Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

I am doing the Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge this year and one of the requirements was to read a western.  I am not a big western reader (I am incredibly squeamish and don’t handle blood and violence very well) so I was daunted by this one.  That was, until our Penguin rep, Brian, came into the store and said, “I have a book I need you to read.  It’s a Western.”  I jumped on the opportunity.

What I got was Whiskey When We’re Dry, a western that focuses on Jessilyn, a 17 year-old girl who finds herself alone in the world following the death of her father.  What I really enjoyed about this book is that nothing came easily to Jessilyn.  She doesn’t just happen to magically be the best sharpshooter.  She doesn’t just happen to survive shootouts.  She doesn’t succeed because of happenstance, which is the feeling I’ve gotten from other genre fiction like westerns (including westerns).  This book felt very realistic while still telling the story of an awesome kickass girl who involves herself in a world that is actively against her.  I am so glad there is a character like Jessilyn out there.  We need more of her.

4-stars

Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman

I loved Call Me By Your Name and so I knew that I needed to check out Andre Aciman’s other work.  I decided to read his most recent book, Enigma Variations, in which he tells the story of Paul, a man who tries to discover himself at different points in his life.  The story is broken up into five different periods of time.  I loved being able to see Aciman use his deep and amazing understanding of the human experience to follow one person over a lifetime, especially since he focused on such a short period of time in Call Me By Your Name.

Aciman is a poet.  His writing is lyrical and beautiful while still being gritty, raw, and incredibly honest.  He doesn’t hold back on any topic, making you absolutely love Paul at some points and making you hate him at others.  He is an author I will definitely be tracking, waiting for what he has for us next.

4-stars

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Shout-out to Pam Parker for telling me to read this one!  This book completely blew me away.  The cover blurb made me nervous.  Magic and science in one book?  That probably isn’t a book I would enjoy.  But boy was I wrong.

Miller has created a fascinating story placed in the midst of the very real history of WWI.  He calls out the gender issues that were in place by turning the tables.  Sure, women weren’t allowed to do things at the time but that is because they were women and it was the turn of the century!  Instead of going with this view, he flips it, following a male character who isn’t allowed to help out with the war efforts due to the fact that women are the only one with the magical abilities to do so.  And this isn’t just a book that sets out to prove a point.  It is a well-written, fascinating story that I didn’t want to leave.  I was actually shocked to find myself at the end of the novel.  I didn’t want to let these characters go.

5-stars

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

It starts out as a nice story. A woman moves to Tangier with her new husband. Suddenly a friend from her past appears, and the perfect exotic-ness of Morocco begins to fall apart. In her debut, Christine Mangan has created a thrilling, page-turning read. Her characters are rich and she takes an interesting look at the psychology of friendship. This book leads you to believe that it is just going to be a traditional piece of historical fiction, from the opening chapter to the cover design.  But boy does it take a turn and become so much more than that.  This book is straight up terrifying at times.  (Not like spooky monster terrifying but a reminder of how messed up people can be.)  I look forward to what Mangan has in store for us next.

4-stars

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

This is the kind of thriller I like.  Told in three parts, Alice Feeney has created an engaging mystery that kept my interest without being over the top and unbelievable.  At heart, Sometimes I Lie is the story of a woman dealing with problems of love, work, and family.  From the outside it looks like she has the perfect life but nothing is ever perfect.  I listened to this as an audiobook and it was beautiful.  The narrator is perfect.  Now don’t let my review confuse you.  This book has shocking twists and turns.  It kept me on my toes.  I wish every thriller I read were as well written and as intriguing as this one.

4-stars

The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus

Half of this book worked for me and the other half just really didn’t.  Formatted like my favorite novel, The Princess Bride, the first half of the book is a fictionalized retelling of how the book came to be while the second half is the book itself.  I very much enjoyed the sections talking about finding the lost Salgado-MacKenzie manuscript as well as the adventure to discover his identity was a joy to read.  Wirkus created a fun cast of characters that came together over a shared love even though they never should have met.  The second half, Salgado-MacKenzie’s lost novel, was less entertaining.  Leading up to it, many characters describe it as being a bad book, which already didn’t make me excited about it.  The story was weirdly complicated seeing that very little actually happened.  And it’s trying too hard, in my opinion, the mirror the meta-ness of the first half.  I would have very much enjoyed this book if it was just the first half but instead it didn’t end there and I found myself slogging through to get to the end.

