fiction · Science Fiction · Uncategorized

The Last Best Hope (Star Trek: Picard #1) by Una McCormack

This book straddles the time between the end of The Next Generation and the new CBS Picard television show. The only problem with watching the show before reading this book is that I find myself wanting to re-experience the first season all over again!


SYNOPSIS

A thrilling novel leading into the new CBS series, Una McCormack’s The Last Best Hope introduces you to brand new characters featured in the life of beloved Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard—widely considered to be one of the most popular and recognizable characters in all of science fiction.

picard
A dark cover features actor Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard looking directly at the reader.

REVIEW

I can only assume that this book blurb is so short because anyone who would read a Star Trek book is already a big enough fan of the show, series, or character that no further enticement is needed. And, I’ll admit this directly up front: I love Jean-Luc Picard but I wouldn’t consider myself a Star Trek fan. Probably more specifically I am a Patrick Stewart fan. I will follow this actor and therefore this character anywhere through any universe and story. Still, I’ve never been moved enough by the idea of Star Trek to venture into other storylines. With that being said, I know my Jean-Luc and Una McCormack delivers him beautifully.

“The Romulan star is about to go supernova.”

With that statement, Jean-Luc’s career is thrown in chaos alongside the millions, if not billions, of Roman people that will have to be moved from worlds will which shortly cease to exist and settled on new planets. Throughout the story we see, as we always have, Jean-Luc struggle with the delicate balance of being a Star Fleet officer and his core desire to protect those he feels are the most vulnerable.

Una McCormack uses shifting narratives to tell the many different stories of this nightmare situation. Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker, Gordi La Forge, Bruce Maddox, and Nokim Vritet take up the bulk of the narrative with other characters adding what is needed for perspective. I adored the Qowat Milat, the female based kick-ass warrior nuns with their open hearts and absolute candor. And I grew to despise the Tal Shiar, the secret Romulan group that seemed to be everything outsiders distrusted in Romulans concentrated to an evil level.

There were times that the sheer number of narratives grew overwhelming (a theme for me this week with my review of Aurora Rising). But the inclusion of so many felt necessary. Watching their stories, struggles, and eventual successes and failures weave together towards the conclusion of the story only made me want to pick up all the people, all the pieces, and put them back together again. Happily, I can do so simply by watching the first season of Picard again.

This book also echoed sentiments that are all around us regarding immigration, the needs of some versus the desires of others, and the politics behind helping people. I couldn’t help but see the parallels between this story and the struggles of so many trying to come to America. Layer upon layer, it was time well spent with a favorite character, on an issue that transcended science fiction.


Tell me, please!

Who is your favorite Star Trek character?


 

Fantasy · fiction · Mystery

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

No book in 2020 has captured my attention and my imagination like this work of historical fiction. Jess Kidd’s story took me back through time and challenged my reality in a book I simply could not put down.


SYNOPSIS

Bridie Devine, female detective extraordinaire, is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors trading curiosities in this age of discovery.

Winding her way through the labyrinthine, sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing a past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where spectacle is king and nothing is quite what it seems.

Blending darkness and light, history and folklore, Things in Jars is a spellbinding Gothic mystery that collapses the boundary between fact and fairy tale to stunning effect and explores what it means to be human in inhumane times. from Goodreads.

thingsinjars


REVIEW

I’m struggling a bit to discuss this book. Every time I try to bring some coherent thought to my opinions I am left babbling over and over again, “It was so good. So, so sooooooooo good.” I have attempted (repeatedly) to shake my head to clear my thoughts but I keep returning to the same refrain. So, forgive me. I’m going to try…

It is London, 1863, and Mrs. Bridget Devine’s occupation is as mysterious as the plaque that hangs near her front door. It reads,

Mrs. Devine

Domestic Investigations

Minor Surgery (Esp. Boils, Warts, Extractions)

Discretion Assured

But, before we even gain a glimpse of Bridie’s home and her housekeeper Cora, the only seven-foot-tall housemaid in London, we have already followed Bridie through the graveyard, stumbled across the ghost of an incredibly attractive boxer, and watched as she investigated a long dead skeleton of a mother and a not quite human baby. All this before page 30.

I mean, honestly. This book!

