't Talking. She is interested in neurodiversity and has shared the stage with young inventors at the Human Genome Project (Toronto), the National Autistic Society, and the University of Oxford.
She teaches on the Masters Programme in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. Dragonfly Girl is her eighth novel, but her first for young adults.
☆★☆ Interview with Marti Leimbach ☆★☆
I read that you participate in the Masters Programme in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. What motivates you to teach?
I absolutely love the students! These are often young writers at the start of their literary lives and they’ve got such enthusiasm. We teach in “residencies” throughout the academic year and I always come away from a residency fired up and freshly motivated to write, myself!
I understand your interest in neurodiversity was inspired by your experience as a mother. What do you feel is the greatest misconception or misrepresentation about neurodiversity?
People with autism or attention deficit disorder or tourettes, for example, are not massive anomalies but are part of the world, and my family is just another example of this truth. Both the family I was born into as well as my family now make up a very neurodiverse bunch. My son has taught me the most, however, because he can’t easily pass as neurotypical. Also, while he’s terrifically smart and gifted in some ways, he’s very vulnerable both socially and economically due to his autism.
I believe in the necessity of embracing neurodiversity, of pushing for working conditions that make it possible for a much larger range of people, especially those on the autistic spectrum. One misconception is that people with ASD aren’t able to contribute as much as a neurotypical person. That is just not the case for a number of reasons. For example, a diversity of viewpoints from differently-abled people enhance decision making at a corporate level.
What's the most interesting thing you've learned as you've developed your interest in science?
The sheer rate of change is breathtaking. If I think about the speed with which vaccinations for Covid19 were developed, for example, I get a bit teary-eyed knowing I’m witnessing a true medical miracle that will save tens of thousands of people.
On your site, I noticed you broached the subject regarding the demographic gaps between students who enter STEM fields.. the correlations between gender, class, race and ethnicity.. and the theories about how the subconscious mechanism may trigger some students to enter other fields instead due to the persistent masculine imagery we see with science and mathematics. Did this directly influence your work on Dragonfly Girl? And were you hoping to help affect a change through your story or is that just a happy bonus to the story you wanted to tell?
I didn’t set out purposely to challenge the perception that scientific settings are the domain of white men. It was only once Kira was working after school in a laboratory that the question of demographics came up naturally. It’s as though I discovered the incredible bias inside science communities through my character. Having done that, however, I could see the value of a girl like Kira, her friend Lauren, and the women scientists in the novel in providing fictional role models for girls who may wish to study or pursue careers in STEM. Kira, herself, has role models of real life women scientists, her declared favourite being Barbara McClintock, an American scientist and cytogeneticist who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
There's a recurring theme across a few of your books that centers in and around a caretaker perspective. Does that come from a personal place, like your relationship with your son or is it just a story you find yourself drawn to?
I will concede to a mild preoccupation with the role of caretakers, whether that be in a traditional manner in which we imagine caretakers, or in the way we care about each other generally. For example, in Dying Young, Hilary is in love with a young man who is foregoing treatment for a terminal condition and for whom she is sole caretaker. In Daniel Isn’t Talking, a young mother is doing her best to serve the needs of her family, especially her young son with autism, to the extent that she often neglects her own self-care. In Dragonfly Girl, Kira’s actions are highly motivated by her physical and financial responsibility to her mother, who is ill. I’ve been in two of these scenarios in my real life, so I suppose it just sticks with me.
Though Dragonfly Girl does seem to have a similar theme to your other work, I see that it's your first foray into YA. Was this your intent or did you happen to find yourself there when the story was done?
I read YA because I like it but I hadn’t imagined writing YA until I happened upon Kira’s story in Dragonfly Girl. It just came to me one day like a fully formed idea implanted in my brain. I am very excited about working in the young adult space!
What's the most important thing you'd hope readers will take with them after finishing Dragonfly Girl?
I want young people to know that they don’t have to be good at everything. You can be good at one thing and make it your life’s work. And you don’t need a million friends to be happy, either. One or two close friends is enough. If you stay true to yourself, you’ll find your tribe. Oh, and it’s from this place that true romantic love might take hold, too!
With Dragonfly Girl releasing February 23rd and the manuscript already finished for the sequel, Academy One.. what's next for you?
