Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper


Title: How Not to Die Alone
Author: Richard Roper
Genre: Fiction
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication: May 28, 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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Andrew's day-to-day is a little grim, searching for next of kin for those who die alone. Thankfully, he has a loving family waiting for him when he gets home, to help wash the day's cares away. At least, that's what his coworkers believe.

Andrew didn't mean for the misunderstanding to happen, yet he's become trapped in his own white lie. The fantasy of his wife and two kids has become a pleasant escape from his lonely one bedroom with only his Ella Fitzgerald records for company. But when new employee Peggy breezes into his life like a breath of fresh air, Andrew is shaken out of his routine. She doesn't notice the wall he's been safely hiding behind and their friendship promises to break it down.

Andrew must choose: Does he tell the truth and start really living his life, but risk losing his friendship with Peggy? Or will he stay safe and alone, behind the fa├žade?
Every year, without fail, I come across a book that enthralls me from beginning to end. A book that takes me on an emotional roller coaster, has me in deep contemplation about life and a story that stays with me long after I’ve read it. This year that wonderful gem of a book is How Not to Die Alone.

How Not to Die Alone tells the story of Andrew, who has an unusual day job which consists of rummaging through recently deceased’s home for clues of next of kin and financial records and attending their funerals. It’s a pretty morbid job, and after years of going from one property to the next; Andrew, who is 42-years-old and lives alone begins to wonder if the same fate awaits him.

How Not to Die Alone has one of the most unique premises I’ve ever read. I never knew about Pauper funerals until I read this book, and that it’s a legit, real job! Pauper funerals A.K.A. Public Health Funerals is predominantly found in the U.K. (not sure bout the U.S) and are funded by the local council in an event a person dies without anyone to pay for their funeral or when they don’t have enough money. And it seems that more and more people are passing away alone. I remember reading an article not too long ago how loneliness is on the rise amongst seniors and teens and how it was considered an epidemic.

Scary stuff.

I thought Roper did a spectacular job highlighting such a delicate, sometimes taboo topic, because let’s be real; no one likes talking about or admitting to being lonely or contemplate how we’re all eventually going to die. Roper created a compelling, touching, heartbreaking and at times hilarious story that shows us the meaning of life, not to be afraid to take risk, and especially, to forget and let go of all the pettiness and bullshit. Because most of the time, that’s all it really is and not worth anyone being estranged from friends or family over.

I am surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. As I’ve already mentioned, I thought the story was clever and unique. I’ve read countless of novels that dealt with bullying, depression,and suicide…but never loneliness. And I’m so glad Roper wrote it. It’s a book I think we all need and one that will be well received. I thought the writing was exceptional and the characters were well-developed and realistic. I liked how Roper slowly revealed the mystery bit by bit behind Andrew and Sally’s relationship and why/how his white lie overtook his life. There wasn’t a lot of action but the mystery was so intriguing and well-written that I barely even noticed, not till it was almost over that there was no action (I’m an action kinda gal) but it didn’t even matter because it’s just so darn good.

SPOILER! WARNING!

Stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect the $200. Spoiler ahead!

I know y’all, this anit monopoly. Alright I warned you.

Anyways, as I was saying it was so good, I’m shocked that I overlooked by biggest peeve: cheating.

Andrew ends up falling for his co-worker who is married with children. I hate all forms of cheating. Hate it. Even the romanticized kind we see in most chick flicks today. I’d normally stop reading a book immediately when situations like this pop-up but damn-it, I liked Andrew and even Peggy, so much so that I continued reading! I loved everything about the book, except the cheating…even if Peggy’s husband is a POS alcoholic, it doesn’t make cheating okay. Plus, it didn’t do anything for the story itself. I didn’t see the purpose for including it because it didn’t help nor was it needed for the novel to progress forward. It may have complicated matters for the two leads to be together but couldn’t there been another dilemma, couldn’t she been divorce and not ready for a relationship? I don’t know…just anything else? Alright, end of rant.

With that said, overall I really enjoyed this book. There were so many times while reading, that I stopped and mulled things over. Most of the time I read for pure escapism but once in awhile a book makes me reflect and think on a deeper level. I appreciate those type of books. I appreciate this book. It made me take a moment to look at my own life. One of the things Andrew encountered in his job was how much family and friend lost touch, aren’t on speaking terms over the most silly, inconsequential things. Sure we all argue, we’re human…but for me, it made me take a step back and evaluate the times when I stopped talking to my friends and family over asinine things. This book made me more conscious of it and for that I’m grateful.

