Review: Invictus by Ryan Graudin


33152795*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Invictus

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 26, 2017

ISBN: 9780316503136

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past. But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems. 

The author of The Walled City, Graudin, has written another incredible, thrilling, and heart-stopping novel, Invictus. This young adult novel has everything you could want in a book: friendship, romance, family, time travel, inter-dimensional travel, and so much more. It’s a standalone novel, and as much as I would LOVE to read a whole series about these characters, it is entirely strong on its own. I appreciate Graudin’s decision to leave this one alone. She reached great heights with this book, and a series would only take away from what this book has to offer. This novel is history meets sci-fi perfectly blended together to create an intense story full of mystery and imminent threat with an ending that is so completely perfect.

I loved each character, unique with their own quirks and completely loveable for it. Farway Gaius McCarthy, the main protagonist, is confident and is a strong leader. He’s quick on his feet and is a true romantic at heart. His lady, Priya, has a kind heart and is strong and steadfast, the perfect qualities for their medic. Imogen is so much fun, full of silliness and burst with colour, literally. She changes her hair colour with every mood and makes it her mission to infuse every situation with a spark of happiness. Gram is the quiet and incredibly intelligent one. He gets them where they need to go in space and time, finding comfort in the certainty of numbers and problem-solving. Together these characters make up the Invictus. Their group works together seamlessly, joined by the bonds of love and friendship. They’ve endured all sorts of worlds and missions before and we can see the trust and strong relationships that this past has built. Everything changes when Eliot joins the picture, but I will save that for you to discover for yourselves.

What I loved most was the theory of time and dimensions. This book goes into much depth in it’s exploration of time travel and inter-dimensional travel. Graudin invents plausible machines and technology to move characters from time to time. It creates a very interesting concept for conflict across the ages and eras, adding an extra level of excitement to the rising action and climax of this story.

I found the characters to be likeable and relatable. Some were family, some were friends, and others were romantically involved, yet the romance element was not too overwhelming in the slightest. It just existed and wasn’t the focal point of the story. There was more about the bonds of friendship and the strength of family which I felt was refreshing. This world that Graudin’s created is fantastic and beautiful. There are so many interesting elements to discover throughout. I’m going to have to read it again to really take it all in, but upon first read, I so, so enjoyed.

I’d definitely recommend this novel. Graudin has yet to disappoint and I look forward to whatever she’s cooking up next.


Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

34467031*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Manhattan Beach

Author: Jennifer Egan

Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

ISBN: 9781476716732

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles. Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life.

Although Jennifer Egan has published quite a few books, this is the first novel of hers that I’ve read. I did enjoy Manhatten Beach. It’s an interesting perspective on a World War II story, told from the perspective of a woman at home in New York City who is a part of the female workforce that steps up as the men move overseas to fight. I really enjoyed the main character, Anna. She has a lot of pluck and a desire to prove herself in a male-run world. She’s unafraid to go after what she wants and she’s keen to learn how best to get her way in this era that stands against her as a woman. Anna is haunted by the loss of her father who disappeared when she was a young child–a mystery that has long remained unsolved. Anna’s existence is driven by her desire to know what happen and to seek some closure. In her travels, she encounters a wealthy night-club owner, Dexter, who leads her to learn more then she ever imagined.

Anna’s story is interesting and well constructed. Because of her personality, she goes after very interesting pursuits and really opens up the female world of the 1930s/1940s for the reader. We get a glimpse of the factories and the women who put in long hours to contribute to the war. The disparity between the genders is prevalent even with so many of the men off fighting. Those who remain behind respond with wariness, condescension, and even anger when Anna dares to step outside the bounds of her place in the working world. I did really enjoy Egan’s exploration of women’s roles throughout this novel. I think she approaches the topic in an interesting and engaging way through her protagonist. Anna, despite her ambition, still comes up against road blocks at every angle. Her fight to succeed is not always successful and that makes her a very real character.