The mystery presented to Bridie is that of a missing child. An odd missing child whose only friend doesn’t want her found. A little girl who doesn’t talk and doesn’t truly exist, not even in her own home. But Bridie is not one to give up.

Less mysterious but absolutely swoon-worthy is Rudy, the ghost who has attached himself to Bridie. I’m not sure what caused my infatuation with this character. Meh, that’s a lie. I definitely appreciated how protective and simultaneously proud of Bridie he was throughout the story. In addition, his loving teasing that she should remember him had me absolutely gasping to know what their history might have been. The cherry on top of this delightful concoction is his jealousy over her friendship with Inspector Rose. Ah Rudy….

It would be remiss of me to not mention that this Victorian tale is steeped in the vernacular of the age. I finally put a post-it note in the cover of the book so I could write down words I didn’t know instead of breaking the rhythm of the story to look things up. Mind you, not a regular post-it. I needed a lined double-sized one. Jess Kidd was not messing around with her regurgitation of life in London during the Victorian Era, straight down to the strange names for fruit and vegetable sellers in the streets (a costermonger, just so you know). It is a lot but absolutely worth the effort.

Once I caught the pace and the rhythm I shut myself away from the world in the smallest room in my home in order to give this book my full attention. I haven’t been this compelled to finish a book since I was a child reading in my closet at night. I am obsessed with this story. It is just so sooooo good. Darn it, I tried!


Tell me, please!

What’s the last book that you were obsessed with like this?


fiction · New Adult · Over 18

Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston was voted the Winner of Goodread’s Best Romance for 2019. I saw this book everywhere lately and found that I couldn’t resist diving into it myself.

redwhiteroyalblue

SYNOPSIS


What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic. Red White & Royal Blue from Amazon.

REVIEW


When I started reading this book I was immediately sucked into the story. Alex and his sister June are the children of the first female President of the United States. Along with Nora, the daughter of the Vice-President, the three are a power trio of influence in Washington, D.C. They are the first children of the President and Vice-President to stay actively in the political eye and, for the first one-hundred pages, I was completely enamored.

It was in the middle of the book that I had two major issues. The first is that I just didn’t like Alex. In this middle section of the book he fills his days with denial and a schedule specifically designed to keep him too busy to think. That kind of running for the sake of running always drives me insane. I found myself checking the back of the book to make sure the last fifty pages weren’t advertisements or special bonus chapters for another book. And, honestly, for about a hundred more pages I wished the book would just end already.

It was in this section I found one other major problem. Both Alex and Henry found ways to be together secretly all of the time and most of it was by ditching their security details. I don’t know much about having a security guard but I could not accept this as a realistic possibility. So, every time they were alone my brain was screaming, “error!”

Still, I wanted to continue reading. People love this book. It was around two-hundred and fifty pages that I realized that this wasn’t a romance book as much as it was a Young Adult book. The romance is what people are talking about but what made me like the book was what the characters were going through in order to make the romance happen.

Alex begins this book driven by specific, expiration date, marked goals. He is exhausting. His sister June and his best friend Nora try to balance him but Alex is so determined to make deadlines and fulfill goals that he made up in his early youth that he often ignores them. Did I mention exhausting? He is exhausting. He is twenty-one years old and a senior in college but he reeks of “If I don’t fulfill (blank) goal by (blank) date then I have failed and my life is over.

And then he falls for Henry. And someone in his life betrayed him. Alex messes up and fails professionally. And the world kept spinning and his life didn’t combust. This is important.

Young Adult books are specifically targeting for the ages between 18 and 30. If there is one thing that I could impart on this group it is that failure is a necessary part of life. Everyone fails. How we get up, who we look to for support and what we do afterwards –  all of those things matter.

And this book does all of that. Some people never learn how to look inside themselves and change. But Alex does. For that reason alone, this book is a great read. Additionally, there are countless women in power, parents who are supportive and part of their children’s lives, and friends who have your back and this was an excellent book. I just had to stop thinking of it as a romance book to fall in love with it.


Tell me, please!

What are your favorite Young Adult books?