Sorry, this review got a bit too melancholic! How Not to Die Alone deals with death and loneliness but Roper balances everything out with plenty of humor. My favorite scenes were definitively the work dinners. That last one with the train gang was the absolute best! I highly, highly recommend this book, read it A.S.A.P you won’t be disappointed…I mean, even the title is pretty darn freakin’ witty and awesome.
 

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson


Title: Brave Face: A Memoir
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Genre: Young-Adult
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication: May 21, 2019 by Simon Pulse

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

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“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.
I’ve never been a fan of non-fiction, and a lesser fan of biographies. But my goal this year was to expand my reading and read books out of my comfort zone. So, when Brave Face was offered for review, I thought, what perfect timing! Brave Face is a memoir written by popular Young Adult author, Shawn Hutchinson who mainly pens contemporaries. Those of which I haven’t had the pleasure of reading…yet. While Hutchinson touches on similar issues in his other novels, Brave Face is his personal story, giving readers an in-depth look at the author’s life growing up in the 80’s and 90’s battling severe depression while figuring out who he was and what he wanted to be.
In Brave Face, Hutchinson covers a multitude of sensitive and triggering topics such as sex, identity, suicide, depression and drugs. Hutchinson effectively puts his life on display in a way that captures the reader like any good story but is also educational on the above mention topics in a way that’s relatable; something that cannot be taught in school or by parents/families. He tells it like it is and doesn’t sugarcoat anything for the audience. It was personal, real and raw. I appreciated every word of it.
I personally connected with Hutchinson on what it was like being an adolescent (pre, in the 90's) and dealing with depression. The angst was real back then and literally every minuscule thing or incident felt like the end of the world! But on a whole, I think this will resonate with many, if not all teens on self-discovery and identity. At one point in all our lives, we’ve questioned ourselves and I’m sure wore a ton of different masks to try to fit in and be accepted by our peers and then society. Depression was a big theme in this book and it is no joke, I’ve been there as well, and it let me just say, it will eat you from the inside out if you let the voices in your head consume you. Hutchinson’s descriptions about depression was scary accurate from the onset of it to the aftermath; showing us that it doesn’t only hurt the one depressed but goes beyond that to friends and families.
Brave Face is more relevant than ever, especially with today’s societal climate. I think it’s mainly billed towards the LGBT community, but this book was so, so much more than that. It’s a book about life and growing up. There were two beautiful nuggets of wisdom that I took from Hutchinson’s memoir, first is that, life is hard and it’s okay NOT to be okay sometimes. Everything takes time and every moment of our lives is a work-in-progress. Go at your own pace. And secondly, don’t ever feel afraid or ashamed to ask for help. We all feel lonely sometimes, but we’re never really alone.
 All in all, I very much enjoyed Brave Face and am not ashamed to say that I totally ugly cried multiple times in the book. It was all sorts of beautiful, melancholic, humorous and heart-wrenching in your face awesomeness…and I was hooked from the very first page. And now, I must go and add Hutchinson’s back-list to my ever-growing TBR pile.



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

During-The-Event by Roger Wall


Title: During-The-Event
Author: Roger Wall
Genre: Young-Adult
Series: N/A

Paperback, 200 pages
Publication: May 15, 2019 by University of Alaska Press

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

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For D.E., only two certainties exist: his grandfather is dead and life will never be the same.

