Book Review: Steelheart, A Steely Read

Challenges can be tough, y’know? Mine right now is hard to put into words, but I’m lightened by friends and family who reach out to me and let me know that they care. I read Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, and I think there are a lot of you that would enjoy this book and the deal I found for it!

What Is Steelheart About?

From Amazon:

How far would you go for revenge if someone killed your father? If someone destroyed your city? If everything you ever loved was taken from you? David Charleston will go to any lengths to stop Steelheart. But to exact revenge in Steelheart’s world, David will need the Reckoners—a shadowy group of rebels bent on maintaining justice. And it turns out that the Reckoners might just need David too.

The premise is that twelve years before the story begins, an object dubbed Calamity appeared near Earth and burst in the sky, emitting a strange radiation that gave a small group of humans super powers and near invincibility in apparent defiance of the known laws of physics. They all have different types of powers and weaknesses, with no apparent rhyme or reason. Dubbed Epics, these super-humans took to crime. Existing government proved absolutely incapable of controlling the Epics, the most powerful of which replaced government authority and enslaved the rest of humanity. there are a bunch of people with superpowers, but they’re all bad and have taken over the world. The Reckoners is truly intriguing and generates a good conflict for the main character. David, in witnessing his father being killed by Steelheart, the Epic who took over Chicago and enslaved everyone there, thinks he knows the Epic’s one weakness and bands together with the Rebels to defeat him.

Who Would Like Steelheart, And Why?

Fans of Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time, Mistborn, Way of Kings, or Elantris books might be a little surprised by the YA superhero angle of this story, but it’s still an amazing story, and should be read by all of Sanderson’s fans. The characterization is thorough. Though the middle seemed to go really slow for me, the first third is action-packed and the last third, once it gets going, is super intense. I finished the book having thoroughly enjoyed how he tied all the threads together into a compelling tapestry. 

What’s The Deal?

The cheapest you can get the paperback of Steelheart on Amazon is $7.99, unless you get a used copy, and even then, the cheapest you can get it is $4.99. If you get it through Thriftbooks, however, you can get a used copy in good condition (I get these all the time) for $3.79. And, since I recently became a Thriftbooks affiliate, I’ll get a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Obviously, this doesn’t affect your cost. The commission will enable me to keep reviewing books and finding deals for you, my wonderful readers!

 

Book Review: Trail of Lightning, A Visceral Read

Because I’m trying to get published, and because I have this wonderful book blog on which I get to talk with you guys about cool books, I follow a lot of publishers, literary agents, and authors on Twitter. A few months ago, an agent I follow tweeted about a new book coming out from one of her clients: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s post-apocalyptic, written by a Native American woman. How cool is that? I tweeted back to Sara that I had to have a copy of this because it sounded so awesome, and she sent me a galley copy! I just finished reading it, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a heart-in-your-throat, visceral read:

What’s Trail of Lightning About?

From Goodreads:

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Who Would Like This Book, and Why?

Anyone who likes

will like this book. It’s really intense, told in first-person present-tense from Maggie the Monsterslayer’s perspective. She’s convinced she’s a monster, a supernaturally gifted killer on the outside but on the inside a scared human who’s seen and caused way too much death. In that respect, she reminded me a little of Edward in Twilight. She goes around killing monsters, so there is ALOT of violence. She thought she’d found a redemption of sorts in her one-time mentor Neizghani, but spends most of the book mourning his abandonment of her a year before the book starts. The book’s plot is propelled forward more by the appearance of monsters and those who would either help her fight them or feed her to them than by decisions she and Kai make, as she’s trying to distance herself from her evilness and any reminders of it, the main one being Neizghani. Because of that, Maggie seemed a little hard to follow and even harder to empathize with, but I still dearly wanted her to find happiness…and romance, if possible.

The main reason I liked this book, other than the premise, was the writing. Amazing, techni-color writing.

Nutrition Facts?