While it’s true that Academy One is in a completed form, I always sit on a book for a little while to make sure it’s what I want. I’ve already decided to make two big changes in Academy One, both of which involve the love interest.
Your career is so robust after several books and over 30 years in the publishing industry. What would you tell yourself.. if you could go back to the period prior to your first novel and offer advice?
I would tell myself to do the best with that which is under my control – writing well and consistently. I would celebrate small wins and let go of all losses. I’d insist that I took the time to make more friends with other writers, not just my students but my colleagues out there, somewhere, proofreading their galleys and trying to get noticed in such a crowded marketplace.
The best feeling in the world is when you help another person achieve their dream of publication, or even bestseller status. I would do more of that. I would tell myself not to worry and that your readers will always find you. And some of these readers will give you some seriously excellent advice that may help you as much or more than you can imagine. There is always another book inside you. There is always another day.
Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'I THINK I LOVE YOU' book tour brought to you by TBR and BEYOND TOURS, UNDERLINED PAPERBACKS / PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, and AURIANE DESOMBRE!
I Think I Love You
Underlined Paperbacks / Penguin Random House
March 2nd, 2021
A sweet and funny debut novel about falling for someone when you least expect it . . . and finding out that real life romance is better than anything on screen.
Emma is a die-hard romantic. She loves a meet-cute Netflix movie, her pet, Lady Catulet, and dreaming up the Gay Rom Com of her heart for the film festival competition she and her friends are entering. If only they’d listen to her ideas. . .
Sophia is pragmatic. She’s big into boycotts, namely 1) relationships, 2) teen boys and their BO (reason #2347683 she’s a lesbian), and 3) Emma’s nauseating ideas. Forget starry-eyed romance, Sophia knows what will win: an artistic film with a message.
Cue the drama. The movie is doomed before they even start shooting . . . until a real-life plot twist unfolds behind the camera when Emma and Sophia start seeing each other through a different lens. Suddenly their rivalry is starting to feel like an actual rom-com.
rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ (4/5 stars)
'I Think I Love You' by Auriane Desombre is a YA contemporary rom-com that centers around a pair of girls who start out as something closer to adversaries and just may end up falling for each other along the way.
Emma is an incessant romantic who wholeheartedly believes in love, even if she doesn't believe she'll find it for herself. When she gets an email inviting students to participate in a high school film festival, she just knows it's going to help her make her dream career a reality.
Badgering her friends -- Kate, Tom, Myrah, and Matt.. into working on the student film project with her, she has the perfect idea. A gay rom-com with a happy ending.. and a chance to see herself represented onscreen.
When her rival, Tom's best friend Sophia, returns from Paris unexpectedly.. she thrusts herself into the middle of the project and starts contradicting everything Emma hopes to do. From that point on, the competitiveness just spirals out of control.. and that's really where the story begins.
Set in New York City, there are lots of great visuals and Desombre does a fantastic job of allowing the reader to really see the locations through her descriptions. Honestly, throughout the years it's been such a popular place to film rom-coms, that it kicks off the story with just the right feeling.
Kate is an absolute darling and you kind of just want to keep her safe, but I did really enjoy Emma for the most part as well. Sophia is incredibly annoying at first, which means the author was completely successful in her attempt to alienate and distance the character from the pack. When we meet her, she just seems rude, pretentious, and over-confident in regards to pretty much all of her opinions.
Don't get me wrong, Emma is set in her ways too. She's gotten used to not having to compete for what she wants with Sophia gone and she doesn't take kindly to her opinions being challenged. Honestly, I can relate. I probably wouldn't have responded maturely either.. but these two take it to a new level, driving wedges into the comfortable group dynamics.
Of course, in an effort to 'help' each other, there are some interesting dramatic situations that occur because meddling often makes a mess of things. The underlying theme though is love. Ultimately, these people care about each other. They want to see their friends happy and they're willing to do what they think it takes to make that happen.
Some of the themes are a little cliché and there are moments where pivotal points within the story seem just a tad forced, but overall it's a cute tale, with some amusing dialogue. I genuinely enjoyed it and if you're looking for an easy read.. that's a predominantly heartwarming story to brighten your day, this would be a good choice.
About the Author:
Auriane is the author of I Think I Love You, and works as a middle school teacher and freelance editor. She holds an MA in English Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing for Children & Young Adults. She lives in Los Angeles with her dog, Sammy, who is a certified bad boy.