In the near future, climate change has ravaged the United States, leading the government to overcorrect through culls and relocation. Those who survive the mandated destruction are herded into “habitable production zones,” trading their freedom for illusions of security. The few who escape learn quickly that the key to survival is to stay hidden in the corners of the country. For seventeen years, During-the-Event, or D.E., has lived free in a pastoral life with his grandfather in North Dakota. But when death reaches their outpost. D.E. is forced on a journey that will change his life—and reveal surprises about his past.
During-The-Event takes places in a post-apocalyptic ravaged America where climate change wiped out more than half the population, while those that are left are indentured or in hiding. D.E and his grandfather, Otis are in the later camp; hiding in the obscured nooks of North Dakota.
Unlike many of the mainstream Young Adult Dystopian on the market today, During-The-Event doesn’t involve characters pitted against one another, a rebellion, or a deadly virus or A.I tech threatening humanity. Instead the novel focuses on a handful of characters and the protagonist, D.E.’s personal growth. It’s all about looking inwards; self-discovery and reflection.
During-The-Event is a short book, approximately 200 pages. Wall wasted no time setting up the world and introducing readers to the characters, and their beliefs and actions. Our protagonist, During-The-Event A.K.A D.E grew up in the aftermath of the climate change, he never met or knew his parents, and was raised solely by his grandfather. Everything D.E. knew was predicated off what was told by his grandfather. Due to a life-changing circumstance earlier in the novel, D.E is left to fend for himself as he journeys across the U.S. and discovers life outside the butte for the first time and how it challenges the beliefs ingrained in him his entire life.
D. E. is only seventeen-years-old and has many skills to help him survive the rough terrain of the U.S. but outside of that D.E. doesn’t know much else. Especially interacting with strangers/society. Wall pens a story of growing up and getting out into the real world, which I’m sure resonates with all of us in some way. Readers follow alongside D.E. as he navigates the world, finds himself and learns to adapt to his new reality all while dealing with foreign emotions such as loneliness and loss.
During-The-Event is a well-written coming of age story. D.E. is as pure as it comes, unaffected by the world and having little to no interaction besides his family. I enjoyed reading his experiences through a new lens and seeing how he reacts to all his ‘firsts’. I highly recommend checking out During-The-Event if you’re looking for a more introspective character driven story, a story with substance without all the loud and unnecessary noise.



Monday, May 13, 2019

Guest Post and Spotlight: During-The-Event by Roger Wall

Please welcome Roger Wall to the blog! Roger is the author of During-The-Event, a post-apocalyptic novel and coming-of-age story of a young man as he discover the world through a new lens. During-The-Event is out now wherever books are sold.



An introduction to the character of Otis

As a child, when our family moved from one state to another, there wasn’t always a house to move into. Often my father would start his new assignment and look for a place for us to live while my mother and sister and I stayed behind at my grandparents’ house. They had a big yard bordered by a corn field and woods—the wilderness in my imagination. 

My grandfather was newly retired and filled his life with nonessential projects. They were a type of play for him, and he was happy to have a laborer (me) to give them the appearance of importance. He taught me manual skills, like hammering, sawing, mowing the lawn, but not in the serious way my father did. His instruction was for amusement. Nothing we built relied on my abilities. He could figure out how to do most things, despite little formal education, and was a master at scrounging building materials and tools from auction, the trash, and yard sales and recycling them for projects that never seemed to take more than a few days.

My father, on the other hand, was a stern task master. An engineer by training, every project followed a detailed abstract logic that I rarely understood. There were drawings and lists of materials and tools. Work could drag on for weeks, steal precious Saturdays. I rarely had fun. I don’t think he did, either.

I think about my grandfather when I think about the imaginative aspects of Otis. Both share an earthy quality, a sense of make believe. Otis’s stern task master side, his rigidity, his adherence to complicated and illogical practices, on the other hand, is my father. 

Otis is a transitional character in a couple of ways. He’s lived through the collapse of society and the reinvention of it as climate change consumes the North American continent. At first, as an iron worker who helps construct the new North American capital, he benefits from the government’s policies. Then, as he learns of the brutality at the heart of them, he begins to resist the government—in an ideology way. The town’s government representative, a friend of his, tells him about the history of the Hidatsa people who originated in the area, and together they begin to practice what they believe are Hidatsa prayers and songs. Otis, who doesn’t know his ancestry, entertains his friend’s suggestion that he might actually be part Native American.

When government forces level his town in reprisal for murder of the government representative, Otis and his grandson, D. E. are the only survivors. Otis, desperate to give meaning to his life, as well as to hide lapses in judgement, courage, and honesty, begins to identify as Hidatsa. He believes he and his grandson have in fact returned to a pre-contact era—but one without the cultural integrity that actual tribes had and lost. 

To make sense of their life he constructs a creation myth and songs and prayers whose authenticity D. E., as he matures, questions. Then, on his deathbed, he confesses to what he’s made up, to his actual family relation to D. E., and to what he’s concealed about the fate of D. E.’s parents. 

It is here where Otis serves another transitional purpose. Not only is he literally transitioning to death but also, through his confession, forcing D. E. to transition from the life he’s known into a life he has yet to discover—his own life. Otis’s legacy to D. E., once all the constructs are stripped away, is an intimate knowledge of nature. In effect, as Otis sets the stage for D. E. to embark on a coming-of-age journey, this is the gift that he leaves him.

 











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In the near future, climate change has ravaged the United States, leading the government to over-correct through culls and relocation. Those who survive the mandated destruction are herded into “habitable production zones,” trading their freedom for illusions of security. The few who escape learn quickly that the key to survival is to stay hidden in the corners of the country. For seventeen years, During-the-Event, or D.E., has lived free in a pastoral life with his grandfather in North Dakota. But when death reaches their outpost. D.E. is forced on a journey that will change his life—and reveal surprises about his past.