Swear words (D*, F*, S*, H*, G*D*): 72

Sex scenes: 0

Violence (some extreme [i.e., references to cannibalism, etc.]): 8

positive messages/relationships (e.g., love + effort, charity, hard work, goals, etc.): 2

negative messages/relationships (e.g., no love, or love +(-effort), meanness, laziness, selfishness): 5

LGBTQ+ relationship(s): 1

Visual?

via GIPHY

Deal?

This book doesn’t come out until June 26th. It’s priced at $7.99 on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, for their respective ebook editions. If you preorder the ebook or paperback version from Barnes & Noble, using the code SUMMERFUN at checkout, you’ll get 15% off, which means the ebook would be $6.79 (USD) and the paperback would be $11.03, both of which are very good deals for a not-yet-released book.

Book Review: Glimmer, an Intense Read

To deal with the challenges of looking for a job, and while enjoying summer with my kids, I’ve been reading a lot, because that’s what I do! I recently finished Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis. It’s a YA amnesia book with a beginning similar to one of the books I’ve written. It’s a somewhat disjointed but very well-written, compelling read that kept me on the edge of my seat, scratching my head, sometimes gasping for air. I’d say it’s an intense read:

What Glimmer Is About

When Marshall King and Elyse Alton suddenly wake up tangled in each other’s arms with zero memory of how they got there or even who they are, it’s the start of a long journey through their separate pasts and shared future.

Terrified by their amnesia, Marshall and Elyse make a pact to work together to find the answers that could restore their missing memories. As they piece together clues about their lives, they discover that they’re in the idyllic mountain resort town of Summer Falls. Everyone seems happy there, but as Marshall and Elyse quickly learn, darkness lurks beneath the town’s perfect facade. Not only is the town haunted by sinister ghosts, but none of its living inhabitants retain bad memories of anything—not the death of Marshall’s mom, not the hidden violence in Elyse’s family, not even the day-to-day anguish of being a high schooler.

Lonely in this world of happy zombies, Marshall and Elyse fall into an intense relationship founded on their mutual quest for truth. But the secrets they’re trying to uncover could be the death of this budding love affair—and of everyone, and everything, they love in Summer Falls.

Who Might Like Glimmer, And Why

If you like intense reads, especially if they’re told in first-person dual POV present tense, like Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars, which I reviewed here, you’ll like Glimmer. Because it follows Elyse’s and Marshall’s different but intertwining journeys to getting their memories back, and then, (spoiler alert) once they regain them, their efforts to hide them from themselves and a certain antagonist (end spoiler alert), it’s somewhat disjointed. It jumps from scene to scene for quite a while, with the only common thread being that everyone seems to collapse into what are called “heatnaps” any time anything unpleasant happens, and Elyse sees ghosts.

If you like teen romances, you’ll like this book for that aspect too. Kitanidis adeptly maneuvers her two main characters through the plot compelled by realistic and heartfelt thoughts and feelings that recognize the frailty and fear of adolescence, but also the yearning for independence and power that also comes with that stage of life.

One of the coolest, most unique features of this book is the fact that it combines paranormal elements with magic. In that respect, if you liked Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, you’ll probably like Glimmer, although the magic systems are different. And if you liked Beyond, you’ll like this book.

I bought it on Amazon, but I found it for a much better price on ThriftBooks.com for $3.79 (used).

Visually, it’s this:

via GIPHY

plus this:

via GIPHY

Nutrition Facts:

Swear words (D**, S**, F**, H**): 66

Sex scenes: 0

Positive messages (e.g., love, charity or helping others, family, value of hard work): 2-3

Positive role models: 2

Violence: not really

Mentions of drinking alcohol, drugs, or smoking: 20

If You Don’t Read, Tell Me Why…Please

No, I don’t have an agent or a job yet, but I’m still actively writing and looking. I’ve still been reading too—two books, in fact—but can’t really recommend either one. Let me  tell you a little bit about Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, because I think they’d both be worth reading for the right audiences, and then give a pre-announcement of sorts.

Glimmer

From Goodreads:

When Marshall King and Elyse Alton suddenly wake up tangled in each other’s arms with zero memory of how they got there or even who they are, it’s the start of a long journey through their separate pasts and shared future.