'Playing Cupid' by SC Alban is a modern young adult fantasy that plays light-heartedly with mythology, mixing it into a story of teen centric isolation.
After her mother's death a few years prior, Megan Cooper pretty much stopped connecting with others. With the loss leaving her father unreachable and seemingly disinterested in anything other than work. As he wallowed in his grief, she was left to survive the trauma on her own.
Resulting in the intense desire to graduate early and get out of the small town where everyone knows her history, Megan has just one final stopping her. Home Economics. Unfortunately, she gets teamed up with Jay Michaels.. the local golden boy who keeps disappearing on her and dumping all the work in her lap.
On her drive home, she accidentally hits Cupid with her car. When she discovers he's too injured to do his job, she gets stuck filling in for him.. but the clock is ticking. She only has until the start of the year to find his last three love matches and that means facing some of those emotions she keeps walled outside herself, face-to-face.
The story is actually a really cute concept, though I wasn't personally a fan of the Cupid character by design. The way the Cupid term was used, however.. was pretty creative. For me, while the story was fun, it felt a little thin at times.
Alban did a good job with the Cupid societal structure, which I found interesting and the process of love-matching was tongue-in-cheek. That being said, the Cupid character was well-suited to the style of the book and the story at hand.
Jay's secret is actually the thing that kept me interested. I wasn't particularly invested in Megan, though her situation is a tough one. She just didn't hook me. But I continued to read because I wanted to know what he was hiding. I had some idea, but I wanted the details.
The glimpses we get throughout the book of Jay are the most intriguing part of the story. Alban is excellent at just giving you a peek behind the mask for a moment and then burying.. what you almost see.. again in the next. In the end, I did still tear up a little.
If you just want a quick, easy read to kind of relax and enjoy the dynamics between the citizens of this small town.. this is the book for you. If you're looking for something with deep character or story development, maybe not.. but I did enjoy it.
'The Bone Fire' by György Dragomán is a tale set in an unnamed Eastern European city, in a country where their oppressive regime has recently been toppled. After the loss of her parents to a car accident, a young girl named Emma ends up living in an orphanage until she's adopted by a grandmother she doesn't know.
Bitterly divided by the revolution, Emma begins to learn the ways of her new grandmother who can read fortunes, heal or inflict pain, and more. Though she uses magic in her day-to-day life and the ghost of her dead husband still resides at home, these aren't the main reasons she's treated with suspicion and contempt by the townspeople. They believe her and her husband to be traitorous informers.
This story is a mixture of magical realism and sort of a modern Jacobin novel. While the story is wrapped in what feels like an old fairy tale, it strives to discuss some very heavy topics. Though they can easily be applied to certain things going on right now, the author has given them some distance by writing it as if it's taking place 40 years ago or so.
Though there isn't a lot of plot here, I don't feel like that's the point. Instead, Dragomán allows us to experience the lives of these characters unfettered by jumping them through hoops to get to a specific point, which is not to say their lives are uneventful. In fact, there are some extremely memorable moments throughout the book that seem to help define the world they live in while shaping their world view.
Centered in and around the fall of the Communist rule of Transylvania, the author spends most of his time focusing on the changes brought about by the revolution and the fall itself, without ever calling direct attention to the area.
If there was ever a book that was a structural parallel to Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is it. Painted in a stiff prose that feels both representative of the cooler Eastern European language style and the rather harsh setting the characters live within, the book moves slowly through the day-to-day. There's no glossing over the more mundane details to hurry to a plot point or steer the narrative. Those details seem to actually be the narrative.
While that style is not for me, it's hard not to admire the patience and artistry within these pages.
On a side note, some of the witchy scenes are really fun and carry a sense of dark connotation that I genuinely enjoyed. My favorite was actually early in the novel with some musicians, while Emma and her grandmother were on the train bound for home.
Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'BLOODSWORN' blog tour brought to you by TBR AND BEYOND TOURS, RANDOM HOUSE CHILDREN'S/CROWN BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS, and SCOTT REINTGEN!
Bloodsworn (Ashlords #2)
Random House Children's / Crown Books for Young Readers
February 16th, 2021
Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes.
The Races are over. War has begun.
Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.
Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.
Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?
rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (5/5 stars)
'Bloodsworn' by Scott Reintgen is book two in the Ashlords duology, a story about the war between three cultures and their rise against the gods themselves.
Struggling for control of the Empire, the two strongest factions.. the Ashlords and the Longhands strike each other's strongholds in a life or death game of chess, while the Dividian rebels are just trying to survive the collisions.
Three leaders, Adrian.. Pippa.. and Imelda, emerged from the Races with changed perspectives and a lot of questions. As they unearth the truth of their origins, it becomes apparent that the hatred which drives them to war.. begins with the gods.
Though the details of the rise and fall of their people are secreted away, one dissatisfied god shows a willingness to share the history of their roots. With every sign leading back to the underworld.. how far must they go to learn what the gods don't want them to know?
I don't know why I wasn't moved to pick up 'Ashlords' last year when it was released. Looking back and glancing over the synopsis again, I can only say that the synopsis leaned heavily into the phoenix horses.. without really giving me a reason to care about the Races themselves.. and the comparisons given were books I wasn't familiar with. Books I still haven't read, if I'm being honest. Though.. if they're anything like this.. that's going to need to change.
Since I hadn't read book one when I began this title, the early pages for me were spent getting my bearings in their world. Immediately the story felt immense to me. I don't mean to say it felt long or particularly dense. It's that there was a weightiness to what was being delivered that made this story feel uniquely important.
Told through a constantly shifting multiple POV narrative, the result is a story that feels almost as if it's being told in concentric circles.. starting from the outermost ring and rippling ever inward. Of course, in reality.. it's the tale of three fated paths set on a trajectory toward one final explosive point of battle.
Initially, I started out kind of coolly distant from the characters, I quickly became devoted to each group's story. The three leaders only seem to want good things for their people, with most under the impression the others are deserving of distrust and hatred. But the truth is never as simple as we think it is and that's certainly not the case here.
There are a lot of pieces on the proverbial board in this fast-moving, page-turning story of what could be redemption for someone.. only if everything falls into place. I found myself deeply attached to members of each group of soldiers, which left me in a perpetual state of worry for their safety.
Reintgen's world-building is top notch. Where many might struggle to flesh out a detailed fantasy setting so clear the reader can see it in the mind's eye.. this author flexed on us by doing it twice in the same book. Each world and likewise, each character he focuses on within those places, distinctive enough we could pick them out with just a few words.
The phoenix horses themselves, sound so much simpler than they really are.. and it's this magic especially that I loved as I came to understand how they work. Just as with the world and character development, the magic system is richly layered. Between the source of the power and the way it's used, creating magical sub-structures, I feel like he accomplished in (for me.. one book).. what might take a less skilled writer.. a several book series.
Do yourself a favor and read these books. If you don't, like me.. you'll be kicking yourself later.
About the Author:
Scott Reintgen is an author of science fiction and fantasy books. He wrote the Nyxia trilogy, as well as Saving Fable, Escaping Ordinary (Fall 2020), Ashlords and Bloodsworn (2021). He began his career as an English and Creative Writing teacher in North Carolina. He strongly believes that every student who steps into the classroom deserves to see themselves, vibrant and victorious and on the page. It’s his hope to encourage a future full of diverse writers. He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife Katie and his two boys, Henry and Thomas.
Continue below to read my review of the book, the synopsis, purchase links, and author info! Be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops for 'THE GOLDEN FLAME' blog tour brought to you by TBR AND BEYOND TOURS, HODDER & STOUGHTON, and EMILY VICTORIA!
This Golden Flame
Hodder & Stoughton
February 2nd, 2021
Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.
In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible—she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father—their nation’s greatest traitor—once tried to destroy the automatons.
Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.
rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (4/5 stars)
'This Golden Flame,' the debut novel from Emily Victoria, is a tale of rebellion amongst the almost single-minded determination of the Scriptorium.
Eager to unlock the magic of an ancient automaton army littered throughout the land of Eratia, they're quick to send away those who may get in their way. For Karis, that means her brother is long gone.. and she'll do anything to find him.
While seeking her brother.. Matthias' whereabouts, she awakens a hidden automaton. Seeming to have sentient intelligence, Alix seems to have a moral compass.. but no idea why he was created or why his father once tried to destroy them all.