Now to the stuff that I didn’t enjoy so much. There was a lot that went on outside of Anna’s story, and that, I found, detracted from how interesting her chapters were. We also get to see the perspective of Dexter as well as the perspective of Anna’s father, Eddie. All of these stories tie together, however, their level of readability and interest is much decreased and sometimes makes it difficult to get through the story as a whole. These parts don’t often seem necessary and I don’t think that add real value to the story as a whole. I couldn’t bring myself to care about Dexter even in the slightest. I wanted to, but I didn’t find there to be anything alluring about his character and his story was slow and lacked much depth. Eddie’s tale contains a jump in time. He as well is quite the unredeemable character. He’s wily and right from the start, it’s clear that he’s heading on the path of danger. Both of their plot lines are a bit rambling and don’t have clear direction. It slowed me down as I read, and did make it hard to continue and return to the Anna bits.

Overall, it’s not a bad story. It has it’s really great moments and it is not without weaknesses. I didn’t mind it and I’m open to reading more of Egan’s work in the future.

Review: Reading People by Anne Bogel

34713218Title: Reading People

Author: Anne Bogel

Publisher: Baker Books

Publication Date: September 19, 2017

ISBN: 9780801072918

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For readers who long to dig deeper into what makes them uniquely them (and why that matters), popular blogger Anne Bogel has done the hard part–collecting, exploring, and explaining the most popular personality frameworks, such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, and others. She explains to readers the life-changing insights that can be gained from each and shares specific, practical real-life applications across all facets of life, including love and marriage, productivity, parenting, the workplace, and spiritual life. In her friendly, relatable style, Bogel shares engaging personal stories that show firsthand how understanding personality can revolutionize the way we live, love, work, and pray. 

I’m so excited to share this book with you! Anne Bogel, also known as The Modern Mrs. Darcy, is one of my favourite bloggers. I’m an avid reader of her blog emails and I love tuning into her podcast, What Should I Read Next?. So, naturally, I was thrilled when she announced the release of her book, Reading People. Anne has spoken about personality theory many times on her blog. She introduced me in the past to Myers-Briggs (I’m an ISFJ-T) and spoke a lot about how awareness of one’s personality can help us understand how and why we are the way we are. I’ve done a lot of reading on personality since then, and done many personality-typing quizzes to gain further insight into myself and what makes me, me.

Reading People will walk you through the various assessments that exist out there in the world–what they look at, how they assess, and how to understand them. Anne’s writing is clear, engaging, and friendly–the same qualities that drew me to her blog. Although we’ve never met, and probably never will, through her honesty and her anecdotes, as well as her own thoughts and experiences with the processes of discovering her own personality types, I feel as thought I’ve gained a friend in her. Her new book opens the door for those looking to understand themselves and those around them better. She talks a lot about being an HSP, a highly sensitive person. I never thought this to be something I might identify with, but after reading this book, recognizing many of the characteristics in myself then completing the online quiz with quite conclusive results, I feel as though I’ve come to understand myself even deeper.

I hope you’ll all take the time to read this incredibly informative and relatable book. A bit of introspection goes a long way to understanding oneself and others in your life. It’ll help you understand conflict better and how to navigate it. It’ll show you how to accept, understand, and even appreciate different strengths in others. It’ll provide insight into friendships and relationships. The list goes on. This is a great book and it deserves a read.

Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

34273236*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Publisher: Penguin Press

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

ISBN: 9780735224292

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Celeste Ng has quickly become one of my favourite authors who is proving herself as an artist with the written word. In the same way that Everything I Never Told You tugged on heartstrings and confronted difficult topics and truths, Little Fires Everywhere tackles tough topics, deeply hidden secrets, and the reality behind a seemingly picture perfect city.

Shaker Heights is a city of perfection. A planned community, it has little tolerance for anything against the status quo, and the citizens that live there don’t want anything different. There is something to be feared, not admired, in those who seek something different. The Richardsons are the picture perfect family, meeting the status quo in every way. Elena Richardson leads her family to strive for perfection, not tolerating what she sees as rebellion. Her fear of losing her family and her picturesque life drives her need for perfectionism in herself, her husband, her children, and her community. In contrast, Mia and Pearl have skirted all concepts of tradition. Living a wayward life, they’ve spent the years of Pearl’s life on the go, setting down no roots and leaving no connections behind. Their world circulates around Mia’s work as an artist. They find joy in this freedom, but it also comes as a cost; they’ve never had a community to support them and no family to rally around them. They are outsiders everywhere they go, but especially so in Shaker Heights.