Once taught that strangers are only sources of pain, D.E. must learn to trust the people he meets on his journey. During-the-Event is a soaring coming-of-age story that grapples with achingly familiar issues: coming to terms with loss and loneliness, finding what our identities really mean, and searching for love in an often strange and bewildering world.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


via author's website
As a child I lived throughout the United States—east coast, Midwest, the South, west coast—before touching down at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I studied fiction writing. Writing and editing assignments let me explore the worlds of education, rural development in Africa, small town news, medicine, and grassroots environmental advocacy. During-the-Event is my first novel. I live in New York and the Catskills.

Connect with Roger! |Website|

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

The Hunt for The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras




Title: The Hunt for The Mad Wolf's Daughter
Author: Diane Magras
Genre: Middle Grade
Series: Mad Wolf's Daughter # 2

Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication: March 5, 2019 by Kathy Dawson Books

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

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In this Scottish medieval adventure, after attempting a daring rescue of her war-band family, Drest learns that Lord Faintree’s traitorous uncle has claimed the castle for his own and convinced the knights that the lord has been slain . . . by her hand. Now with a hefty price on her head, Drest must find a way to escape treacherous knights, all the while proving to her father, the “Mad Wolf of the North,” and her irrepressible band of brothers that she is destined for more than a life of running and hiding. Even if that means redefining what it means to be a warrior.
The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter is the sequel, companion novel to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter following the adventures of twelve-year-old Drest and her family and friends as they go on the run from Prince Emerick’s uncle and half the entire kingdom.

I haven’t read the first book in the series but I had no problems following along with the story. The novel opened up with Drest, her family and friends in hiding. Drest just broke her father and brothers out of prison and saved the Prince from an attempted murder. Now the group is running for their lives while trying to find a way to help Prince Emerick regain his throne. To make matters worst, there’s a Wolf’s Head Bounty out for Drest, one so terrible, even the most vilest criminals have yet to receive it; putting a big target on Drest’s back.

At only twelve-years-old, Drest has done more in her short life then anyone twice her age. It also helped that her father was the notorious warrior Mad Wolf and he trained Drest along with her brothers on the rules of engagement at a very young age. Whenever you hear tales of highlanders, you rarely ever hear about girls; so I loved that Magras flipped that gender notion up on its head. I really liked Drest, she’s smart, loyal and outrageously brave. She had no problems carrying her own amongst her brothers and friends. As far as I could tell, she out-shined them time and time again.  

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter is a quick and light read with nonstop action from beginning to end. While it wasn’t necessary to read the first book in the series, I think you’ll get more out of this novel if you started at the beginning with, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. Overall, I thought The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter was an enjoyable read and I loved that it took place in Scotland of all places. This novel had it all…great characters, great world building, and a great happy ending!



Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

Title: Diamond Fire
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3.5

Paperback, 160 pages
Publication: November 6, 2018 by Avon Impulse

Source: Personal Library

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Nevada Frida Baylor and Connor Ander Rogan cordially invite you to join their wedding celebration. Summoning, weather manipulation, and other magical activities strictly forbidden.

Catalina Baylor is looking forward to wearing her maid of honor dress and watching her older sister walk down the aisle. Then the wedding planner gets escorted off the premises, the bride’s priceless tiara disappears, and Rogan's extensive family overruns his mother’s home. Someone is cheating, someone is lying, and someone is plotting murder.

