Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye


Title: The Paragon Hotel
Author: Lyndsay Faye
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: N/A
Hardcover, 432 Pages
Publication: January 8, 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


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The year is 1921, and "Nobody" Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers--burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new "family" of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.

Why was "Nobody" Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon's denizens live in fear--and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom Fontaine seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?
I am embarrassed to admit that I have neither heard nor read anything by Faye until I was pitched The Paragon Hotel. Per my reading record and taste, The Paragon Hotel would seem like the odd book out. What my dear blog readers don’t know is that I adore all things history, and though I may not read many historical novels, I am utterly fascinated by the subject. And 1920s Prohibition era is one of my favorite periods. Faye transports readers back in time to the turn of the twentieth century pinging back and forth from the past to the present, from 1857 Harlem, New York to 1933 Portland, Oregon. The Paragon Hotel highlights the beauty and tragedy of the time period. It explores the prevalent racism, discrimination, inequality, and violence subjugated by people of color in Oregon and immigrants in New York. But not everything was dark and ugly…it also showed that despite everything that happens in the world, real love, friendship and family knows no color or gender.

It takes extraordinary talent to capture any time period. Not only did Faye succeeded in bringing the prohibition and segregation era to life, she did it beautifully and authentically; from the minute detail of the setting, the characters, the locations chosen to its vernacular while penning a compelling story with characters worth caring for. When one thinks of the prohibition era, one tends to conjure up images of speakeasies, mafia, drugs, booze and violence. And The Paragon Hotel has all that but from the perspective of a woman…which has never been done before in literature, at least none that I’ve seen. It was very intriguing. But Faye doesn’t stop there. She goes the extra hundred miles and adds another female perspective, specifically an African-American woman to show racism in America during the early 1900s. The Paragon Hotel took me for an emotional roller-coaster. I was in awe and in shock. My emotions were all over the place; feeling anger, happiness, anxious and sadness. In for a penny, in for a pound, Faye holds nothing back. She illuminates America’s darkest past but does it in a way that doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. This may sound odd but as dark as the subject matter was and it was extremely dark and violent; Faye incorporated humor perfectly for which I am a grateful for, so the book wasn’t completely grim. Let’s just say I laughed and smiled far more than I should or thought I would have. The balance of suspense, mystery, action and humor blended seamlessly.

The two women at the the forefront of the novel were indomitable, strong, and atypical heroines. During this time women were believed to be better suited at home and in the kitchen. Yet Faye created these amazing characters, these women that showed us that women were more than capable of taking care of themselves, can do anything they set their mind to and are equal if not better than their male counterparts. I loved Alice/Nobody and Blossom. From the first page of the novel, I was smitten with Alice/Nobody. Anyone that can be calm, collected and somewhat joke after being shot is a sure keeper. I initially thought that Alice, with a background of working with the Mafia would be just as ruthless and calculated as her boss, so it was a wonderful surprise to see how caring and thoughtful she was. One of Alice’s many talent is being able to transform into any character she needs to be…whether it be a damsel in distress, a fine aristocratic lady, journalist or just Nobody; she creates a full story and background and falls right into character to get whatever she needs. Some readers had a hard time adjusting to the many facets of Alice/Nobody. The different personas may be jarring at first but after some time you get use to it. I for one, am a fan of her chameleon nature.

This is Historical Fiction at its best. I thoroughly enjoyed The Paragon Hotel. The vivid descriptions and the immense detail, work and research that went into the creation of this novel is pure gold. I always appreciate a book that can both enthrall and educate me. The mystery had me at the edge of my seat and the twist and turns kept coming right up to the very end. I loved being surprised. I also loved that Faye chose Oregon as one of her setting. We rarely ever see novels set in Oregon, and especially a period piece. Learning about the racism and the emergence of the KKK extremist group in Oregon was quite a shock…I soaked up all the information like a sponge. Before this book, I never realize that everything depicted could occur on the west coast, because as the author mentioned, everyone figured it was only prevalent in the South. All in all, a wonderful and heart wrenching novel. My first five star for the year. Although the year has just started, I can easily say it now, this is my top book of 2019. I highly recommend The Paragon Hotel, read it A.S.A.P, you won’t regret it.