Terrified by their amnesia, Marshall and Elyse make a pact to work together to find the answers that could restore their missing memories. As they piece together clues about their lives, they discover that they’re in the idyllic mountain resort town of Summer Falls. Everyone seems happy there, but as Marshall and Elyse quickly learn, darkness lurks beneath the town’s perfect facade. Not only is the town haunted by sinister ghosts, but none of its living inhabitants retain bad memories of anything—not the death of Marshall’s mom, not the hidden violence in Elyse’s family, not even the day-to-day anguish of being a high schooler.

Lonely in this world of happy zombies, Marshall and Elyse fall into an intense relationship founded on their mutual quest for truth. But the secrets they’re trying to uncover could be the death of this budding love affair—and of everyone, and everything, they love in Summer Falls.

It’s well-written, but because Marshall and Elyse are amnesiatic, their lives are somewhat discombobulated and fragmentary, which makes it a little hard to follow and harder still to connect with them. I feel like I’m going to have to read this one at least one more time to fully understand it, but it may turn out to be much better on the second reading.

It is $3.99 on Amazon right now, for Kindle. It’s very much worth it, especially at that price, despite my perspective.

 

Life As We Knew It

From Audible, which is where I bought it:

Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the Moon closer to the Earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove. Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all, hope, in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world.

It’s a story about the end of the world, told from a teenager’s perspective. As a writer, I’d say the author did a really good job with the voice of the book; it very much sounds like a teenager telling the story. As a reader, though, I think she did a little too good of a job. Her bubble-gum-popping tone and focus on things like dates and friends made me feel like the real plot was passing me by unnoticed by Miranda. Indeed, there didn’t seem to be much of a plot other than day after day of she and her family surviving the slow destruction of Earth. To tell the truth, I can’t finish this one, even though I’m more than halfway through. Very little has actually happened.

Life As We Knew It is only $6.19 on Amazon right now, which is a pretty good price too:

Announcement?

Preparatory to an announcement of some additions that I hope to be making to HeadOverBooks in the next few weeks, I’m doing some research. Would you mind completing this very short, three-question survey if you read 10 or fewer books a year, or even sharing it with your followers and friends online? I watched this dispiriting Jimmy Kimmel clip the other day, about how little people actually read, and want to understand why.

Don’t worry: I’m not doing this survey so I can try to convince more people to read; I just want to understand where they’re coming from so that I can plan changes to my website that will meet people’s needs. Hint: those changes might involve video games and movies. What do you think?

Book Review: The Lie Tree, A Spellbinding Read

You know those books that you can’t stop reading? You get so immersed in them that you read them for hours at a time, like you were watching a movie, and when you’re done, you feel…a little empty. Not only do I enjoy those kinds of books, but I take copious notes as to exactly how they achieve it. It’s one thing to feel it, it’s another to understand why.  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge was one such book for me, but honestly, I’m still not sure if I fully understand why it moved me so much. Let me tell you about it, and see what you think.

What Is The Lie Tree About?

Here’s the description from the back cover:

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is modest and well mannered–a proper young lady who knows her place. But inside, Faith is burning with questions and curiosity. She keeps sharp watch of her surroundings and, therefore, knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing–like the real reason her family fled Kent to the close-knit island of Vane. And that her father’s death was no accident.

In pursuit of revenge and justice for the father she idolizes, Faith hunts through his possessions, where she discovers a strange tree. A tree that bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit, in turn, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder. Or, it might lure the murderer directly to Faith herself, for lies–like fires, wild and crackling–quickly take on a life of their own.

Faith, in her pursuit of an outlet for her cleverness and answers to the questions posed by her father’s murder, nurtures the tree and ingests the fruit, but the things she discovers aren’t the things she thought she would.

What Makes It Great?

So picture a brambly English moor, like the one in Wuthering Heights, and a turbulent coast that hides lots of caves, like the kind in Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (another great book I need to review here), or Willowkeep by Julie Daines. It’s moody and creepily magic. So a mystical setting is one thing that sets this books apart, but it’s not all.

