Book Review: All I Want for Halloween

all i want for halloweenAll I Want for Halloween
by Marie Harte
Romance
345 pages
Published 2017

This will just be a quick one, as this is your normal smutty romance novel. I picked it up for the PopSugar prompt “Based on Halloween” and it is that. But it’s also the typical “lust at first sight and the sex is so good that they get to know each other and just happen to be absolutely perfect for each other.” The cover blurb makes it sound like most of the plot revolves around mistaken identities, and that is absolutely not true. I’m also not sure where that cover comes in, because the woman dresses up as a warrior princess, not a gothic lady. Sooooooo that’s questionable.

I have issues with the “deciding not to use condoms in the heat of the moment without actually discussing it with each other” and only really talking about it after the fact, but, sure, don’t let realism keep you from enjoying a good (and pretty hot) smutty novel.

The bonus first two chapters of Collision Course in the end of this book did more to make me want to read more of this author’s work than the entire rest of the novel did. *shrug* It’s a decent bit of smutty fluff, but nothing outstanding.

From the cover of All I Want for Halloween:

Tonight, Sadie Liberator plans to let go. 

Dressed up and anonymous, Sadie feels powerful, sexy, and free. Where better to lose herself than a costume party? 

Gear Blackstone’s cheating ex and scheming best friend have managed to spin his life into a serious downward spiral. At least with a mask on he can cut loose for one night. And cut loose he does – with the sexiest, snarkiest woman he’s ever met.

After a scorching-hot encounter, Sadie and Gear are desperate to find each other in real life. But can the heat last when the masks come off?

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Book Review: Little Bee, and World Refugee Day

little bee refugeeLittle Bee
by Chris Cleave
Contemporary Fiction
267 pages
Published 2009

Today is World Refugee Day. First observed in 2001, it is dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of refugees all across the world. African Refugee Day had been observed in some countries prior to the UN declaring it World Refugee Day, but the Organization of African Unity agreed to have the two days coincide.

To honor World Refugee Day, today I’m going to talk about Little Bee. Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee in the United Kingdom. She and her sister witnessed the destruction of their village by an oil company’s thugs, and were hunted down to eliminate the witnesses. In a chance encounter on a Nigerian beach, she met Sarah and Andrew, a couple from London trying to save their marriage by going on an exotic holiday. The encounter changes the lives of all three of them, and when Little Bee makes it to the United Kingdom, they are the only people she knows. She arrives at their home on the day of Andrew’s funeral, and Sarah takes her in.

The book switches between the viewpoints of Sarah and Little Bee, and it does suffer from that, a bit. I couldn’t wait for Sarah’s chapters to be done so I could get back to Little Bee. Her viewpoint – her voice – was enthralling. Some first-person views are just the person thinking to themselves, while some first-person views are the person talking to the reader. Sarah was the first type, and Little Bee the second. Reading her explanations of the differences between her old life and her new life, and how the girls from her village wouldn’t understand things, was amazing. I was hooked within the first ten pages of the book, specifically her note about scars:

I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.

The events Little Bee talks about having witnessed are horrifying. And she recognizes that. She could be bitter, she could be depressed, she could be insane, but she is not. She manages to have hope, and even joy. She sees other refugees around her commit suicide, and in fact always has a plan for how to kill herself “if the men come.” Because the stories of refugees always begin with “the men came and they…” and she’d rather kill herself than let herself be taken. Despite this, she has hope for a future. Or perhaps she simply takes joy in the present.

The book is not a happy one. Like Sing, Unburied, Sing, it’s an important book but not exactly an enjoyable one. There are enjoyable parts. But there are very hard parts, too. (I should note, here, a TRIGGER WARNING for a graphic description of rape, when Little Bee tells Sarah what happened to Little Bee’s older sister.) It did not end the way I wanted it to, though it ended in an unexpected way. I suppose it was too much to hope for a Happy Ever After when the vast majority of refugees don’t get one.

For all that there were very tough scenes to get through in this book, I’m still putting it on my Best of 2018 list. Little Bee’s voice and viewpoint is amazing, the story is well researched, and the plot absorbing. This is a book I’d like to have on my shelf.

This book fills the “book talked about in another book” (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) prompt for PopSugar 2018, and the “refugee MC” prompt for Booked 2018.

From the cover of Little Bee:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book.

It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.

Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:

This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there . . .

Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds. 