Side note. Be sure to read the Author’s Note. It’s fascinating. Faye goes into detail about the writing and research process and how the hotel and a few characters’ were based on a actual place and people. 




Monday, December 31, 2018

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

 
Title: This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Monsters of Verity #1
Hardcover, 427 Pages
Publication: July 5, 2016 by Greenwillow Books

Source: Personal Library


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There’s no such thing as safe.

Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.

August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.

Their city is divided. Their city is crumbling.

Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.

But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?
I purchased This Savage Song the day it came out but then it sat unread on my shelf. Ironic, since I’m a big fan of Schwab and with a story about monsters, I normally would have been all over it. I finally read it, two-years later and I must say I’m unimpressed. I remembered This Savage Song getting incredible hype and glowing reviews but in my opinion this wasn’t Schwab’s best work. The concept of the novel is without-a-doubt unique but it lacked world building and developed characters.

I didn’t find the world building, or lack thereof, interesting. The quick lowdown on This Savage Song: There’s two dominant groups rivaling one another, Flynn (monster leader) and Harker (human leader). You had the usual oppressed versus the oppressor. And two teens caught in the middle, torn between fighting for what they thought was right versus what their families wanted and believed. Readers were told about this long endless war between the two factions but I never understood the why. It all seemed pointless. Or at least nothing I cared about. I honestly didn’t remember much about anything, the plot…and that in itself says it all.

Then there were the two main leads, who unfortunately were also lacking and unremarkable. When readers first met Kate she was in the process of burning down a church. Right off the bat, we’re shown this devil-may-care chick. I for one, am all about kick-ass lady characters…but Kate was just trying way, way too hard to get her dad’s attention. Exhibit A: Burning church. It was also tiresome to read about how much she wanted her dad’s approval and to be just like him. It became annoying and redundant. Kate would go around threatening people and making sure everyone knew who her dad is, that she was a Harker. It all got old fast. August, who happens to be one of the monsters in V-city is not really a monster at all. He takes no pleasure in feeding off people’s soul/emotions but it’s necessity. August also happened to be the complete opposite of Kate. He was quiet, observant, and non-confrontational. I don’t have much opinion on August. He was just a character pushing the story along. I neither liked or disliked him and in my opinion a pretty bland character.

If I can describe This Savage Song in one word, it would be underwhelming. I adore this author and I usually would auto-buy books from my favorite authors thinking I will love everything they write, but boy am I glad I didn’t buy the sequel. With that said, I won’t be finishing the duology. A lot of folks loved this book, and though it wasn’t for me, it may be for you. As always, check out a sample excerpt before purchase!


 



Monday, December 17, 2018

Come November by Katrin Van Dam

Title: Come November
Author: Katrin Van Dam
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Series:N/A
Hardcover, 373 Pages
Publication: October 30, 2018 by Scholastic Press

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


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It’s not the end of the world, but for Rooney Harris it’s starting to feel that way. It’s the beginning of senior year and her mom just lost her job. Even worse, she isn’t planning to get another one. Instead, she’s spending every waking moment with a group called the Next World Society, whose members are convinced they’ll be leaving Earth behind on November 17. It sounds crazy to Rooney, but to her mother and younger brother it sounds like salvation. As her mom’s obsession threatens to tear their lives apart, Rooney is scrambling to hold it all together. But will saving her family mean sacrificing her dreams—or theirs?
Come November isn’t the type of book I normally pick up. But I’m so glad I did. Come November dealt with a topic rarely seen in Young Adult, cults. It highlighted the interworking of a cult and the aftermath of leaving a cult (voluntarily or otherwise). Sure, we’ve all seen stories in the news about it but I’ll be honest, I never thought much of what goes on behind the scenes; especially what happened to the followers after their leader is taken away or goes MIA. The novel is centered on seventeen-year-old Rooney, her younger brother and their mother. Rooney’s mother is entangled with the New World Society, a organization that believes the earth is dying but they can start over elsewhere. That on November 17th, an alien race will rescue the believers/followers and take them to a different planet to start anew.