And the prose is strong, as in this paragraph:

She was very aware of herself, of her own lungs filling and emptying. She could feel where the china saucer dented her fingers, and the shapes of her teeth against her dry tongue. Something warm was spilling from her eyes down her cheeks. Suddenly she was hotly, unbearably alive.

The whole book is like that, a great example to me as a writer of “showing” and not “telling.” But it’s more than the setting and the prose.

Its underlying theme of seeking respect, particularly women seeking respect from men who aren’t willing to give it, is one that was artfully woven into the plot and is relevant today. It’s Faith unwittingly seeking an answer, through the process of trying to solve her father’s murder, to the question of whether one should seek to demand respect from those who withhold it, or not worry about what anyone else thinks, even if that limits your circumstances. I think that’s a question all of us have sought the answer to at one time or another. So, it’s the setting and the prose and the theme.

But that’s still not sufficient. What makes The Lie Tree extraordinary is something that I’m not sure can be adequately articulated by anyone, and that is how it makes one feel. The reader wants Faith to get the notice she desires from her father before he dies, to have people recognize her intellect and help her nurture it, and to solve the mystery surrounding her father’s death. She’s a good, well-drawn robust character.

So, Who Would Like The Lie Tree, And Why?

There’s no romance, so if you like romance in your books, don’t read this. If you like mysteries like Shatter, you’ll like this. If you liked any book in the Harry Potter series, you’ll like The Lie Tree. It’s also a little like Colorless by Rita Stradling. It’s just a really good book!

 

Book Review: Memory of Fire, a Rich Read

I found myself jumping back and forth between four books this past week: Memory of Fire by Callie Bates (speculative), Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA sci-fi/apocalyptic), Torment by Lauren Kate (paranormal?) , and Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis (sci-fi/paranormal?).  Let me tell you about Memory.

What Memory of Fire is About And Who Would Like It

Memory is the sequel to The Waking Land, which I reviewed here. Like that book, it is a rousing story of magic versus evil, told in vivid first-person. It is rich in storylines, thick in ambience, and strong in style. It’s the story of Jahan Korakides, who is called to broker peace with the nation of Paladis after he helps his girlfriend, Elanna Valtai, win peace over the despotic ruler of the smaller kingdoms of Eren and Caeris. Elanna and Jahan are both sorcerers, though Elanna’s magic is a much more powerful, land-based power.

As Jahan seeks that peace with the monarchs of Paladis, the story also becomes very much one of him striving to overcome the damage and trauma done to him when he was young by a woman hired by his father to grow his magical powers, and find his brothers, who were also hurt by her. The monarchs of Paladis want to eliminate sorcery altogether, and don’t know that Jahan is a sorcerer and tied so closely to Elanna. The citizens of Paladis want Jahan to lead a rebellion that would have sorcerers holding just as much political power, if not more, than non-sorcerers. He just wants to heal, find his brothers, and get to safety, but quickly finds his way blocked and a different course laid out for him.

If I were to depict it in a video, as I’m wont to do, it would be this one:

 

..only perhaps sped up a little bit and with multi-colored threads as opposed to only white ones. The finished product is intricately-woven, moves at breakneck speed, and satisfies not only those readers looking for fantasy, but also those looking for high political intrigue, romance, and deft world-building.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

There are a few swear words and one or two allusions to sex. There are many references to the importance of family ties, no matter how difficult they can be to maintain. There is mention of a gay relationship, handled in a very gentle way. A good amount of violence.

Anything Wrong?

If I gave Memory of Fire anything less than a full 10 stars on my 10-star scale, I’d have to dock all books with the trope of a power-hungry antagonist (or two), and there are too many of those to count. I’ve read so many books lately where the antagonist is a flat character only motivated purely by a lust for power. What does it say about me that I want a little more dimension in the antagonists I read about?