Suddenly, control isn't enough for the Scriptorium. They're on the hunt. Leaving Karis and Alix to find her brother and the secret surrounding the automatons.
I found it interesting that though the lead is just trying to find her brother, for the most part.. she's kind of outcast.. even by the others like her. Though, Dane is actually really lovely. Karis is a bit of a screw-up, but her heart is in the right place and I love that sense of loyalty within her and it's nice to see the Aroace rep in a fantasy MC. It feels like little by little our stories are becoming a bit more diverse.. too slowly.. yes.. but I'll take the forward progress.
Alix has a lot of inner-conflict to deal with, largely due a lack of coherent memories and it doesn't help that those in power want to leverage him. He's a darling though.. despite having a lot of baggage and I found myself forgetting that he was really different in the first place, as automaton or not.. he felt so vulnerably human in some ways.
Like many, the magic system was rune based and I always enjoy magic that requires some kind of tangible focal point. What I found interesting was that it wasn't just about the result either, the process of making the rune mattered.
Though the Scriptorium thing very reminiscent of the Magisterium for me, they were similar.. but still different. The general feeling of oppression was there, though the scribes weren't just members benefitting from their participation.
Emily does a great job of letting the reader experience the world around them, rather than just telling them everything.. which is something I appreciate. There's nothing that can ruin immersion faster for me than being given a tour like the story is more of a verbal open house.
It is a fairly simple story that's easy to read and maybe lacking a little in the complexity department, but not every book has to be an epic 800 page story either. It's very enjoyable and a good first showing for an author with a promising future.
About the Author:
Emily Victoria is a Canadian prairie girl who writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. When not word-smithing, she likes walking her over-excitable dog, drinking far too much tea, and crocheting things she no longer has the space to store.
Giveaway (US Only):
One winner will receive a signed finished copy of This Golden Flame and some swag. The giveaway starts on February 15th and ends on February 22nd.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'WE ARE THE FIRE' blog tour brought to you by SWOON READS / MACMILLAN CHILDREN'S PUBLISHING GROUP, SAM TAYLOR, and XPRESSO TOURS!
"Rebel with flame.. and you die by flame. We are watching."
'We Are the Fire' is the fantasy debut novel by Sam Taylor that tells the story of Pran and Oksana, two of the emperor's Tuliikobrets, magical fire-wielding soldiers. Taken from families across his kingdom by force, children are forced to undergo horrific transformative procedures and pressed into the army's service to carry out the emperor's will.
Both have dreams beyond the walls of the Tuliikobrets' fort. Oksana dreams of going home to her family and their peaceful way of life, while Pran's more inclined toward rebellion.. destruction of the empire and control of their own futures.
As different as their dreams, so too are their methods and ideals. Though they really just want freedom for their kind, it doesn't take long for both to realize their good intentions may require them to make choices that conflict with their principles if they're going to survive at all.
Ironically, the transformative procedures are horrible, but entirely different than I would have expected. Worse in some ways, as the changes wrought upon the soldiers are not all things they can completely adapt to, since their very human bodies aren't really designed for using their newfound abilities.
The opening pages are the quiet calm before the storm, giving the reader a chance to warm up to Pran and Oksana before any of the chaos breaks through. And it's time that I think really served their story well. It isn't slow or drawn out, but it allowed me to connect with them in a more intimate setting and begin to care from the start.
For the most part, there's a deep sense of loyalty that has developed amongst Pran, Oksana, and their friends. Perhaps because conflict and tensions seem to be deliberately stoked between the different ranks within the army, the trust outside their immediate circle is much harder to come by and obviously that makes their goals more difficult. Those with the most power, may also have the most to lose by rebelling, but strength in numbers and cunning are both necessities if their kind are ever to be free.
Treacherous statements to the wrong person, however.. could cost them the ultimate price.
I loved both main characters. Despite the monsters they saw themselves as and their different approaches to the situation at hand, they were genuine and wanted to help others. Pran is all heart. He just keeps trying to get up, no matter what life throws at him.. and I adored him especially.
There are some fantastic antagonists here, one of which is much more complex than they appear at first glance. Few within the walls are separated by more than rank and power. On some level, they've all been victims and it's interesting to see how differently they respond to that.