To make this wedding happen, Catalina will have to do the thing she fears most: use her magic. But she’s a Baylor and there’s nothing she wouldn't do for her sister's happiness. Nevada will have her fairy tale wedding, even if Catalina has to tear the mansion apart brick by brick to get it done.
I’m so glad Andrews released a novella for Rogan and Nevada’s wedding and making Catalina our main heroine. It’s a nice bridge to Catalina’s trilogy, the first book, Sapphire Flames which is slated for this summer. I normally don’t like spin-offs, but I was totally digging Catalina’s POV. Diamond Fire clocks out at over 160 pages, longer than usual when it comes to novellas, but this is ILONA ANDREWS, nothing is ever too long. More words equal happy readers.  
I don’t read novellas often. I find, most of the time, that they lacked character development, world building, plot or a combination of all three. However, that wasn’t the case with Diamond Fire. Diamond Fire excelled in all three aspect. I’ve always enjoyed Nevada’s interaction with her family and thought her sisters were great. Catalina turned out to be just as capable and interesting of a female lead as Nevada, whereas Nevada was like a firecracker, Catalina was an introvert that kept everyone at arm’s length, but for an understandable reason. Catalina is a Siren Prime, she can get people to do anything she say. However, Catalina spent most of her life suppressing her abilities; afraid she’d lose control and hurt someone. I loved getting to know more about Catalina, reading about her thoughts, feelings and seeing how she interacted with people around her. And if Diamond Fire is any indication of how Catalina’s series is going to be, I’m all for it!
We also met many of Rogan’s extended family and boy, were they a crazy-dysfunctional bunch. Again, there was only so much an author can squeeze into a novella, so I was amazed at how well fleshed out everyone was…even five-year-old Mia, whom I hope to see again in future books…she’s adorable! While I liked learning about all the family members, I especially liked learning the backstory/history of Rogan’s parents. Rogan’s personality and why he does the things he does can all be, in some way traced back to the type of parents he had. And his parents were strong-willed and powerful. When they wanted something, they got it. Does that sound like another couple we know?
I really enjoyed Diamond Fire. It was fun and had a solid mystery that had a clear beginning, middle and end. Despite the plot of a missing heirloom being simple and straightforward, Andrews created complexity with layers of family secrets and weaved thread of subplots to reinforce one another. I can’t wait to read Sapphire Flames later this year, super excited that we’ll see more of the Baylor family!










Friday, May 03, 2019

Far Away by Lisa Graff

Title: Far Away
Author: Lisa Graff
Genre: Contemporary, Middle-Grade
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 272 pages
Publication: March 19, 2019 by Philomel Books

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

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CJ lives and travels with her Aunt Nic, a famous psychic medium who tours the country communicating with her audience’s deceased loved ones at sold-out theaters. Together, they give people closure and forgiveness, and pass important messages on from the Spirit world. While CJ doesn’t have her aunt’s same ability to talk to the dead, she enjoys playing a crucial role in connecting others with their dearly departed. After all, she knows firsthand what it’s like to lose someone she loves—the only way she can talk to her mom, who died hours after CJ was born, is through Aunt Nic.

But when a magician bent on proving that Aunt Nic is a fraud shows up at their shows, CJ learns an impossible truth—that her mother is actually still very much alive. Now CJ no longer knows who to trust. As she learns more unsettling family secrets, CJ must grapple with the lies she’s been told and the lies she’s helped perpetuate. And in the end, she must decide how to reconcile what it means to find her true family and home—and what it means to forgive.
Far Away by Graff is a heart-warming story about a young girl in search of answers about her mother and the power of belief and determination.
Caraway June ‘CJ’ has never met her mother, but she talks to her all the time. How you may wonder? Well, her aunt is a psychic medium that communicates with spirits.  As long as CJ can remember she has always been surrounded by spirits; on the road with her aunt going from place to place doing readings. But then one day her aunt tells her that her mother is leaving this plane and going ‘far away’ and that unless they had a tether, she won’t be able to speak with her mother anymore. With the guidance of spirits, CJ embarked on a mission to find her mother’s tether and along the way she discovered something so shocking that it will change her life forever.
At first glance, Far Away seems like a light paranormal read with ghosts but oddly, there wasn’t anything paranormal about it at all. Far Away was purely a mystery. CJ received clues after clues pointing her in the direction of her mother and as the story progressed CJ not only received the answers she’s been searching for, but she found her mother, literally. The book took an unexpected turn and I didn’t see the twist coming a mile away. I was honestly a little perplexed as the truth was revealed but it turned out a lot better than I expected. I loved that the book ended on a high and happy note.
CJ was a tough as nail tween. I liked that she always had faith and determination in getting what she wanted. But sometimes she made selfish and poor choices that affected others and she didn’t care about the consequences. Speaking of choices, half the things CJ said and did weren’t realistic. I have a nephew who is also twelve-years-old, and I can’t see him doing half the things CJ did. For example, CJ tricked a much older kid into driving her to Bakersfield and convinced him not to call the adults and another time CJ colluded with an adult to ruin her aunt’s career. It was unrealistic, or CJ was just a real good master manipulator. Remember, she’s only twelve.
With that said, overall, I thought Far Away was an enjoyable read. It teaches us to always believe, have faith and determination to do what we want despite what others say. And that no matter what happens, it always does get better in the end and that we’re meant to be exactly where we are at that moment.