Without going into too much detail, the choices that Rooney’s mom took greatly impacted her and her brother’s life and everyone they knew or came into contact with. The book was separated into months, months leading up to “The Departure” and months “After Departure”. I loved seeing Rooney’s growth and transformation over the months, as she learned to take care of herself and her brother, jumping into the parent role after her mom checked out of reality. Despite the hardship Rooney faced at home, she never crumbled under all the obstacles thrown her way or bailed like her mother. Instead Rooney did everything in her power to scrape together any semblance of a normal teenage life like: getting a boyfriend, getting a job, attending school functions and applying to college.

The book is clearly split into two halves, cult life and life after cult. While it was great to see both perspective, I thought life after cult was far more interesting. It showed that no matter how bad things got, when you think it’s literally the end of the world…it eventually does get better. It may be a slow progress but as the saying goes, when you hit rock bottom, you have nowhere to go but up. And that exactly sums up the last half of the book as we see the characters’ resilience and perseverance to do better, make the best of their situation, and ultimately forgive and heal. Overall an enjoyable and fascinating read. I highly recommend it.




Thursday, November 29, 2018

Dauntless by Jack Campbell

Title: Dauntless
Author: Jack Campbell
Genre: Sci-Fi
Series: The Lost Fleet # 1
Mass Market Paperback, 304 Pages
Publication: June 27, 2006 by Ace

Source: Personal Library


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The Alliance has been fighting the Syndics for a century--and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is a man who's emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he has been heroically idealized, beyond belief...

Captain John "Black Jack" Geary's legendary exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic "last stand" in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns from survival hibernation and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics.

Appalled by the hero-worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance's one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic "Black Jack" legend...
Jack Campbell is synonymous with Science Fiction,whom is most notable for his military sci-fi novels. I’ve heard about Campbell over the years with my foray into Science Fiction but never really got around to reading his novels. Until a co-worker recommended Campbell’s Black Jack series for the best and most accurate space battles; thus resulted in me picking up Dauntless, the first book in The Lost Fleet series. The story is centered around John “Black Jack” Geary waking up a century later from stasis and finding himself revered as a heroic legend and in the midst of a long, drawn out war between the Alliance and the Syndics. A war he thought he prevented. Geary is now thrust to the forefront to help Dauntless and fleet navigate through hostile territory, hoping to make their way home back to the Alliance.

I’ve never been one for military science fiction but I found myself enthralled by the fleet operations. From the intricate and detailed space battle, practice simulations, war time tactics, battle laws dealing with the enemy and prisoners, to the overall internal and external chain of command. The only thing I knew of space battle can be reference to Star Wars. And the space battle in Dauntless is the total opposite. It’s not high octane or fast. Instead, everything is counted in light minutes…hours with significant lag time between every volley shot and received.  The author was an ex-Navy Officer and it clearly shows he knows exactly what he's writing about. What ended up being more fascinating was the character of Geary. He’s been floating through space for a 100 years, only to wake up to find how drastic time has changed. He was a somewhat newbie, not unlike the ones he ends up commanding now. Yet everyone sees him as this wartime god. Every solider in the fleet has learned about Geary from a young age and everything anyone has ever done in the Alliance was in hope of living up to his standard. An apparently high bar he never meant to set. I liked seeing Geary grapple with his new current reality, as he does his best to get everyone home and somehow live up to these new expectations of himself without bolstering it even more.

I enjoyed Dauntless and thought it was a great starter in what looks like to be a long but eventful trip back to the Alliance. The novel hints at more obstacles to overcome and new lifeforms waiting to be discovered. I’m looking forward to continuing with this series and see what Campbell has in store for the Dauntless and Co. 




Monday, November 26, 2018

That Night by Amy Giles

Title: That Night
Author: Amy Giles
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 320 Pages
Publication: October 23, 2018 by HarperTeen

Source: I received an arc review copy from the publisher
 in exchange for a honest review.

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The year since a mass shooting shook their Queens neighborhood has played out differently for Jess and Lucas, both of whom were affected by that night in eerily similar and deeply personal ways.

