Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Dark Room Etiquette by Robin Roe

Dark Room Etiquette is a YA thriller that was sent to me by the publisher. This book will be released in two weeks on October 11. 

Sayer Wayte has grown up with a life of money and privilege. One day, a man run Sayer off the road and kidnaps him. This man, Caleb, chains Sayer and tells him that he is his real father, that Sayer's parents kidnapped him when he was 10 and that his real name is Daniel. He eventually acts the part of Daniel to survive, as the months go by and his escape attempts continue to fail. But eventually, he loses himself. Eventually faced with a re-entry into society, Sayer must rediscover who he is.

I'll admit, I had trouble caring about Sayer in the beginning, when he was a bully. But nobody deserves what happened to him. I haven't read a book that made me cry, really cry, in a long time. I'm not sure if that is embarrassing or not, but Dark Room Etiquette is emotionally jarring with how real it feels. There was one particular scene in the classroom with crayons that stirred something inside me. I don't think I have ever read a book so accurate about Stockholm Syndrome and the lasting trauma that follows, likely due to Roe's experience in psychology and special education. It also makes me upset that the school didn't offer him more support. The nerve of that guidance counselor! Doesn't he know what Sayer went through? 

Many books surrounding kidnappings end pretty quickly after the person is found or escaped, but I loved that a good chunk of the book focused on the aftermath of that event. The dynamic between Sayer and Evan was particularly interesting to me, and I was so happy that he had someone to talk to, to help him make sense of what he went through in that house. Dealing with this trauma has a different component when his memories became distorted, when everything that he thought was true and his beliefs about himself and the people he loved were challenged. For some parts that I was reading, I actually wondered if Caleb was telling the truth. Roe manipulated Sayer just as the reader. We are both in the dark and battling the same lack of knowledge. 

I highly recommend this book! I already re-read it, as I loved it so much.

Title: Dark Room Etiquette 
Author: Robin Roe
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 512
Series: No
Rating: 5 Stars

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Memories of Eskar Wilde by E.H. Wilde

The Memories of Eskar Wilde is a YA realistic fiction book that was sent to me by the author. Eskar Wilde had just turned 18, and faced with grief and uncertainty, he sits down to write a memoir of his life over the past few years. From his father's suspicious death to his unfortunate love life, Eskar tells a story filled with mystery and mistakes.

While organized as a memoir, the author explained that too much of it was fictionalized to be labeled that way. E.H. Wilde is also a pen name.

Despite the informal tone, the writing still felt sophisticated. I tend to enjoy books that are structured as journals and where the reader feels valued by the protagonist. Eskar is a good person who highly values his family, and I enjoyed reading the passages that focused on the relationship between him and his mother. I was pleased that he acknowledged his mistakes and had a matured sense of self-reflection. I was initially concerned that he wasn't allowing himself to feel grief, anger, and sadness, but I was happy with Eskar's emotional development towards the end. 

The Memories of Eskar Wilde isn't particularly exciting, but it is still an intriguing and perhaps a calming story. I am not a person who understands French, and I am grateful that the translations to French dialogue were given in the footer. I am a person who highly values background information, but the one complaint that I would have is that at times it felt like too much information, and at times I skimmed some pages in a rush to find out what happens next! The ending was most certainly bittersweet. While I was secretly hoping for a happily-ever-after, I appreciate how it stuck to realistic outcomes. 

I recommend that you read this book!

Title: The Memories of Eskar Wilde
Author: E.H Wilde
Publisher: Tablo Pubishing
Pages: 384
Series: No
Rating: 4 Stars

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Laela and the Moonline by Lisa Perskie

Laela and the Moonline is a YA fantasy book that was sent to me by the author. Laela, a Treedle, is transitioning into womanhood, and is faced with deep internal conflict of what a woman should be. She loves hunting and adventuring, activities reserved for men. All that she should be looking forward to is finding a mate. Challenged by confusing visions, she embarks on a quest to learn about the culture and customs of the Mergon society below them. As she falls in love with an exiled prince and is faced with great danger, Laela unknowingly fulfills an ancient prophecy of reunification and future change to both of their cultures.