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands

rebel of the sands

Rebel of the Sands
by Alwyn Hamilton
YA Fantasy
314 pages
Published 2016

More Middle-eastern themed fantasy! And by a Canadian writer, though she was only born there, she mostly grew up in France, so I’m not really sure it counts for my Read Canadian Challenge. But it is one I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and when I was at Barnes & Noble for Book Club, I noticed it on the bargain shelf, so I snagged it, along with another YA fantasy based on Norse Mythology called Valkyrie. There’s two more books in the series now, Traitor to the Thone and Hero at the Fall, so I’ve requested those from the library because I really enjoy this world!

Amani is a girl in a country that doesn’t value women, and treats them as useless property only good for breeding sons. The country is basically occupied by another country that the Sultan is “allied” with, but lets run roughshod over his people. She has her sights set on escaping her backwoods, dead-end town, and running to the capital city, where the aunt she’s never met lives. All of that is derailed when she meets Jin at an underground shooting competition, and then later hides him from the armed forces hunting him.

The country is definitely middle-east inspired, but there’s a lot of religion-bashing, and complaining about the culture oppressing women. It’s the same problem I have with a lot of knight-and-castle era fantasy – just because historically in OUR world those time periods weren’t kind to women, doesn’t mean they have to be the same in fantasy. It’s FANTASY! It can be anything you want! Break the tropes! It’s a fine line to walk, taking the good parts of a culture without just cherry-picking and appropriating the culture, and who’s judging what the good and bad parts are, anyway? So I understand it’s difficult, but bashing the culture in a book inspired by their mythology is not quite cool, either. I feel like City of Brass hit a nice middle ground of embracing the culture of the inspiration without bashing parts of it.

That gripe aside, I really enjoyed the world-building. I’m not quite sold on the characters yet – Amani is far too quick to abandon things she should fight for – but I’m interested enough to see how they progress in the next two books.

Rebel of the Sands was also a past Goodreads Choice winner, filling that prompt of the PopSugar 2018 reading challenge.

From the cover of Rebel of the Sands:

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female. Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

This startlingly original Middle-East-meets-Wild-West fantasy reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally embracing her power.

Book Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

tolstoy purple chairTolstoy and the Purple Chair
by Nina Sankovitch
Memoir
236 pages
Published 2011

So first off, can we talk about this cover? I want this chair so bad. Though the purple chair the author actually sits in to read is nowhere near this pretty, from her description of it. I haven’t got a good reading chair yet; I have one corner of a couch, next to a bookshelf, that is my current favored reading spot (reading lamp, blanket, and end table included). But eventually I will find myself the perfect reading chair and make myself a nook.

That aside. The premise of this book is the author trying to come to terms with the death of her older sister, who she idolized. Her sister died of cancer, so they knew it was happening, but it was still a shock when she passed. For a few years, Nina pushes her grief aside and throws herself into being busy, but she eventually decides to full process she’s going to dedicate a year to reading a book every single day. She reasons that at her reading speed, she can reasonably finish a 300 page-ish book each day, giving herself time before her sons get up, while they’re at school, and after everyone else goes to bed.

I saw one reviewer mention Nina’s unrecognized privilege, and it’s true. Nina is very privileged. She can afford not to work, and not to worry too much about chores, cooking, and the general running of a home. Her sons and husband all seem fairly self-sufficient, and her husband’s job keeps them quite well, it seems. (I don’t even want to think about how much the Christmas tree she describes actually cost, considering it reaches the chandelier hanging from the second-floor ceiling.)

But the book is about the books she reads, not how privileged she is. And in that respect I quite liked it. Her criteria for picking books are that she can’t have read them before, though they can be authors she’s read before, no author could be read more than once, and she had to review every book she read. There’s a list in the back of the book of every book she read during the year. I’ve only read three of the books she read in that year: Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. All fantasy, of course, and none of which she actually mentioned in the text of the book! (I’ve also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which she mentions in the beginning of the book, but wasn’t part of her year of reading.)

I love the way she talks about the books she reads. She relates them to her life, or her father’s memories of World War II. She draws lessons from the stories, and does, in time, begin to heal from her sister’s death. The way she talks about reading, and her books, really struck a chord with me, and I think I’m going to buy myself a copy of this book. I want to refer back to it when I’m feeling uninspired with my reviews, and this might be a book I re-read often to encourage me to dive deeper into my books.

