Review: City of Ghosts

Hey Hi Hello my friends, I know its been a long time between posts and I’m really hoping life calms down soon but if we’re going to be honest I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I’m coming to you today to talk to you about Victoria Schwab’s latest: City of Ghosts. Friends, Schwab did it again, proved exactly why she’s at the top of my list for favorite authors, and why I buy multiple versions of the same book because I can’t imagine not having ALL of the Victoria/V.E. Schwab books.

City of Ghosts is Schwab’s newest middle grade novel about a girl who almost drowned, the ghost boy who saved her, and her exciting jaunt through Edinburgh, Scotland and its many ghosts. I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened its pages, and those thoughts were swept away as I devoured this book from the first page to it’s last in one day.

“In the end, I guess mom was right.

I have one foot in winter and one in spring,

One foot with the living, and one with the dead.”

Schwab’s storytelling is what kept me rapt as I read this middle grade novel as a 28 year old woman. It maintains some of the darker elements of her other YA or Adult Fantasy novels, while also maintaining a whimsicality that worked well to keep it perfect for a young reader to follow along with 12 year old Cassidy Blake. The book was also so perfectly atmospheric, it made me feel like I was in Edinburgh with Cassidy experiencing the sights and sounds with her. It definitely would be the perfect spooky fall read if you’re looking for something “Stranger Things mixed with Ghost Hunters”-esque.

While I did really enjoy the book, I did have a couple of quibbles. The first is I thought characters could have been more fleshed out. I enjoyed Cassidy Blake, however I wish I had gotten to know a little bit more about Jacob (maybe thats to come in book 2?) or even Lara Jayne Chowdhury. I am looking forward to where she brings these characters in book 2 and will definitely be picking it up once released.

The second is that the plot seemed fairly simplistic and pretty straight forward. There weren’t many twists and turns that kept me guessing as to how the story was going to end. However, this may be a situation of not having read enough middle grade, and having too high expectations.

Over all, City of Ghosts was a delightfully spooky story with easy to devour writing, a friendship I’m a little bit jealous of (who doesn’t want to be best friends with a ghost), and lots of dead things. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun, quick fall read.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review – Next Year in Havana

I picked up Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton after Reese Witherspoon announced in as her July book pick for the Reese’s Book Club. Not only was this the first book I read for Reese’s Book Club but it was also my first read by Chanel Cleeton and I was not disappointed by either.

We follow two women, Elisa Perez living in Havana before the rebellion until her family’s exile in 1958 and her granddaughter Marisol, visiting Cuba for the first time in 2017. And through Elisa and Marisol we get to experience Cuba. Cleeton’s writing is so atmospheric that if I closed my eyes, I could picture Cuba, the sights, the sounds and smells. Through these characters and their experiences we also learn about the people of Cuba as a whole – those who left Cuba with their belongings on their backs, passing along memories to their descendants and those who stayed behind with hopes of change that would not happen.

One of the things that I loved about this novel, was the way that Cleeton addressed Marisol’s view of herself as a Cuban-American. How she was concerned that she wouldn’t be welcome in Cuba, that she wasn’t “Cuban” enough. It was particularly clear in the way that Cleeton described Marisol feeling both at home while still feeling like an outsider in a country that meant so much to her and to her family.

“You speak as though politics is its own separate entity,’ he says. ‘As though it isn’t in the air around us, as though ever single part of us isn’t political. How can you dismiss something that is so fundamental to the integrity of who we are as a people, as a country? How can you dismiss something that directly affects the lives of so many?”

I didn’t know very much about Cuba before I read this book. I knew some basic information but the depth of Cuba: the politics, the way Cuban’s live, the history, etc – was all new to me. The politics of Cuba come up a lot in this book as the undercurrent of the story, it pushes it forward.  Not just the politics of the government, but also the politics of the social classes. How each social class viewed the rebellion, who agreed and who disagreed, and the the politics of why. And not just that, but how those who stayed in Cuba viewed those who left and vice versa.

One of my favorite things about the genre of historical fiction is that you can learn about history in a way that is almost hands on. With characters like those of Chanel Cleeton’s in Next Year in Havana, they help the reader view the situation through their own eyes in a way that a history book doesn’t. It allows you to experience it instead of just getting the facts. Chanel Cleeton describes this book as a “book of my heart”, stating that her family also escaped Cuba and that she credits their stories with some of the bases for this book. The fact that her family lived through these experiences only adds to that feeling.