All in all, I'd definitely suggest this book to anyone who loves stories where the only way out is through others.. where the characters have to decide how much of their ideals they're willing to sacrifice for their freedom.. and where you get to see those decisions tested, all the while hoping they can succeed.
We Are the Fire
'Reaper of Souls' is book two in the Kingdom of Souls trilogy by Rena Barron. A series already optioned for film by Michael B. Jordan's production company, it traverses multiple worlds and is inspired by tales of voodoo and folk magic. Even the first like of the blurb is full of intrigue.
"A prince repelled by magic. A king bent on revenge. A witchdoctor who does not walk alone."
Of course, I'm late to the party and didn't read book one, but it was very easy to catch-up on what the characters had been through in the early pages.
Arrah is the last surviving witchdoctor. Betrayed by family, she finally has the ability to wield magic, but the cost was steep. The kingdom is in chaos and she can't even touch the one she loves.
While Arrah journeys across the tribal lands in search of survivors from the demons' attack, Rudjek scours the land for the demon army's hold.. uncovering a plot that would destroy them all. The Demon King wants Arrah and time is running out to stop him.
This is a very fast-paced story, so the pages just fly by. From the opening scenes as Arrah is returning to the Kingdom's seat of power, there's a feeling of urgency around her. The city is full of unrest with some citizens rallying against the new King and some in staunch support of him. Not everyone is thrilled to see Arrah and her entourage either, but the ones that matter to her are a different story.
Rudjek is charismatic and bold, the moment he enters the scene.. but his insecurities make him charming too. As a craven, he has special skills of his own and they aren't always a boon.. but they do seem to come with a fun set of guardians and the dynamics between both those within his group and Arrah's is really entertaining. Plenty of sarcasm to feed my snarky soul.
Arrah's.. complications are many, but they're very creative concepts. I loved the magic system and overall magical elements in this book, which are a vast, deeply developed mix of wild imagination and a very old way of life.
The cast is full of beautiful, likeable, richly portrayed characters and at various times I found myself loathe to choose a side. Barron does an excellent job of conveying everyone's reasons for their actions to the reader, making it all the more understandable from every angle.. and much harder to accept when someone fails.
My only complaint is a small one. In the attempt to create a twisty tale, there are simply too many 'gotcha' moments. Not to the point that they're hard to follow, just to the point they stop having as much impact.. but honestly that's a problem widespread across media these days.. and purely a preferential issue for me. Definitely not a deal-breaker.
Honestly though, that's the only thing I felt could have been better. The book left me deeply torn as the characters on all sides had become so important to me.
I'm eager for more. Don't miss this series!
'This is Not a Lie' by S.C. Farrow is the story of Joel Reed, guitarist of The Blackhearts, a fictional band sunken into the backdrop of the Melbourne music scene during the early 80s. An urgent search for a new singer, finds them auditioning Harry Engel.. a relative unknown who's recently moved into the area.. with a powerful voice and even more powerful presence.
Surrounded by people who want to see him succeed, Joel is still struggling. He's a high-functioning heroin addict with a secret. Living a carefully constructed lie, he's lonely and self-destructive, and desperately trying not to be discovered.. fearful that his truth would be a quick end to any hopes of making it big.. in a place and time where intolerance is prevalent.
If I'm being completely honest.. the cover of this book drew me first. There's sort of a pretty Peter Steele thing going on there.. with the softly brooding expression. You have to understand.. before I read the synopsis.. I saw someone on the cover I understood. Someone who felt familiar to me.
For several years, starting in high school, I worked professionally in the music industry. I did everything at one time or another. I managed bands, did PR, oversaw venue bookings, pitched to labels, handled marketing both internally and in the field, and even worked for a label directly. You could say I was thoroughly entrenched in the business and the lifestyle.. and truth be told.. sometimes I still miss it. But I don't miss the loss.
There's a stereotype, of course.. that creatives are often more risk prone.. and I find that to be true. Musicians.. especially. There's definitely a group within the overall mix who are there trying to fill an emptiness caused by something growing up. Not enough attention in the home, too much of the wrong kind of attention, love and loss at early ages of their own, self-loathing, feelings of being too different and too alone.. all fuel this bright burning need to be adored.
Joel and Harry are like that. Yet, at the same time.. in a way.. they're complete opposites. They both feel things entirely too acutely, but Joel hides those feelings away.. numbing himself with smack so he can ignore them, while Harry struggles through, getting back to a free-spirited, generally happy nature as soon as he's able.