This is my pick for PopSugar’s 2018 prompt “favorite color in the title” and I think it’s also going on my personal Best of 2018 list. I just loved it that much. It’s not a “I have to tell everyone about this and encourage everyone to read it!” kind of book. It’s more a “this really touched on a deep passion of mine and has words I’ll carry with me going forward” kind of book. It was just lovely.

From the cover of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:

Nina Sankovitch has always been a reader. As a child, she discovered that a trip to the local bookmobile with her sisters was more exhilarating than a ride at the carnival. Books were the glue that held her immigrant family together. When Nina’s eldest sister died at the age of forty-six, Nina turned to books for comfort, escape, and introspection. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair also tells the story of the Sankovitch family: Nina’s father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her four rambunctious children, who offer up their own book recommendations while helping out with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina’s daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives – if we only find the time.

Book Review: Star Wars: Ahsoka

ahsoka tanoStar Wars: Ahsoka
by E. K. Johnston
Space Fantasy (Star Wars)
356 pages
Published 2016

I’ve been wanting to read this novel for a long time, as Ahsoka Tano is my favorite character from the Clone Wars cartoon, and second-favorite in the entire Star Wars series. (Because General Leia exists.) I picked the book up at a used book store in Oregon when we went home from the holidays, but I’ve just had so many other things to read. I finally read it for May 4th, Star Wars Day.

I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I’ve read another book by Johnston, That Inevitable Victorian Thing, which I enjoyed but thought was too fluffy. And comparing this to the last Star Wars book I read – Phasma – this tilts that way too. It’s not as fluffy as TIVT – people die, and the Empire is the ever-looming possible doom that it always is – but it just didn’t feel as gritty as Phasma did. Perhaps it shouldn’t; Phasma is a villain, and her backstory is suitably dark. And Ahsoka, here, is floundering a little in the wake of Order 66, and being alive when none of her compatriots, to her knowledge, are.

I did enjoy learning how she got her lightsabers back, and the story should lead well into the Rebels cartoon, which I have yet to watch.

So I don’t know. It was an entertaining book, and it was effective at furthering Ahsoka’s story, it just…wasn’t quite what I wanted.

The book does, however, fit the Popsugar 2018 prompt of “Takes place on another planet.”

From the cover of Star Wars: Ahsoka:

She thought her war was over, but a new battle is just beginning…

Ahsoka Tano, once a loyal Jedi apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, planned to spend her life serving the Jedi Order. But after a heartbreaking betrayal, she turned her back on the Order to forge her own path, knowing Anakin and the other Jedi would still be there for her should she ever need them.

Then the Emperor took over the galaxy and the Jedi were ruthlessly murdered. Burdened with grief and guilt, Ahsoka is now truly on her own, unsure she can be part of something larger ever again. She takes refuge on the remote farming moon Raada, where she befriends a young woman named Kaedan and begins to carve out a life for herself. But Ahsoka cannot escape her past or the reach of the Empire. When Imperial forces occupy Raada, she must decide whether to become involved – even if it means exposing her Jedi past. Her choices will have devastating effects for those around her . . . and lead her to a new hope for the galaxy.

 

Library Loot Wednesday!

the merry spinsterThe Merry Spinster finally made its way to me through the library system! It’s a collection of short fantasy stories and I’ve been quite eager to read it. The author also recently came out as trans, so this is part of my effort to read more inclusively! There’s apparently a lot about gender in the book, too.

tolstoy purple chairI also checked out Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, which is my PopSugar pick for “favorite color in the title.” It’s about a woman spending a year dedicated to reading, so I’m hopeful I’ll find something in here for another PopSugar prompt, “a book mentioned in another book.” Also, that chair on the cover? I WANT IT.

red clocks dystopiaRed Clocks finally arrived in my holds! I’ve been pretty excited about this one, but there were a lot of people in line ahead of me. It’s another feminist dystopia – I love those – this one set in a small Oregon fishing town, so – my home state! Abortion and in vitro fertilization are both illegal in this dystopia, and it follows the stories of women dealing with that.

pretending to be normal aspergerAnd one of the books off my Autism Reading List arrived from another library system – Pretending to be Normal – Living with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is the expanded version published in 2015.

women from another planet autismIn not-quite-library-loot, I also bought the Kindle version of Women From Another Planet? Our Lives in the Universe of Autism on the recommendation of Catana, who commented on my review of Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate.

One of these days I’m going to gather some pictures of my library to show you guys my local branch. The librarians there are pretty awesome.