Ultimately I loved this book, and I am really looking forward to more of Chanel Cleeton’s writing, especially to hear Beatriz’s story in When We Left Cuba in 2019.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: A Place For Us

Recently Sarah Jessica Parker released the first book published by her imprint, SJP for Hogarth, of Penguin Random House and if the first book she chose says anything about future releases, you better believe that I will be buying everything that she publishes.

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Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel A Place for Us tells the emotionally evocative story of a Indian-American family and each family member’s struggles in their own ways with their sense of identity and belonging. The story is set in Northern California, and we start the story at Hadia’s wedding, where we find out the whole family is there, struggling with what will happen that day as the prodigal son, Amar, has returned after being absent for three years. And while Mirza will come back to the wedding multiple times throughout the novel, it is through her flashbacks that we learn about the family, their triumphs, failures, betrayals and secrets.

Through the characters memories we travel back in time, to before the parents, Layla and Rafiq, arranged marriage, throughout the building of their family, the children going through adolescence, Amar falling in love for the first time, the tragedy of 9/11 and Hadia going off to medical school and making her own love match. Mirza doesn’t focus on telling us the story chronologically, hopping back and forth between timelines and characters flawlessly, allowing us to view each individual incident from multiple points of view, each one changing the meaning of simple actions like a spelling test.

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Fatima Farheen Mirza’s writing is in a word: breathtaking. It is mature, elegant and beautiful in a way that when you realize that she was 26 when this book, her debut, was published, becomes mind-blowing. Her capability of switching perspectives gracefully is just one of the things that make Mirza’s writing stunning, we sense each of the character’s feelings strongly. The loss of love, the panic of parents who are watching a son making decisions they do not understand, the struggle of an immigrant family trying to find balance between their culture, tradition and religion in America today.

I was fully invested in this story, staying up until 1 in the morning when I had work the next day, when I realized that I wasn’t going to finish the novel without crying. A Place for Us was heart-wrenching in all of the right ways. I am emotional going back to think about all the ways that I loved this book. My heartbreak for each of the characters feeling fresh in my mind and my heart. My heart is heavy as I go back to talk about this book and the characters in the most satisfying way.

“When I watch the old tapes, and look through the old photographs, it’s as if I wasn’t there at all. But they are mine, I remind myself, they are my memories, they are exactly how I stood and saw them.”

When I say that I have no doubt that A Place for Us will go down as my all time favorite book of 2018 I do not say that lightly. I know that no other book I have read this year (and in a very long time) has affected me the way that this book has. Fatima Farheen Mirza has proven herself to be a wonderful and strong new voice in the literary world.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

 

Review: The Great Alone

The Great Alone was the first novel by Kristin Hannah that I have read, and I absolutely loved it. I read this book in about two sittings, mostly spending one Saturday curled up on the couch where I didn’t stop reading until I was sobbing and turning the last page. This then prompted my daughter to ask “Mommy, why do you always read books that make you cry?” That may need to be a post for another day, but I was so engrossed in Hannah’s characters and the story of a teenage girl trapped in her parents toxic relationship that tears were bound to happen. The Great Alone left me heartbroken and at peace all at the same time, and honestly books that manage to do that are always my favorite books.

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The Great Alone tells the story of Ernt Allbright, a Vietnam vet and POW, who finds out that he has inherited a piece of land in Alaska from one of his friends from his time in the military. This comes at the perfect time for Ernt because, unable to keep a job and unable to quit drinking, he is running out of options. Cora, his wife, unfailingly devoted to her husband agrees to move to America’s last frontier with him. Leni, their 13 year old daughter hopes that in Alaska she will finally find a place where she belongs.

At first, Alaska is everything they have dreamed of. They find a close knit community of strong men and even stronger women who are willing to help them learn how to navigate the wilderness around them, and Ernt finally seems to be doing better. Unfortunately, Alaska’s wilderness isn’t the only thing that is volatile, as winter approaches and the days get shorter and darkness falls upon Alaska, darkness also starts to fall on Cora and Leni, as Ernt’s mental state deteriorates.