 

Fantasy · fiction · SeriousSeriesLove · Uncategorized

September Sequel: Queen of the Tearling Trilogy by Erika Johansen

This series…..wow. I cannot stop thinking about it. I first read The Queen of the Tearling in 2017 and shortly after that purchased and read the second book The Invasion of the Tearling. I immediately purchased The Fate of the Tearling and put it carefully on my shelf where it has sat for nearly two years. Thanks to September Sequels I finally made time to finish the series. I am going to try and make this as spoiler free as possible so forgive me for all the vagueness that follows.

I only partially remember the details of the first two books and I was concerned that I had them woven facts with another series that I read at the same time. So, I actually took the time to re-read the first two books. I tore through them. It helps that I am post-move and pre-work so I have nothing but time to read right now. Still, these books consumed me for the past few days.

The Queen of the Tearling jacket reads:

With the arrival of her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn is ascending to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling. Surrounded by enemies, including an evil sorceress possessed of dark magic, the young ruler stands little chance of success. But Kelsea possesses fearsome weapons of her own, including the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic. As an epic war draws near, Kelsea’s quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny begins – a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

Do you want to know something odd? The first time I read this book I pictured Kelsea as being age 12-14. It is no spoiler to say that she was raised in isolation, hidden from enemies, by two caretakers. This made her seem both very young while simultaneously wise. It was only upon reading it the second time that I caught that she was nineteen. This fact made other things in the series, like her distraction regarding the attractiveness of her guard, seem less weird.

Re-reading the first two books was a joy. They are fairly fast-paced (bit of a Hobbit-like traveling part in the beginning of book one) with fantastic characters. All three books are told from shifting narratives and you can see the perspective of each character clearly. And the characters! Kelsea has a core made of pure iron.  Her guards, the evil Queen, the mysterious Lily, and Father Tyler – I loved (or loathed) them all. Two of the guards, The Mace and Pen were my absolute favorites and I relished each scene they were in. I want the Mace to be my friend in real life. Or, at least, have one friend as utterly dedicated to me as the Mace is to Kelsea. I was ready for the next book. I needed to know the fate of this world that had become to important and so real to me.

Let me just disclose that one of the reasons this book landed on my TBR shelf for so long was because it did not go over well with the fans of the first two books. So, I was worried. For the first 50-75% of the book, it was amazing. Every thought was, “what are people complaining about?” Then, stuff happened. Nothing that requires trigger warnings or anything (although, please note that there is some background sexual violence in this book) Then, I got to the final quarter of the book.

The ending left me open-mouthed staring at the back cover.

I went full large-mouthed bass.

It is not a bad ending exactly. On a scale of endings it is closer to Hunger Games than say, Divergent. There is sadness, there is wonder, and there are a few, “whaaaaaaaat?” moments mixed in. Mostly, it is just a perfect series with an ending that is probably perfect for the series but isn’t what I wanted. This is the ending that makes me finally understand why people write fan fiction. I would like a go at re-writing this ending.

I will still highly recommend the entire series. It is fantasy writing in a surprising way and is packed full of fantastic characters charging through life righting wrongs. And, if you have read it or do read it, can we please talk about that ending?!?


Tell me, please!

Which series had an ending that you didn’t love but didn’t ruin the series?


 

fiction

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

This was always going to be a short review because: Neil Gaiman + Norse Mythology is a winning combination. Add to that the extreme heat through most of Eastern American today and I am surprised my laptop isn’t burning my legs. If you are too hot to continue reading, just know, this book is awesome and you should read it.

When Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology first became available in 2017 I tried to borrow a copy from my local library. The only format that was available was an audiobook. I listened to the first two wonderful short stories and determined, quite quickly, that I could not keep the different characters straight. The beautiful pronunciation of the Norse names simply slipped through my brain.

norsemythologyI am so glad that I purchased a physical copy and finally had the opportunity to sit down and read these re-tellings. Neil Gaiman’s storytelling is always perfection but his ability to weave a short story is mesmerizing for me. Typically, I do not enjoy short stories. But, perhaps, it is Gaiman’s graphic novel work that makes these stories seem so effortlessly enjoyable. As a bonus, since I recently finished the Magnus Chase trilogy, I also found many of the stories to be familiar!