 

Disclosure: I received a free ARC of Memory of Fire from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Book Review: Fallen is a Mesmerizing Read

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching my husband flick through Amazon Video options when he came across a movie called Fallen.  Its premise—that a teenage girl has to go to reform school because she was blamed for (and is sure she accidentally caused) the death of a young boy,  and she finds herself drawn to a fellow student at that school, unaware that he is an angel who has loved her for thousands of years—sounded intriguing to me. Since my hubby deemed it too “chick flick” to watch, I looked it up and found that it was based on a book of the same name. So, of course, I bought the book. It was indeed a “chick” book, centered as it was upon the relationship between Luce, the girl, and Daniel, the boy, and for that reason, as well as reasons of its own, it was a very enjoyable read.

What Fallen Is About

As mentioned, it’s about Luce (pronounced like “loose”) meeting Daniel and trying to figure out why he steadfastly avoids her and is even occasionally mean to her, though she keeps finding herself in weirdly dangerous circumstances from which he has to save her. It’s about the friends she makes while there, the terror she lives with every day because of her fear that whatever she saw kill that other young boy will come back, and the fact that memories of Daniel–many memories–keep surfacing in Luce’s head.

Why Fallen Is Enjoyable…Maybe Even Addictive

After reading the book, I had to get the movie, which was only available for purchase through Amazon Video (it’s not on Netflix or Redbox). I was struck, while watching it, with how much it resembled the first Twilight movie. They shared similar themes: a teenage girl inexplicably but powerfully drawn to a very handsome teenage boy, but he does everything he can to avoid her, even though he’s drawn even more powerfully to her. The Fallen movie and the first Twilight movie also shared a similar “indie” feel, drawn from rainy surroundings, non-mainstream music, and creative-and-definitely-not-high-budget special effects. There’s also a definite love triangle going on.

The books are thus easily comparable, and in that vein, there’s much less internal dialogue in Fallen than there was in Twilight. Luce is an intriguing main character who has a refreshingly good relationship with her parents, though they don’t feature prominently in this book. She’s kind, cute, and smart.

And while Fallen doesn’t end with a cliffhanger per se, it does end with at least as many open questions as answered ones. I immediately ordered the sequel to it, and the sequel to that, and expect that I’ll get the last two books in the pentalogy after that.

Who Might Like Fallen

Obviously, anyone who liked Twilight will like this book. If you like star-crossed love stories, you will love this story. If you like books with a bit of a gothic feel, you’ll like this.

Book Review: Plastic Magician, an Imaginative Read

If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Charlie Holmberg. I loved her books The Fifth Doll and Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. So, when given the opportunity by Netgalley to review a free ARC of her most recent book, The Plastic Magician, to be released on May 15th, I jumped at it. While this book, the fourth in her Paper Magician series, was an imaginative, fun read, it wasn’t quite the caliber of the other books I’ve read of hers. But I still recommend it, if you’re looking for something light and easy.

What Plastic Magician Is About

Alvie Brechenmacher is an apprentice in the field of plastic magic; she can bespell the substance to do any number of things, as long as she studies hard under her mentor, the world-renowned magician Marion Praff.  Alvie’s enthusiasm reinvigorates her mentor’s work, and together they create a device that could forever change Polymaking (the magic of materials). But Magician Praff has a bitter rival who learns of their plans and conspires to steal their invention and take the credit for it himself.

Alvie is a wonderful main character, a young woman who is smart, clueless in the ways of romance, attractive, mechanically inclined, eager, clumsy, and excited. As part of her apprenticeship, she’s required to do volunteer work at a local hospital, where she meets and befriends a young girl who has recently had her arm amputated. She happens to meet the girl’s brother, Bennet Cooper, and a cute romance develops between them.

Who Would Like This Book

Even though Alvie’s in her early twenties, I think the people that would most like this book would be young girls between the ages of 8 and 20. The plot, because it involves minimal conflict and a lot of magic, is more middle-grade than young adult. And, if you read and liked The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, or The Master Magician, you’d probably like this book too, although I’m told that Alvie is quite different than the main character of those books, Ceony.