“In the silence, Leni wondered if one person could ever really save another, or if it was the kind of thing you had to do for yourself.”

The thing I loved most about this novel was the characters. Each character was so different to the rest, but they were all fully fleshed out. There was Large Marge, a former D.C lawyer, intense and strong, willing to do what she needed to do to protect her unprepared neighbors. There is Matthew, who brings romance to Leni. The two of them turn into Alaska’s Romeo and Juliet once Ernt starts to have a problem with Matthew’s father. There is even a family of survivalists, the family of the friend who gives Ernt his property, whose patriarch doesn’t help Ernt’s state of mind with their ranting and raving of the collapse of their great country. Each character brings something to this community of Kaneq that helps propel this story along.

Leni and Cora Allbright were the strength of this story however. Leni finds herself in Alaska, she learns to take care of herself, she becomes strong, willing to do what she needs to do in order to survive. She starts to see the cracks in her own parents relationship but doesn’t let that stop her from finding love of her own. Cora, at first glance, is a battered woman. She follows Ernt blindly, willing to do whatever it takes to make him happy, even though she knows that it’s only a matter of time before he explodes. Cora finds her strength in Alaska too, although it’s not Alaska where she finds her happiness. Hannah does her leading ladies justice, they find peace and happiness in their own way.

The Great Alone is a tour de force of drama, emotion, and tragedy. Hannah writes a novel that forces us to look at the way that wilderness lives within us, and the way that sometimes in order to survive what we need to do is look inside ourself for the strength that lies within us.

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Kristin Hannah is an author I now need to go out, buy, and read, everything that she has ever written. For those of you who have read her other novels, let me know which one I should read next in the comments!

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

February Wrap Up

So I know I’m late with this February Wrap Up as we are already 4 days into March BUT better late than never right? …Right?

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(Thank you Walter.)

February was a short month and I didn’t get as much reading done as I had wanted to. I had wanted to read quite a bit of fantasy, thanks to the Fantasy in February challenge that I was participating in. All, except for one of my books, were fantasy books and I really enjoyed them for the most part but I really fell in love with the first trilogy I read so I ended up deciding to take my time with it so I could really enjoy it. This however, did have an impact on the amount of books I was able to get through, but I wouldn’t go back and read them faster if I had the option to, so I’m okay with it.

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(This was my February TBR list.)

The Unread Shelf Project

So I’m doing a really good job about reading only books on my Unread Shelf list. I have not reread any books and I’m doing a really good job sticking to my TBR lists. In February I ended up being able to get through seven more books from my Unread Shelf.

Y’all… I CAN’T STOP BUYING BOOKS.

I know. I know. January I was on a complete book buying ban and that went TERRIBLY. So February I was like, I can make it through one month without buying a book. That can’t be too hard. I mean, get yourself together and have a little self control.

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(Justin literally can’t even with me right now.)

I’m not even going to lie to myself anymore about being on a book buying ban. Is it worth it to deprive myself of all the books that are practically begging to be on my shelves? I don’t think so. And it certainly isn’t worth buying the books and then feeling guilty for having so utterly failed in my book buying ban. SO I’M GIVING UP. I mean, if buying books is my vice, it could be so much worse. I could have worse vices and we all need one so…

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(My friend Gwen sent me this, and if it’s not accurate to my life, I don’t know what is.)

My Blog

February was a really good month for me and my blog. I got up three reviews and I made a post about my favorite literary bad boys for Valentines Day. So I am really pleased with how February went. But since nothing is perfect, I know I could improve for March, so my goals for March are to:

  1. Post one review a week, hopefully going up on Sundays.
  2. Try and get a post up that isn’t a review but still having to do with books at least twice.

I’m feeling confident March will be a good month to succeed with those goals. I have a pretty awesome TBR which I’m super excited to get through.

Books I Read

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Out of the nine books on my February TBR I got through six of them, which for a short month I am pretty pleased with. I also read my IRL BookClubs pick of Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King, which if you read my review (found here) you’ll know I wasn’t super impressed by it which I was disappointed about. Other than that book though I really enjoyed the books that I read in February and it was awesome being able to get back into reading fantasy, a genre I always love but sometimes forget to read since their is always so many classics and contemporary fiction that I want to get to as well.