Gaiman starts with the players and introduces us to the world of Norse Gods. I will admit that most of my Norse mythology is deeply rooted in Marvel re-tellings and so I was very interested to hear of the beginning of Odin and the relationships between Thor and Loki. Through the book the stories bob and weave into a collection that represents the beginning, the evolution, and the eventual end of the Norse gods. I felt a child-like wonder as I read each story and I was reminded of my obsessed with Aesop’s fables in childhood.  But instead of Aesop’s small lessons, Gaiman gives us character driven stories with ridiculous twists and turns and a small lesson which is usually, “It was Loki.”

If you are looking for a short story collection or are even remotely interested in Norse mythology, this book is an excellent choice!


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book?


 

fiction · Over 18 · Romantic · YA

The Joy of Romance Books and the Struggle with Recommending Them

I’ll be honest. I have a hard time recommending romance books to a general audience. If someone asks me for recommendations, I have many.  But I have questions first. That’s because romance is personal. One person’s romantic gesture is another individual’s suffocating display of affection. Furthermore, what appeals to a reader at one point in their lives may not appeal at all later. I don’t want to speak for all women but I can certainly attest to the fact that what I found romantic at 20 is nothing like what appeals to me now.

Ultimately, though, there are some factors that are universally romantic. Kindness is necessary. Admiration for another individual’s true self (which leads to total acceptance and unconditional love) is so much more than ogling a single body part. A willingness to put another person’s happiness before your own is a foundation in romance. On top of that, most quality romances add a problem or misunderstanding to test the strength of the new couple. Realistically, what we are looking for in a romance is the same thing we look for in most books – good people making morally sound choices which results in unconditional love. One of my favorite romance authors, Jennifer Crusie said this,

“My feeling on this, which I have expressed loudly and often, is that the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world. So in romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice, unconditional love in an emotionally safe world.”

If I were being honest, what I find fun to read in a romance book is not at all the same as what I am looking for in real life romance. I will read any book or watch any movie featuring a love triangle. I sit and sigh imagining inspiring two people to fight for my attention. I’ll remain riveted to the story until the “right one” is chosen. I love those stories. In real life, I would absolutely die if I had to handle more than one person at a time. How dishonest is it to cling to two people simultaneously? Talk about leading a person on….

Similarly, I love an enemies to lovers story. Watching the characters challenge their understanding of another person as they slowly fall in love can be so enjoyable. In real life, once a guy does something unforgivable the chances of me looking at him romantically fall to zero. “Oh, you loved me all this time but you were just behaving terribly….? Well in that case no I will never date you.” I have become friends with people who made terrible first impressions but never dated one. I do not find real life bad behavior attractive. Now, fictional bad boys, those are just fine.

Romance books are no different than thrillers – they put you in positions that are fun to think about but would be a nightmare to deal with in reality. They are a beautiful escape from everyday life. Let’s take a look at some romance books I have enjoyed this month.


What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

whatifitsusArthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a show stopping romance when you least expect it.
Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.
But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?
Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.
Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.
But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?
What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?
What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

This book had me sighing all the way through. First loves are always fun to watch unfold and Arthur and Ben were uniquely likable both individually and as a possible couple. I don’t know what magic spell Becky Albertalli weaves through her stories but they always manage to stay with me long after I turn the last page. Adam Silvera is new to me but I cannot wait to acquaint myself with his other works. This books features some closed door romance which makes it perfect for YA audiences (and those that enjoy YA books).


A Bride Test by Helen Hoang

bridetestKhai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

This is the second in Hoang’s popular The Kiss Quotient series and features Micheal’s cousin Kai. Many readers have complained that Esme is unlikable because she leaves her child behind in Vietnam. This didn’t bother me. Countless families are often forced to make difficult decisions in an effort to secure a more promising future for their children. I felt Esme was doing exactly that. After all, back home, Esme, her mother, her grandmother and her daughter all share one room. Convincing Kai to marry her would provide them all with a better life. But the more she tries to win him over the more she find herself falling in love with him.

I sucked this book down like a delicious milkshake. In reality would I want to leave my child behind to travel with a stranger I met in the bathroom to marry another stranger? Nope. But I enjoyed watching Esme take that chance on a better life. More lovely was that Esme grows tremendously as a person. As does Kai. This book, like many contemporary romances, has some open door sex scenes that feel slightly gratuitous. This book has less sex than The Kiss Quotient and I was glad that the author established a basic relationship before including physical romance. I don’t consider myself a prude but I will say, if I am prudish it is when reading stories of characters I don’t know having sex with each other. It makes me feel like a Peeping Tom. Books with sex scenes are the most difficult romance books for me to recommend because sex is even more complicated than romance. With that said, the book was ridiculously enjoyable.


Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

meetcuteTalk about an embarrassing introduction. On her first day of law school, Kailyn ran – quite literally – into the actor she crushed on as a teenager, ending with him sprawled on top of her. Mortified to discover the Daxton Hughes was also a student in her class, her embarrassment over their meet-cute quickly turned into a friendship she never expected. Of course, she never saw his betrayal coming either…

Now, eight years later, Dax is in her office asking for legal advice. Despite her anger, Kailyn can’t help feeling sorry for the devastated man who just became sole guardian to his thirteen-year-old sister. But when her boss gets wind of Kailyn’s new celebrity client, there’s even more at stake than Dax’s custody issues: if she gets Dax to work at their firm, she’ll be promoted to partner.

The more time Kailyn spends with Dax and his sister, the more she starts to feel like a family, and the more she realizes the chemistry they had all those years ago is as fresh as ever. But will they be able to forgive the mistakes of the past, or will one betrayal lead to another?

I did a full review here so just a quick overview is needed here. I picked this book up because I thought it was Helen Hoang’s new book. It’s yellow and the alliteration of their names confused me! This is an adorable book and vastly different than the other books I saw by the author available on Amazon. This one really focused on character development and watching each of them change their lives as their relationship develops was more fun than any solo sexy time scene. This has some open door sex scenes but they are not graphic and are romantic in nature. Oddly, I already had another of her books on my Kindle that I had DNFed. I returned to The Good Luck Charm after enjoying Meet Cute.


The Good Luck Charm by Helena Hunting

thegoodluckcharmLilah isn’t sure what hurt worse: the day Ethan left her to focus on his hockey career, or the day he came back eight years later. He might think they can pick up just where they left off, but she’s no longer that same girl and never wants to be again.

Ethan Kane wants his glory days back. And that includes having Lilah by his side. With her, he was magic. They were magic. All he has to do is make her see that.

Just when Lilah might finally be ready to let him in, though, she finds out their reunion has nothing to do with her and everything to do with his game. But Ethan’s already lost her once, and even if it costs him his career, he’ll do anything to keep from losing her again.

Helena Hunting has a series of romance novels that don’t appeal to me but both Meet Cute and The Good Luck Charm are standalone books and each has a very sweet theme. Furthermore, like Meet Cute, the most enjoyable part of this book is the character development of the the main character, Lilah. I feel like there is open door scenes but honestly, I was all about Lilah in this book and less interested in her relationship with Ethan than her own personal transformation.


Each of these books has all the hallmarks of an enjoyable romance story. Two people trying to make morally sound choices so that they are deemed deserving of true love. There is also a problem for them to overcome either together or alone that puts the strength of their new love to the test. And, of course, kissing!


Tell me, please!

Do you read romance books? If so, what do you look for in a “good romance?”


 

Fantasy · fiction · funny

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

This book was one hundred percent, straight up, delightfully weird. There is no other way to describe the experience and no other books that compare. It was, quite simply, wonderfully odd.

goodomensOriginally entitled Good Omens, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Alice Nutter, Witch this book was originally published in 1990. At the time, neither Neil Gaiman nor Terry Pratchett were the major authors that they are today but it is clear from this book that both already had an excellent handle on their craft. In 1985 Neil Gaiman interviewed Terry Pratchett for an article at the beginning of Mr. Pratchett’s career. The two struck up a friendship that has spanned decades and wrote Good Omens together by sending floppy disks back and forth and collaborating over the phone. This was during the time that Gaiman was working on Sandman and I just wish I could get my hands on all those floppy disks….

I really struggled to not highlight the entire book’s often hilarious phrasings. The witty repartee between the Angel Aziraphale and the Demon Crowley was fast paced and had the feel of a life long, or in this case, centuries long friendship. Both beings have lived on Earth for so along and through some of the most difficult phases of humanity but have grown accustomed to the comforts of modern England. When the son of Satan is born on Earth, Crowley and Aziraphale decide that their job is to maintain the balance by interfering. Sadly, due to a mix up with the baby at the hospital they end up watching over the wrong child right up until the moment the Hound of Hell is released. This seems like a simple premise but add in additions layers that include: witch hunters, Alice Nutter’s 17th Century completely accurate prophesies, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and a pack of children straight out of the 1950s and this book really brings the weird in full technicolor.