 

Book Review: Dreamstrider, an Enchanting and Fascinating, if Esoteric, Read

Imagine you have a beautiful pearl necklace, long and made up of many beautifully-iridescent and perfectly-shaped orbs. It’s one-of-a-kind, with multiple strands intricately woven around each other.  You love everything about it except for the fact that the orbs are threaded on a gossamer-thin string that makes it difficult to wear without breaking. Just taking it off the hook of your necklace holder and shaking it a little to make the strands flow instead of bunch has broken the string in the past. But you love it, and you can’t re-string it on a stronger filament, so you keep it on the hook and just admire it. Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith is like that pearl necklace, I think, amazingly rich and beautifully-written, but with too-thin connections between some plot points. Its premise is at once fascinating and grand, even while based on something so intimate as dreams, but it’s that very premise and grandness that makes it a tiny bit too esoteric for me. All in all, though, Dreamstrider is a very worthwhile, fascinating read.

What Dreamstrider is About

Indeed, I dare say that Dreamstrider’s plotthe intricately-woven strands—is complex enough that I feel like I need to read it again at least one more time to fully understand it and fully appreciate it. It’s about the ability of the main character, Livia, to enter other peoples’ dreams, and through that, to don the bodies. Her ability makes her useful as a spy for the Barstadt Empire, and as such, provides her with the means to get herself out of the Tunnels where she was born–out of a life of abject poverty, servitude, and gang violence. While she’s happy to be of use to her kingdom, even though it’s based on a caste system that deprives her of full citizenship because of where she was born, she’s unsure of her real value to anyone else and thus unsure of what she really wants out of life and whether or not she deserves anything more. When she and her spy partner, Brandt, uncover a plot against the Empire that threatens both the dream and waking worlds, Livia is presented with the opportunity to prove herself and earn a new station in society…if she can figure out who the enemy really is and where her value truly lies.

I bought this book because 1) I’m fascinated by dreams and 2) I wrote two books about a girl whose dreams have a certain power, and I’m trying to read every traditionally-published fiction book about dreams to identify ways in which my books are both similar to and different from what’s already out there.

What Are Dreamstrider’s Strengths?

If you’re looking to be enchanted by a book’s writing, then you will love Dreamstrider. Take this paragraph, for example:

An icy breeze whips around us, raking like nails across my exposed skin. His question steers my gaze toward the mountain peaks in the east; try as I might, I can’t help but look at the ancient bones strung across the high mountain ridge, the massive ribs on the mountainside curled like the rusted bars of a cage. The Nightmare Wastes’ words echo in my mind; soft as silk, they slither around me until they tighten into a knot.

Every page of this book is filled with graceful and evocative descriptions like these, carrying the reader easily into Livia’s world, which is rich and emotionally-charged. But Smith doesn’t caught up in descriptions just for beauty’s sake; each one also carries the weight of progressing character relationships and motives as well.

What Are Dreamstrider’s Not-Strengths?

That being said, though, sometimes those beautiful words are wrapped around fragile inferences made about scattered clues along tangled plot strands. Livia and Brandt, for instance, are tasked with finding the source of the threat against the empire, and assume it’s the Commandant of the Land of the Iron Winds, a land south of the Barstadt Empire with a dictatorial commandant. They go on a spy mission, with Livia donning the body of one of the Commandant’s generals, to find out more about the Commandant’s plans. This leads to them cooperating with some operatives from Farthing, a country to Barstadt’s east, which presents a challenge for Livia, as Farthing is acting as an ally, but not one that is close enough that she can reveal her ability to their operatives. She dips into the dreamworld as herself to investigate some research her mentor left behind that might help her push her ability to the extent that it needs to be pushed to find out who’s colluding with the Commandant because, during the spy mission, he alluded to using a mystic and having a great warbeast. Livia’s dreamworld dip leads her to find that something important is missing from her mentor’s dreamworld (one that he created, like the characters of the movie Inception). From that, Livia infers that Marez, one of the Farthing operatives with whom she’s working, is the Commandant’s mystic, and that Marez promised the Commandant a warbeast, which is the resurrection of the giant monster on the high mountain ridge: Nightmare.