Harry is magnetic even within printed pages, but I find myself unable to be objective enough to decide if that's because he feels like a friend I lost, or because of the way he's written. I will say, of all the characters in the book, he's the most well-developed. I can visualize him.. and to a degree, I can visualize Joel.. but not as well.
Emotionally, this book could have been really difficult to read, but there's a lot more telling than showing about how things happen. I really think it's a story that could have benefitted from third person over first, because hearing only Joel's thoughts just waters down some of what he's going through.. and really, that's the meaty part of the story. This character is dealing with some very heavy things.
Normally, I'd expect to feel a closer connection to someone by seeing through their eyes, but that's just not the case here. I felt closer to Harry because of the way Joel perceived him.. and I think the same could have been true of both of them, if it were just narrated differently.
Unexpectedly, but largely due to the aforementioned issue, I was very slow to warm to the book as I read. It was interesting, but moderately so, and I had no trouble walking away from it periodically. Eventually it made me cry, but even that could have been much more impactful.
I do think Farrow has a lot of potential and I'm curious to see what else she might publish. This particular story is a bit weak due to the fact she tends to overindulge in some unnecessary descriptions and then come in swinging low for what should be heavy hitting emotions. There's a good framework here, she just needs to prioritize a bit better and expand on her character and story development skills.
Still, if you're like me and have worked in the industry or if you tend to fall for broken musician types, you might want to give this book a chance. I'm glad I did.
'The Girl at the Back of the Bus' by Suzette D. Harrison is a historical fiction story that follows the paths of two women dealing with racial injustices decades apart.
Told in a split narrative across two timelines, the book begins centered around Mattie Banks. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she boards a bus, hoping the driver will carry her away from disaster. Purely by chance, she happens to witness an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks. Inspired, she decides to go a different direction with her choices, but dangers and difficulties seem to rise up around her.
Meanwhile, in the present, Ashlee Turner.. dismayed by prejudice and its effects on a career she has worked so hard for, heads home to see her beloved grandmother while she still can. When she finds a hidden trove of letters containing a family secret, she too finds herself at a crossroads.
I was certainly enraged at the injustices portrayed here, likely in part because though so much time has passed since Mattie's tale, not nearly enough has changed. Normally I find it hard to read detailed accounts of the horrible things people do to each other in the name of some perceived right they think they have and I didn't like seeing those things here either. However, I find it incredibly important to keep talking about them.. because I fear that if we as a society ever allow ourselves to forget the things that have been done.. that are still being done.. we will fail to find them as horrifying as we should. And frankly, it seems we're on the verge of failing that anyway.
That being said, the writing is clean and crisp, the structure is sound, and the author does an excellent job of maintaining those two separate voices. There are no surprises here. Of course, there doesn't need to be a twist in everything, but I did come across a couple of spots where misdirection could have made the difference in keeping the storytelling itself, more interesting.
I've read that reviewers were "enthralled and riveted".. but for me, it was just pretty good. I believe the sheer quality of the writing carried the story for most people, but the storytelling aspect was actually outmatched by the technical skill of the author. Quite possibly, the events themselves inspired others to rate the story higher, and that makes absolute sense to me.. but in trying to be objective about the overall presentation, I feel like it could have been more balanced.
Yes. The things these two women experienced were unjust and should never have happened, but I actually think it could have packed a much bigger emotional punch than it did. I did enjoy the characters immensely though. From Dorothy and Mattie, to Ransome and Sadie.. they were painted vividly, full of warmth and determination.
Nonetheless, as I said.. there are some very important topics discussed here.. and that alone might make this story a worthwhile read. It's a good reminder of a terrible time that is not so far behind us and a healthy wake-up call not to dismiss current situations still facing people today.
Suzette D. Harrison, a native Californian and the middle of three daughters, grew up in a home where reading was required, not requested. Her literary "career" began in junior high school with the publishing of her poetry.
While Suzette pays homage to Alex Haley, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison as legends who inspired her creativity, it was Dr. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that unleashed her writing. The award-winning author of Taffy is a wife and mother of two teens, and she holds a culinary degree in pastry and baking. Mrs. Harrison is currently cooking up her next novel...in between batches of cupcakes.