I can see where some readers have attempted this book and felt confused by the narrative which bounces from character to character with little introduction and no warning. However, fans of Pratchett and Gaiman know this writing trick and the pay off that will be experienced at the culmination of the story. As you see the threads of the stories weave together you cannot help but gasp as the completed tapestry becomes visible. I always feel like applauding as I turn the last page on one of their books.

I will be honest, I didn’t know this book existed until I saw the preview for the new Amazon show. Like most people I love to read books that have been made into television shows or movies. Now that I have read the story I cannot wait to see the characters comes to life on the screen! But, even if you do not plan to watch the show the book is just too much fun to pass up. This is definitely destined to be one of my favorite reads of 2019.


Tell me, please!

What is your favorite wonderfully weird book?


 

fiction · YA

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Phillippe

I can’t seem to stop reading cute high school romance books even though they are really not my favorite. I thought the premise of this book sounded fun – a fish out of water story told from the boy’s perspective – but when I cracked into it I know I emitted a loud sigh. High School was not my favorite. I absolutely see why someone in high school would want contemporary books but I don’t enjoy revisiting the endless drama. Then I noticed that the main character is from Canada. I can’t get enough of Canada! So, I forged onward.

northamericanteenagerThe Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Phillippe is the story of Norris who grew up in Montreal, Canada. He and his Mom have relocated to Austin, Texas for her job after the divorce. And, of course, poor Norris now has to combat with the heat, the culture and high school. I know we have probably all read this story one-hundred times but paired with genuinely sweet friendships and a slow burning romance I found the story sweet and fun to read.

Admittedly, Norris is difficult to like at first. His quick wit and over use of irony and sarcasm give him a hard edge. This, oddly, is completely acceptable in a female character (usually white) who is dealing with high school life. I was really struck with how little patience friends of mine had for Norris as, apparently, dudes aren’t supposed to have all the feelings. I loved that Norris was unlikeable at first. It made him feel genuinely teenager-y. Now, if he hadn’t developed and changed as a person through the book that would be a different story but he did and it was enjoyable to watch. As his friendships grow and change Norris has to decide whether he is going to take a chance on being himself or not.

Like many books set in high school, the background cast of characters is essential to creating a balance to the story. This is especially true when the main character is abut off a butt. Surrounding Norris are my two waring favorites; Maddie, the cheerleading overachiever who guides him, and Neil, the awkward rich kid who wants to learn hockey. There is also Aarti Puri, the girl of Norris’s dreams and the character I actively didn’t like.

Unlike many other teenage stories, I really appreciated the constant presence of Norris’s mother. So many stories featuring kids in high school have a glaring absence of parental involvement. In The Field Guide not only is Norris’s Mom involved in his life in a consistent and positive manner, but his friend Maddie’s Dad is incredibly involved in her life. It was a relief to see a teenagers talking to their parents instead of just a stock character there for the kids’ to hide their emotions from throughout the story.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager was a truly enjoyable read. Norris may not be perfectly likable from chapter one but the person this character develops into is worth the read.


Tell me, please!

What is your favorite fish out of water story?


 

fiction · Over 18

The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente

I picked up Fred Van Lente’s first books Ten Dead Comedians because I was searching for books for my annual Frighteningly Good Reads. The cover was adorably intriguing. I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of the writing and subsequently not surprised at all to discover that Van Lente is a heavily published and popular comic book writer. I am always in awe of a comic book writer’s ability to tell a whole story in so few words. When I saw that he had a second book out I could hardly wait to read it. I finally had the chance to enjoy it last week and it was everything I was hoping it would be and more!

conartistFirst of all, again, how fantastic is this cover? If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed it was a graphic novel. Second, this book was published by Quick Books and I am absolutely obsessed with everything they have to offer. I found myself on their website for more than an hour just scribbling an extended birthday wish list for myself and everyone I have ever met. Check it out and I dare you to not find a dozen things you want.