Such an inference is crucial for the plot to unfold correctly, and to reveal that Marez is more of a threat, really, than the Commandant, but it seems much too fragile, based primarily on what Livia guesses is missing from her mentor’s dreamworld. I like that Marez turns out to be the bigger threat because the Commandant is much too flat of a character (i.e., just power hungry, with no back story whatsoever). But the plot would have been stronger if there was something to corroborate Livia’s guess. Maybe there was and I was too dumb to see it. If you read Dreamstrider and see that was something else, please let me know in the comments below!

And, as you can probably tell, Livia’s excursions into the dreamworld, either as herself while she’s sleeping or as other people while she’s using their dreaming bodies, add a plot layer that is neat and not bound by the rules of reality, but also confusing, vague, and difficult to determine meaning in the waking world. This layer blends with reality at the climax of the book in a way that deftly ties together many plot strands but also left me scratching my head in puzzlement a little bit. So, if you also like books that tease your brain, you’ll like Dreamstrider.

To sum up, then, Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith is an enchanting and brain-teasing read, if a little tenuously-constructed and esoteric at times. I’d give it 7 out of my 10 stars. Nutrition facts: no swearing, no sex, some violence, good theme (self-worth).

Book Review: Caraval, A Good Distraction

Oh, you guys, I’m so happy to be not sick anymore, or at least not as sick as I have been! I’m way behind in posting my reviews because I’ve been struggling with the flu. It’s been a bad bug: 104° fever, chills, body aches, gut-wrenching cough, headache, extreme exhaustion, etc. On top of that, my youngest was struggling with the croup. You need to get the flu shot so as not to get this bug; my husband got the vaccination and, while he flirted with getting sick for a day or two, ultimately didn’t, even though he was highly exposed to the germ.

Bur First: My Reactions to the Florida Shooting

Honestly though, I’ve also been struggling with a deep sense of worry, fear, and disappointment after the shooting in Florida. Many of the kids who were shot were the same age as my oldest child. As a mother, my first reaction was to want take my kids out of public school altogether. My second was to start looking into what it would take to move our whole family to a more peaceful country. My third was to make a list of things I felt like I could do immediately to lessen the chances of something like this happening in my community. My fourth was to laugh at my list and myself for thinking that I might have any power to do anything to stem the tide of these awful shootings. My fifth was to stop laughing and break down each of the things on my list into action steps I could do each day, because if I don’t do them, I feel like the only way to truly keep my kids and my family safe will be to move to a different country. And maybe hibernate.

My sixth reaction was to write this post, and by so doing, I hope I can spark some kind of conversation that will inspire people beyond just myself to take action so that the number of shootings decreases.  I can’t imagine continuing to live in a world where it’s entirely possible that someone will walk into my children’s school and start shooting. I don’t want to live with that fear, and I can’t imagine any of you do either. But we’ve become a country so divided, so unable to speak civilly with each other, that resolving this doesn’t seem possible. And so, except for the surviving Florida high school students who are marching on their state legislature and later on Congress, the rest of us seem to be throwing our hands up in the air.

We cannot. We must not. For our own safety, and the safety of our children, we should not. But what can be done, you say? If our elected leaders haven’t been able to figure out a solution to the gun control debate, what hope is there? I say there is a lot. Preventing more shootings isn’t just a matter of guns ( I realize that some of you might say it isn’t a matter of guns at all, but humor me for a bit); it’s far more complex than that. I promise I’ll tie a book or two into this.