There isn’t a ton of action in this book, but it captivates with its complex exploration into the history of the characters as well as into their psyches. In many cases the reader gets a chance to have an intimate look at a character’s motivations, ideas, perceptions, etc. We come to understand why the people of Shaker Heights behave the way they do, even if they themselves don’t understand it. I actually found Elena Richardson to be one of the most interesting characters in the book. She fills more of an antagonist role as the book progresses. On the surface she is demure, collected, professional, and caring, but beneath the surface she is full of fears and anxieties. She is able to absolve herself of any wrongdoing because of her refusal to look introspectively and her denial of her true motives. Some reviewers see this as obliviousness, however I think it runs deeper than that. I think Elena is so talented at perfecting her appearance and and fitting into the flow of her community that she’s mastered the ability to push aside any feelings that are not conducive to her pristine lifestyle. Often times this puts the reader at a distance from her–a distance I think she’s trying to impose–but there are indications of her true motivations when her facade begins to slip as things become more out of her control.

Celeste writes with an ability to sway the reader one way, but over the course of a novel, completely convince the reader of something else. This allows her to introduce intense and complicated plot twists that constantly shift the reader’s perspective. Our feelings about the story and the characters shift throughout as more is revealed and things begin to unravel. This author isn’t looking for the happy ending. Instead she writes with brutal honesty, confronting the reader with tough topics and scenarios where things don’t work out. Her writing is true to life. Despite sometimes heavier themes, this story finishes with strength and a hope that like a phoenix, new life will rise from the ashes. The close-minded world of Shaker Heights is blown open, but with the possibility that things might improve, minds might be opened, and lives might be rebuilt.

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

29385546*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Warcross

Author: Marie Lu

Publisher: Putnam

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

ISBN: 9780399547966

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation. Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire. 

My reaction: AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH! 😀 Marie Lu is consistently producing awesome YA lit with strong plots, fantastic worlds, and cool characters. Warcross does not disappoint. Fans of Marie Lu will be thrilled with the first book in her newest series. This is one of the most exciting YA books that I’ve read in years. I was over the moon to read another book from this amazingly talented author and now I’m completely hooked on this series. I devoured book one in a day. The only bad thing I have to say is that it’s over. Please, please, please read this!

Emika Chen is living a rough life. She works hard and struggles to survive, but everything changes for her when she makes what she thinks is a stupid mistake, but turns out to be the chance of a lifetime for her. She’s thrust into the world of Warcross and comes face to face with the heart-throb, billionaire creator, Hideo. Her talent, previously undiscovered, puts her at the top of the league with world renowned players. She makes a name for herself as a Warcross player while working secretly behind the scenes to uncover the sinister blot of the antagonist, Zero. Placing herself in the way of serious harm, Emika risks everything to fight for what’s right.

There are so many twists and turns in this book, and the characters are fascinating and full of depth. I expect we’ll see even more exploration of characters, including those who had more of a backseat role, move to the forefront as this series progresses. Lu sets up a fast-paced story that has so much room for expansion and exploration. Her world reminds me of Ready, Player One, but instead of just one great book, we have a few more to look forward to with this series.

It’s soooooooo good! YA fans, please read! You’re going to love this one.

Review: Lost in September by Kathleen Winter

33413466*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Lost in September

Author: Kathleen Winter

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

ISBN: 9780345810120

Synopsis from Goodreads:
As a young soldier in his twenties, the historical James Wolfe (1727-1759) was granted a short and much longed-for leave to travel to Paris to study poetry, music and dance–three of his passions. But in that very year, 1752, the British Empire abandoned the Julian calendar for the Gregorian, and every citizen of England lost eleven days: September 2 was followed by September 14. These lost eleven days happened to occur during the period that Wolfe had been granted for his leave. Despondent and bitter, he never got the chance to explore his artistic bent, and seven short years later, on the anniversary of this foreshortened leave, he died on the Plains of Abraham. Now, James is getting his eleven days back . . . but instead of the salons of 18th century Paris, he’s wandering the streets of present-day Montreal and Quebec City, not as “the Hero of Quebec” but as a damaged war veteran wracked with anguish. 