Laela and the Moonline is politically and socially powerful. For a fantasy, it reads much more like historical fiction from Mesopotamian traditional society with the Mergons being the Aztecans and the Incas as the Treedles. This story is powerful and inspiring for women and girls everywhere. I am not a religious person, and I was initially concerned with its abundance. However, as the story went on, I was impressed with how Laela blossomed into a force for existentialism as well as her faith.

 I am proud of Laela for recognizing the unfairness of traditional gender roles and stigmas around what a woman should be by attempting to educate others. I also relate to Laela. I was always more intellectually mature and morally responsible than my peers, and I have questioned the traditional routes for a woman. Despite being a teenager, she speaks with a voice of enlightenment, sincerity, and a politeness. I have no doubt that she will accomplish much in her life as a leader. While it seems as though Laela enlightened some of the Mergons, it worries me that her people will be invaded, tortured, and forever inslaved by Marl in revenge. How will the peaceful Treedles defend themselves? Will her words in Mergon court inspire the common people to rebel against him? I wonder what the new golden age as a result of her union with Mateo holds. I hope Perskie will write a sequel.

I highly recommend this book!

Title: Laela and the Moonline
Author: Lisa Perskie
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
Pages: 376
Series: No 
Rating: 5 Stars

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Prince of Infinite Space by Giano Cromley

The Prince of Infinite Space is a New Adult realistic fiction book that was sent to me by the publisher and is released today! 

A few years later in a sequel to The Last Good Halloween,  Kirby is doing well at the military school and has found a passion for journalism. But when the top editor position for the school newspaper is given to someone just because of their socioeconomic status, he loses his progress. He stumbles on a newspaper clipping that shows Izzy, his once-girlfriend, homeless in Chicago. When his father randomly shows up at the school and wants to take him to meet his dying grandmother near Chicago, Kirby seizes the moment to find her.

Kirby based his self-worth and purpose in life based on journalism, and I can understand how this loss sent him spiraling into depression and defiance. Getting in a dark car with someone you've never met, that claims to be your father, is definitely not something I would do, but I can understand and appreciate his motives. To be honest, I skimmed some of the middle passages about his biological father because I was just so excited to see Izzie again! I loved Kirby being on the streets searching for Izzie, but unfortunately their reunion was not what I was imagining and hoping for.

It is a shorter read than the first book, and I do wish that the author had made the book longer; instead of listing examples of what happened, it would have been nice to experience them. I also wish the ending was more concrete. However, The Prince of Infinite Dreams was still well-written and its depiction of homelessness and mental illness was accurate. To be honest, I liked the first book much better than the sequel. However, I am still glad that I read it!

I recommend this book! While the publisher advertised it as a possible stand-alone, I highly recommend reading the first book first to have adequate background knowledge.

Title: The Prince of Infinite Space
Author: Giano Cromley
Publisher: Propertius Press
Pages: 171
Series: Yes, Book 2 of 2
Rating: 4 Stars

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Last Good Halloween by Giano Cromley

The Last Good Halloween is a New Adult realistic fiction story set in the 1980s. This book was set to me by the author. Kirby Russo returns from summer camp to find his stepfather missing and his mother having already moved on with one of their neighbors. Angry and conflicted with his missing father figure and all the new changes in his life, he makes some impulsive decisions that include deciding to steal the car of his friend's parents and running away to find his stepfather. 

The Last Good Halloween feels like a classic written in the 1980s and not one written about the 1980s in 2013. I was impressed with how realistic the setting felt. The publisher compared Kirby to Holden Caulfield in her email to me, and I can imagine an essay prompt now to compare and contrast the two characters. I also enjoyed the literary references to Hamlet. 

When I was reading The Last Good Halloween, I couldn't stop thinking about the song "Welcome to the Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance, as Kirby's situation seems to mirror the song in some ways. The same fears that follow the son in the song are similar to Kirby's, with the missing of his father figure, the fear of loss, his fixation on what others think of him/how he would be remembered, and his confliction over religion. I also appreciated the diversity of the characters, and I particularly was fond of Izzy's story. I'm excited to see the continuation of her story. A prequel from her perspective would also be nice. The strength of a novel is often heavily identified by how relatable and likable the protagonist is. I wouldn't say Kirby is easily likable with his attitude, but he is very relatable. 

I highly recommend this book and am excited to read the sequel, The Prince of Infinite Space, that will be released on August 2nd!