Brainstorming Some Possible Solutions to Prevent More Shootings

Here’s what I think we need, and what I’m doing to be a part of the solution:

  • more civil dialogue: we are at a crucial part in our development as a society.  We have the “microphone” of social media to our mouths, and, like children, we haven’t matured in our use of it well enough to use it for much more than idle chitchat, hating, shaming, or the occasional fundraising campaign. One of my favorite nonfiction books— Crucial Conversations Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry PattersonJoseph GrennyRon McMillan— makes several really good recommendations, such as: check your motives, agree before you disagree, establish common goals, and establish mutual respect. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone who has a social media account, or for that matter, has a mouth.  I’m trying to teach principles from Crucial Conversations to my kids.
  • less consumption of violence: after the the Florida shooting, I was particularly sensitive to what media my kids consumed on the family screen and desktop and on their own devices. I’ve never let them play any video games with an M rating, or watch any content with an R-rating (and sometimes even a PG-13 rating). It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of that, given the many ways they can get content these days, the fact that violence is so prevalent in so much of what we watch, and the fact that they fight me almost every step of the way, as if they don’t have access to a million other ways to entertain themselves with non-violent media content.  I don’t think I can allow my kids to play first-person shooter video games and not expect them to get desensitized to the act of shooting other people. To a similar extent, same thing with allowing to watch violence in movies, YouTube videos, etc.
  • more empathy/sympathy: over and over again, the academic books and studies I’ve read show how the tendency that we have to commodify other humans, define them as other than us, criticize them or make them seem less than human is a tendency that is growing all too common in our society. Dr. Brent Slife, in his book Frailty, Suffering, and Vice (which I reviewed here), says: “the cultural emphasis on individual separateness is part of the problem.” We tend to abstract others, or view them as a part of the world that is “out there,” and only existing to potentially meet our needs. The internet only heightens this.  “Commodifying people is another kind of self-inflicted wound because it makes it all the more difficult to form the special, committed, caring relationships we so clearly need.” How else could someone justify walking into a school and shooting countless unarmed people, and then go and get a sandwich at a nearby Subway, like the Florida shooter? How else could the Las Vegas shooter justify shooting more than 50 unarmed people from afar? While I’m not saying that anyone who has a hard time empathizing or sympathizing with someone else is going to end up shooting a bunch of people, I am saying that there has to be an association. For my part, I try as much as possible to talk about what other people might be feeling or thinking in ways that my kids can understand. I seek out social media content and engagement opportunities that enables me to understand other peoples’ points of view.
  • encourage better mental healthcare infrastructure: we know now, after so many shootings, that mental illness plays a part in some of the shootings. It was a factor in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Would it be possible to ask our legislators to at least investigate the possibility of requiring psychological evaluations for anyone wishing to buy a gun? Would that help? Do we have data on that? If we were to encourage more people to get degrees in social work, psychology, and psychiatry, provide scholarships for them to do so, expand funding for mental healthcare nonprofits and agencies, and expand funding for research into the causes of and possible cures for mental illnesses, would that make a difference? I want to know!
  • make it illegal for the press to name the shooters: if the motive of a shooter is notoriety, wouldn’t asking our legislators to make the naming of the shooters in press reports about the shootings illegal help to remove the possibility for that notoriety?
  • funding for more protection at schools: if nothing else, would it be possible to provide funding for training of veterans or off-duty police officers to serve as armed guards at schools?

Caraval, a Good Distraction

In an effort to distract myself from my illness and these difficult questions, I read Caraval by Stephanie Garber this past week. It’s about a girl who gets swept up in an all-consuming game, one that involves other players competing for a prize given by a magical but very mysterious host named Legend. She goes to escape her abusive father, rescue her flighty sister, and meet Legend, but finds that nothing in the game is what it seems to be and that she stands to lose much more than she gains, if she can gain anything.

Because almost the whole book is set in the game, in and around an isolated island village that exists solely for the purpose of Caraval, the book’s setting is at once enchanting and bewildering. It’s full of quaint dress shops, evil tunnels, and enchanted bridges. It’s populated primarily by other contestants in the game who are competing against Scarlett (the main character), and the actors in the game, the people Legend sets in strategic locations at certain times to confuse or help the players. It’s like the reality show Survivor meets the movie Alice Through the Looking Glass.

This book’s strengths are its unpredictability and its style. It is rich with both. As a distraction, it was effective. As a depiction of the complicatedness of human nature, it was accurate, even given the outrageous premise. It was a good read, overall.

 

 

 

Have you read Caraval? Did you like it? What are your thoughts about what we can do to prevent more mass shootings?