Kathleen Winter is a beautiful writer and in her newest story, Lost in September, she takes a look at the history of General James Wolfe and his actions in Quebec and on the Plain of Abraham in contrast with Jimmy, an ex-soldier suffering with PTSD as he roams the streets of modern Quebec. The story moves fluidly between the Eighteenth-Century and present day, confusing and conflating the two as James/Jimmy tries to figure out the missing 11 days that citizens lost when Britian switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. This story breathes life into the neighbourhoods of Quebec, so thoroughly descriptive of so many places, both historically and currently. This story is as much about the place as it is about the history and the characters.

I enjoyed the complicated exploration that Winter achieves in this book. Jimmy believes himself to be General Wolfe for these eleven days, but one can argue that James Wolfe inhabits his doppleganger’s person for these days, tormented by the anguish of losing his days of leave. The perspective often shifts to a historical approach so the reader believes that they are in fact viewing Wolfe himself, but in the next moment, he’ll slip up and we’ll know that we in fact are seeing Jimmy. The two are interwoven. In Jimmy’s lack of knowledge of self, we cannot rely on his story to be the truth, thus we must piece together his and Wolfe’s stories through the eyes of other characters. This lack of reliability really reflects the character’s fragmented state and sucks the reader into his suffering and anxiety, making his experience much more accessible and realistic.

I will say, I did find the story to be lagging at times. There’s not a lot happening in the middle, other than intense characterization which falls a bit flat with not a lot of action taking place. Because of this, I found the middle to be a bit slow going. I can’t say I found it to be a gripping story. More an interesting musing on a moment in history. However, this book is compelling and different than many historical fictionalizations that you’ll read. It takes a refreshing approach to present a story that perhaps is less well known. Myself, I was not familiar with the details surrounding general Wolfe and I found this book to be an excellent prompt to do a little bit of research and learn a little more.


Review: Blood Fable by Oisín Curran

32761969*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Blood Fable

Author: Oisín Curran

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

ISBN: 9781771662949

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1980, New Pond, a utopian Buddhist community on the coast of Maine is on the verge of collapse. New Pond’s charismatic leader demands complete adherence to his authority, and slowly, his followers come to the realization that they’ve been exploited for too long. The eleven-year-old son of one of those adherents is dimly aware of the concerns of the adult world. Yet his imagination provides a refuge both from the difficulties of his parents’ lives–including his mother’s newly discovered cancer–and from the boredom and casual brutality of school. To distract his parents and himself from their collective troubles, the boy claims to remember his own life before birth–an epic tale about the search for a lost city made up of the boy’s own experiences refracted through the lens of the adventure stories he loves. As the world around them falls apart, the boy and his parents find that his strange story often seems to predict the events taking place in the world around them. 

Blood Fable is an excellent work of metafiction which shares two stories: a boy and his parents living in a utopian Buddhist community in the United States whose world is beginning to collapse around the, and the story that he weaves for his parents in the form of visions that they record as the “visions” come to him in bursts. It’s a complex story that speaks to the unravelling of an idealistic community as those with power begin to take advantage of their situation and take advantage of their authority over those of lesser status. It also address the escapist principles of fantasy and epics stories and how they are reflections of our own lives, but also provide opportunities to be free of reality on occasion.

This story is strange, compelling, and unique. The main character is young enough to escape the politics of adult life and to be able to view his situation with an open mind to see things as they really are, but he is old enough to recognize the happiness and reverence that his story brings to his parents. He is also old enough to recognize the many things that are off about his community and to know when his parents are trying to hid something from him. His story is creative and parallels the turmoil and struggles in his own life. The world he invents is absurd and ever changing but if offers the reader a lot of insight into his own inner feelings and his own need to find refuge from the many points of stress in his world.

I loved this book! It’s something a little different and it’s incredibly well-written.

See Blood Fable as one of The Globe and Mail‘s most-anticipated books of the rest of 2017.