 
On to the review! Much like Ten Dead Comedians Van Lente does a masterful job at blending fantasy and reality. I loved spotting points he made in Comedians and attempting to figure out who he was referencing. I had the opportunity to play the same fun game with The Con Artist. And, since Van Lente is a comic book artist and has sat on artist’s alley himself, the whole book felt grounded in reality. Well, hopefully the multiple murders haven’t been something he has experienced…

In The Con Arist, veteran comic book artist Mike Mason finds himself at San Diego Comic-Con ready to work artist alley, make some money, and give the lifetime achievement award to his mentor. But Mike’s mentor, the comic book genius Ben K, has died. Ben’s death is just the first of many during the con and as the bodies pile up so does the attention on Mike as he becomes the prime suspect. As he copes with obsessive fans, protestors, old friends, enemies, and his ex-wife, Mike will have to solve more than the murders to clear his name and help finally resolve a seedy comic secret.

If you have never been to a con, this book will bring it to life for you. If you have attended one you will absolutely recognize many of the background characters. I have only been to my local con and I still felt like a total insider reading this book. The book just painted the experience so well. Meanwhile, Van Lente cleverly slips the ins and outs of what it means to be a published comic book writer both during a con and while trying to stay a published author. Much like Mike Reiss’ insider perspective in Springfield Confidential, I was shocked at the amount of work and the apparent speed that these artists can produce a finished product. It always looks so laid back when I see them drawing at cons that it never occurred to me that they were rapidly working under a deadline. I can only hope that the industry is marginally less cut throat than in this story but I suspect this aspect is also grounded in reality.

This multi-layered mystery was just as much fun as Ten Dead Comedians with the added bonus of being at a con. If you are a comic book nerd, you want to write comic books, or you just like trying to solve clever mysteries this book is a perfect pick!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever been to a comic book con?


 

fiction · funny · SeriousSeriesLove

Serious Series Love: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

 

How much fun can you have seeing how the unimaginably rich live? The answer: A LOT.

I read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians more than a year ago and adored it. The story of Nick Young bringing his American-born Chinese girlfriend, Rachel, back to Singapore to meet his, ahem, “comfortably,” rich family introduced me to the multifaceted glory of insanely rich people. The end of the first book wrapped the story up so nicely the next two books didn’t really register with me. What is wrong with me?! If anything, the second and third book are even more fun to read than the first!

I picked up China Rich Girlfriend happy to find that nearly all of the characters were already old friends from Crazy Rich Asians. The second story opens with Rachel and Nick getting married. Even though Nick and his family are estranged, his mother is working to reconnect by finding Rachel’s long-lost (and long thought dead) father. When she discovers his identity she flies to interrupt the wedding and disclose his identity! And, for fans of Crazy Rich Asians, it will come as no surprise that all of this action happens in the first few chapters. The real quandary is how Rachel, her father, and his family will blend together. And, of course, there are all the other characters’ stories (Kitty and Astrid are back!) that keep the book at a wonderfully quick pace.

The third book opens with the news that Nick’s grandmother Ah Ma is on her deathbed. Nick is not alone in rushing home for a final goodbye. The whole family descends on Su Yi’s home. Some are them are there to see their beloved matriarch. Others are there to lay claim to the massive fortune. But there are more surprises in Su Yi’s story than yachts in the Singapore marina.

The three books work so well together because Kevin Kwan has invested us in these characters. If you read the first book and enjoyed the adventures of the rich and not-at-all famous, you will enjoy the next two books. The magic of these books is how the author makes you care about almost all of these people even as they spend ten million dollars shopping in Paris. By providing us backstories, shifting perspective, and a healthy dose of cultural understanding, the author helps us understand these characters as people. It doesn’t make you feel sorry for them and their insane bank balances, but it does save you from feeling dirty or seedy watching their stories unfold. I know, I know! These aren’t real people. But, I don’t enjoy stories that focus on mocking or diminishing people to stereotypes. These books do neither. Also, I relished all of the footnotes that will simultaneously explain things to the reader and remind you that the author himself spent most of his childhood living among all of this craziness.

I have Serious Series Love for Crazy Rich Asians.


Tell me, please!

Have you read the books / seen the movie? What are your thoughts?