As Jess struggles to take care of her depressed mother, and Lucas takes up boxing under the ever-watchful eye of his overprotective parents, their paths converge. They slowly become friends and then something more, learning to heal and move forward together. But what does it mean to love after an unspeakable tragedy?
I didn’t know what to expect when I started That Night. All I knew was the two main protagonist were both dealing with grief and a tragedy; and eventually, along the way they would some how help each other through it. The synopsis was very good at shrouding everything in mystery. Which was why I was surprised that this book involved a mass shooting. Everyone has seen the unfortunate increase in mass shooting all over the world. It’s nothing new as it become so prevalent in the news. And like the news, there seems to be more and more books on the matter. But what makes That Night different, what makes it stand out is that Giles never really talked about what happened, hence it always being referred to as “that night”. After the lights and camera coverage goes down, readers get an in depth look behind the scenes at the aftermath of these type of tragedies. We see what the survivors “walking wounded”, witnesses, families, and communities go through. We normally see how a life is suddenly ended and how events led up to the tragedy but what people forget or not see is there’s actually a ripple effect that can transcend months and years and its the ripple effect that Giles explores in That Night.

The novel alternates between our two main protagonist, Jess and Lucas. At the start of the novel they’re strangers. The only connection between the two are: they go to the same high school, they both lost their brother a year ago and are trying to deal with their grief and guilt of being the surviving sibling. I thought Giles did a great job at exploring the issue of grief and loss. She paints a vividly realistic picture and shows how everyone deals with sadness and pain in their own way. Or in some cases, they don’t deal with it at all. Take Jess, ever since her brother died, she’s left to take care of herself because her mother is a shell of her former self and her BFF is in rehab in another state. Versus Lucas who is smothered by both of his parents, afraid to let him out of their sight. To cope and find meaning in life and the reason for living; Jess ends up getting a job at Enzo’s Hardware to help her mom with the bills and Lucas picks up boxing as an outlet.

That Night isn’t a novel about a mass shooting or romantic relationship between two teens. It’s a novel about learning to move on from grief. It shows that those affected by tragedies shouldn’t blame themselves for things out of their control and to never be afraid to talk about it or seek help. And most important of all, not to let such tragedies define who we are. I really enjoyed That Night. Giles writes as if it were a first hand account because I truly felt like I was right there alongside the characters as they processed their grief and learn what it really means to feel alive/included again. That Night is a relevant and well-written novel for our time. It should be read by both adult and teens. I highly recommend it.




Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston

 
Title: The Lying Woods
Author: Ashley Elston
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 336 Pages
Publication: November 13th 2018 by Disney-Hyperion

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher
 in exchange for a honest review.

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Owen Foster has never wanted for anything. Then his mother shows up at his elite New Orleans boarding school cradling a bombshell: his privileged life has been funded by stolen money. After using the family business, the single largest employer in his small Louisiana town, to embezzle millions and drain the employees' retirement accounts, Owen's father vanished without a trace, leaving Owen and his mother to deal with the fallout.

Owen returns to Lake Cane to finish his senior year, where people he can barely remember despise him for his father's crimes. It's bad enough dealing with muttered insults and glares, but when Owen and his mother receive increasingly frightening threats from someone out for revenge, he knows he must get to the bottom of what really happened at Louisiana Frac--and the cryptic note his father sent him at his boarding school days before disappearing.

Owen's only refuge is the sprawling, isolated pecan orchard he works at after school, owned by a man named Gus who has his own secrets--and in some ways seems to know Owen better than he knows himself. As Owen uncovers a terrible injustice that looms over the same Preacher Woods he's claimed as his own, he must face a shocking truth about his own past--and write a better future.

It is only just beginning.
Elston is a new-to-me author. Elston has a pretty big and dedicated following, so I’m surprised this is my first time hearing about her. Although, it should be noted that I read mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy than Contemporary. But I am a fan of mysteries, which is how I came to read The Lying Woods. I am a sucker for mysteries, especially ones centered around family, small towns and anything taking place in the south. And it so happens that The Lying Woods consisted of all three.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started The Lying Woods. Perhaps a decent Young Adult at best. Instead I was captivated from beginning to end as Elston expertly weaves a story between the present and the past. The Lying Woods is narrated by two teens; Owen, in present day Louisiana and Noah, Louisiana 1999. The story goes back and forth, building up the history and mystery of all the characters and small town of Lake Cane. At first, I honestly didn’t see the correlation between the two narrators. Not until I got 1/3 into the novel and realized it’s the story of how Owen’s parents met and the significance of The Pecan Farm, its owner Gus and how the summer of 1999 changed the course of everyone’ lives.