3-stars

My Plain Jane by The Lady Janies

I loved My Lady Jane and Jane Eyre is my favorite classic so this book felt like it was made for me.  I was nervous going in because My Lady Jane was so great but My Plain Jane did not disappoint.  Filled with even more references than the first one, The Lady Janies had me laughing out loud so many times.  (Their Trump jokes are amazing.  Absolutely amazing.)  Don’t worry if you haven’t read Jane Eyre, you can still enjoy this book.  The plot is so incredibly different from the source material that you will catch certain jokes if you have already read it but you don’t need any knowledge going in to have a fun time reading this book.

These women are amazing and I can’t wait to see what they have thought up next.

5-stars

The Midnight Gang by David Walliams

David Walliams has delivered yet another charming middle grade book.  Set in a hospital, The Midnight Gang follows the children from the children’s ward as they go on a series of adventures.  Walliams has created a book that is both incredibly entertaining (with fantastic illustrations by Tony Ross) as well as reminding kids that it is important to treat everyone with respect.  Walliams has been compared to the next Roald Dahl and while I think no one will ever replace Dahl, I believe that he has carved out his own voice and place in the kidlit world.  Don’t let the size of this book scare you.  It’s an incredibly fast read.

4-stars

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

I was pulled in to this book by the awesome title and the great cover and the inside of the book didn’t disappoint.  Aven is an awesome protagonist.  Not only was she born without arms and knows how to do everything people with arms can do, she is a strong-willed and smart girl that makes a great role model for young girls today.  Bowling did a lot of research about what life for Aven would be like and it shows.  She has created three-dimensional characters and placed them in a fun setting, a run down amusement park.  Part mystery, part realistic story about friendship, this book is a fun ride that you will be thrilled to take with Aven.

4-stars

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

I am so excited for the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival this year because I am absolutely loving the books by this year’s authors.

I am going to start by saying that this was a book I don’t relate to at all.  I come from a very supportive family who let both my brother and I follow our passions and major in theatre in college so I didn’t grow up in a world at all like Maya’s.

Samira Ahmed is a great new voice in YA literature.  She has managed to craft a book that deals with hard and heavy subjects while still managing to stay a fun and goofy romance at heart.  Even though I couldn’t relate to Maya’s specific experiences, she is a very relatable teenager, talking with a very believable teen voice.  Ahmed also makes sure to shine light on hate crimes, something that I think is so incredibly important.  The world is scary and we need more stories of acceptance.  This book is a good addition to the YA world.

4-stars

The Devil In Silver by Victor LaValle

Since I read The Changeling last year (and had it immediately become one of my favorite books of all time) and now I find myself buying any book of Victor LaValle’s that comes through the store.  (Well, I made my parents buy this one from the bookstore I work at as a Christmas present for me when they came to visit.)  LaValle is the master of magical realism.  Each of his books that I have read so far start out as a completely normal novel of realistic fiction until it suddenly isn’t.  And this book was no exception.

The Devil in Silver follows Pepper, a man who ends up in the mental ward of a hospital one night because the police don’t feel like doing paperwork.  From there, LaValle shows a crossroads of America, showing us all different kinds of people who call this hospital their home. From the quite old to the quite young, he gives lives and full backstories to characters who, in other literature, tend to just become flat characters.  Added to all that is the man with a bison head who climbs through the ceiling and attacks people.

LaValle questions what it means to be “sane” as well as looking at the good and bad sides of mental illness treatment.  On top of that, he has created a crazy mystery plot that never stops moving (even when the characters themselves are having a hard time moving due to being drugged and/or tied down).  Out of the three LaValle books I have read, this is my number two.

4-stars

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

I have had friends telling me to read Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series for years and just haven’t gotten around to it so I jumped at the chance to listen to the audiobook of her newest book.

Renegades questions what it means to be good or bad.  In a world where those lines are very defined, Meyer brings us two protagonists, one from each side, that really mess with your brain.  From Nova’s point of view, the Renegades let her down and let her family get killed and the Anarchists took her in, gave her a place to live.  To Adrian, the Renegades are the only family he has ever know and he, as a Renegade, is made to feel like a hero on a regular basis.  So what happens when their paths cross?  Who is on the right side of history?  Is there a right side?

Meyer not only manages to deal with these difficult questions but also creates a great adventure.  The plot never stops moving (which is super impressive because this is a super long book) and she takes the reader through endless twists and turns.  She has thought up a really interesting world filled with superpowers that, at least to me, seemed incredibly unique.  Even when I started to get worried about the book slipping into YA trope world, she managed to pull it out and put a fun spin on things.  Nova and Adrian both don’t fall into the stereotypical gender roles that YA books tend to.  This book was a commitment (especially when listening to it) but it was worth it.

4-stars