Title: The Last Good Halloween
Author: Giano Cromley
Publisher: Tortoise Books
Pages: 240
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 2
Rating: 5 Stars

Friday, July 15, 2022

The First to Die at the End By Adam Silvera (Death-Cast #0)

The First to Die At The End is the prequel to the bestseller YA realistic/science fiction book They Both Die at the End. This book was sent to me by the publisher, and it will be released on October 4, 2022. 

Have you ever played Would You Rather and have had one of the questions be if you would rather know how you are going to die or when? Death-Cast cannot predict how you are going to die, but they can mysteriously predict when. On the first night that Death-Cast goes live in New York City, Orion Pagan and Valentino Prince bump into each other, and feel a connection. Unfortunately, one of them receives a call from Death-Cast, and the other doesn't. They decide to spend their last day together, forging a relationship surely to end in heartbreak.

When I wrote my review in 2019 of They Both Die at the End, I wrote that I was conflicted regarding the lack of background knowledge on the Death-Cast system. I am very pleased with the prequel, which answered many of my questions. I assume that many people shared the same concerns that I had since a prequel instead of a sequel was written. I did not find out how specifically the company's software predicted the deaths. However, the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe it was a good idea to let us wonder.

It is unrealistic to think that the author listened to my feedback on the speed and forcefulness of the romance between Rufus and Mateo, but this book was a major improvement. Orion and Valentino took their romantic relationship slowly, and built up to being a couple through friendship. While the specific scenario in the book seemed a bit of a stretch, it all seemed reasonable considering the sad circumstances. I loved both Valentino and Orion; their dedication to being kind to others and supporting each other, even though they had only just met, is admirable. 

I am happy in particular that the book explored the childhoods of the two main characters in the first book. When I realized that the prequel starred two different boys than the first book, I was a little concerned about how the two books would connect. I was surprised by the multiple perspectives and how they all overlapped in the end. Normally, I hate books where characters die, especially when I become attached to them. But Silvera did a good job of making the ending empowering and also hopeful, despite the loss. 

I highly recommend this book! Read my review of They Both Die at the End, and also More Happy Than Not, also by Silvera. 

Title: The First to Die at the End
Author: Adam Silvera
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 416
Series: Yes, Book 0 of 2
Rating: 5 Stars

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Dark Knife (Marked Book 2) by A.F.E. Smith

The Dark Knife is the second book in the young adult fantasy series Marked. This book was sent to me by the author. Alyssia has returned back to her normal life, thinking that she has defeated her brother Ifor. As she struggles to cope with what she went through, she is faced with the painful realization that her friends in Endarion are still in danger. As she makes the difficult decision to return, she unknowingly steps back into a centuries-old cycle that entwines their deadly fate.

My favorite parts of the book were not in Endarion, but the short parts that take place back in our world with Peter and Becca. The author skillfully placed these passages between key events. Sometimes with epic fantasy or dystopian novels, it can be overwhelming to keep reading. Smith provided a break to process what had previously happened and brace oneself for the next. 

All of the central characters have internal struggles to overcome events in their past. The Dark Knife particularly dove into the trauma of domestic violence and not only its long-lasting psychological impact on future relationships and sexuality, but also the views of society as a whole. No spoilers as to who, but I'm glad that the author included LGBTQ characters, and I'm excited to see what romances might develop in the coming books. Note that I also labeled the book as New Adult for some of that content.

Alyssia's devotion to her friends in that other world is amazing, and I know that if she were me, I would never go back to the medieval world of Endarion. Her courage is impressive, but it is also related to her trauma and struggle to cope with the events from the prior book and her knowledge of who she really is. (Although, do we really know that? Just when we thought it was all figured out, the ending throws a new curveball of wondering.) Speaking of the ending, I don't like it when people die, but what is the alternative- happy endings for everyone? In some stories, there simply aren't happily-ever-after's possible, and while I am very sad for some of the characters, I appreciate that the author stayed true to Endarion's significant difficulties.

I highly recommend this book! I am very much looking forward to reading the next book, Daughter of the Sky, and I have some predictions/ideas that I hope will come true!

Title: The Dark Knife
Author: A.F.E. Smith
Publisher: IronWright Books
Pages: 420
Series: Yes, Book 2 of 5
Rating: 5 Stars

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