I’ve read many Young Adult novels all unitizing the same concepts that make-up The Lying Woods, but none have done it as well as Elston. I also loved that the story took place in the south, it was the perfect backdrop giving readers an intimate and eerie mysterious vibe. Although there is absolutely nothing supernatural going on, in case you’re wondering. I really felt connected to each and every character. They all contributed to the story in one way or another, with no role too big or small.

I thought I had the story figured out but when the two dual narration started to converge and revelations came to light; I was shocked at the twist and turn of events. The ending was unexpected. And I loved it! Many times authors would build up the mystery and suspense, only to have an anticlimactic ending where the story fizzled out. The ending in The Lying Woods was a great surprise and a satisfying conclusion to an overall captivating story/mystery. I highly recommend The Lying Woods to everyone, adults and teens alike. I very much enjoyed it; It was a refreshing break from my fair share of Sci-fi Fantasy novels.



Friday, November 02, 2018

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Title: Priest of Bones
Author: Peter McLean
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Series: War for The Rose Throne #1

Paperback, 352 Pages
Publication: October 2, 2018 by Ace

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher
 in exchange for a honest review.

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It's a dangerous thing, to choose the lesser of two evils.

The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety finally heads home with Lieutenant Bloody Anne at his side. When he arrives in the Stink, Tomas finds that his empire of crime has been stolen from him while at war. With his gang of Pious Men, Tomas will do whatever it takes to reclaim his businesses. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, and is forced to work in secret for the sinister Queen's Men, everything gets more complicated.

When loyalties stretch to the breaking point and violence only leads to violence, when people have run out of food, and hope, and places to hide, do not be surprised if they have also run out of mercy. As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the backstreet taverns and gambling dens of Tomas's old life it becomes clear; the war is not over.

It is only just beginning.

Priest of Bones is the first book in the grimdark, War for the Rose Throne series. The series is pitched as The Godfather meets Peaky Blinders, a movie and show I’ve yet to see. I know, the horror! However, I have seen Gangs of New York and Priest of Bones is very similar to that but with a sprinkle of magic. The story is centered around Crime Lord, Solider and Priest Tomas Piety as he returns home to Ellinburg from a 3-year war only to find all his owned establishments commandeered. Which of course is unacceptable. With his weeping women and merry band of miscreants, Piety cuts his way to the reclamation of his businesses. Except all is not well in Ellinburg, a foreigner is looking to shake things up and it’s up to Piety and the Pious Men to stop the infamous Bloodhands.

I didn’t know what to really expect when I began Priest of Bone but the synopsis sounded good enough that I picked it up. I was hooked within the first page. Chapter one opens up with Piety and his crew back in Ellinburg in a tavern commemorating their win over pints of liquor. The scene is set up nicely and right off the bat introduces Piety, so we could see exactly what type of man he was and give us a feel of the tone of the novel. Which I can say is dark, bloody and violent.

The writing and dialogue took awhile to get used to; I initially thought it was very choppy and inconsistent. But it eventually grew on me and I took it as a plus that it didn’t make me withdraw from the story. Priest of Bones was said to be a Historic Fantasy but there was very little fantasy. There were mentions of Magicians and Cunnings (similar to Magicians who can wield special abilities but not as skilled or refined) but the details and background regarding them was vague and not fully developed. The world building itself was decent but a bit too simplistic for my liking. There are many gangs in Ellinburg but the Pious Men and the Gutcutters were the two most prominent ones. And there was the Skanians, outsiders who want to take over Ellinburg and the Queen’s Men mercenaries and spies working for the crown. That pretty much sums up the major players in the novel. I also thought the plot was standard but the characters more than made up for it.

Overall Priest of Bones is a solid series opener that promises a lot more action and violence to come. While I enjoyed the book, I should warn that this book isn’t for the faint of heart. Priest of Bones is extremely violent and graphic dealing with a lot of sensitive and triggering subjects such as PTSD (Battle Shock), Sexual abuse/rape, and Gender/Sexual Orientation. With that said, I’d recommend Priest of Bones to those who enjoys a period piece with undertones of magic.