  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – 5 ⭐️’s
  • A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – 5 ⭐️’s
  • A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab – 5 ⭐️’s
  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert – 3 ⭐️’s
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – 3 ⭐️’s
  • The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – 4 ⭐️’s
  • Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King – 2 ⭐️’s

Next Month

In March I don’t have any specific challenge that I am participating in but I do have a pretty awesome TBR planned. A couple of the books on my list are The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. My book club’s pick this month is The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn. So I know March is going to be a good month and I can’t wait.

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How was your February? Did you participate in Fantasy in February as well? I want to hear all about your month so let me know in the comments below!

– Hannah

10 Tips and Tricks to Read More

The first thing that I hear when I talk about my reading goals is “I don’t have the time to read” and a fairy dies every time. Okay… I’m being a little bit dramatic. Maybe. But, it’s true. A lot of people, myself included, are living such busy lives. For some, every minute is carefully planned out. For myself, and I’m sure there are others like me, every day is spent desperately trying to plan my day and constantly being stressed out about how much I need to do in any given day and yet still I only have 24 hours in a day. 24 hours generally never seems like enough time.

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(Seriously, 24 hours in a day isn’t enough time.)

I find that reading is one of the best ways for myself to find some peace, and to relax during the day – so finding time to read is imperative for me. Because it is so important to me, I’ve been able to find ways to find more time during the day to read and I wanted to share my list of tips and tricks with you:

  1. Always carry a book with you – I always have my current read with me, generally a physical copy in my purse. Not only that though, I also carry with me my Kindle, just in case I finish my current read or if I’m not particularly feeling up to reading my current read, for whatever reason.
  2. Read multiple books at a time – This one is *almost* the same as number 1. I find that if I’m reading multiple books at a time, I don’t get so discouraged when I’m not in the mood for something. It gives me more options to choose from depending on how I’m feeling that day.
  3. Put your phone down – Seriously, it seems hard, but once you get in the habit of not having your phone on you, you’ll realize how much time you actually spend on your phone. At the end of the year I was reflecting about how much time I spend on my phone staring at my Facebook feed like a zombie. I ended up deactivating my Facebook and deleted the app from my phone (deactivating Facebook did not deactivate my messenger, which was nice as I do use that as a means to communicate with some of my friends) and I realized one weekend that I had set my phone down when I got home at 6pm and didn’t pick it up again until I set my alarm when I went to bed at 10. It. Was. Amazing.
  4. Give up books that you don’t enjoy – This is a interesting idea. People feel very strongly about whether you should finish a book whether you like it or not. I used to fall under that camp, but then after forcing myself to read some really awful books that I hated I was so discouraged I had a hard time picking up a new book. Now that I only read books that I’m really enjoying, I am reading so much more.
  5. Set a goal – Try setting a goal to keep you motivated to read more. Make sure though, that you keep your goal reasonable. If you only read one or two books last year, don’t set a goal to read 100 books this year, you’ll only get discouraged if you read 10 (even though that would have felt like an accomplishment if thats what you had set your goal too).
  6. Join a book club – Find a book club to join. Your local bookstores, libraries, the Oprah Bookclub, Reese Witherspoon’s book club, (to name a few ideas), or even start your own with some of your friends. Reading books with friends or other people can be one of the most enjoyable ways to read a book, it gives you the option to rant or rave about which ever book you are currently reading to people who will understand and/or commiserate.
  7. Find a reading challenge – Try to participate in a reading challenge. There are tons of really fun ones out there that can get you reading something you wouldn’t have picked out on your own. My favorites are the challenges that don’t tell you what book to read but give you a prompt and you can pick the book you want to read that will fit that prompt.
  8. Share what you’ve read – Get a Goodreads account, start a blog, or a bookstagram. Posting about what you’re reading or what you’ve read can help you find other people to talk about that book with, get recommendations, and possibly make new friends in the process.
  9. Take notes – I’m a big supporter in writing in your books (I’m actually working on a more detailed post in regards to that). Keeping notes, or keeping track of favorite passages, will help you understand the authors message more clearly.
  10. Read – Simply, read. You will never read more if you don’t just start reading. Once you get into the habit of finding time to read, you will find yourself reading more.

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(Has anyone seen this episode of The Twilight Zone? Heartbreaking.)

Do you have any tips or tricks to finding more time to read? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

– Hannah