Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's Houses
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Wendy Lamb Books
[February 23, 2016]

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.
Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed. 
It's ALAMW. I already have more books than I really intended to grab that day. I'd just walked away with a handful from a different booth after talking with someone who worked there when I pass by Random House. They've just put a bunch of books out, including one I'd been excited about, when I see someone restocking Anna and the Swallow Man. I half-jokingly ask if they've been warning about the need for tissues when read that one. She says she's been warning about Anna AND this book. I look at the gorgeous cover and soak in the beautiful title. I've seen them around, but never looked TOO closely. But I always love hearing what people in booth are excited about and I'm always down for books that make me cry, so I pick it up. A few days later, I'm way behind on my Book a Day for January goal and this one's short, so I pull it from the stack.

It was an excellent choice.

I fell completely in love with this book. But love may not be the right word. The thing is that it's not my kind of book. I don't tend to like the more recently set historical fiction - anything later than WWII generally - and I don't tend to like "issue-y" contemporaries. It's a story that's important for some people, but not for me. But I fell into its grips entirely. Hank and Alyce and Ruth and Dora's stories gripped me. I had to put it aside for a few days to read a blog tour book, which usually kills my desire to read something, but itched to pick it back up again instead. This book has this quiet weight to it, this importance. It's not my kind of book, but it could be such an important book for so many teens.

It's the story of teens - some white, some Eskimo, some Native American, and growing up in the aftermath of Alaska becoming a state, against many of their parents' wishes. Their families are poor and unconventional and they have annoying younger siblings and make bad decisions. They also have friends that are like siblings and want to help their families as best they can. They're all so real and they tell a story we don't see a lot in YA. There are stories about unconventional families, but not so many of them at once. Not when they're also poor. Not when everyone in the family has to chip in and there are other people to help raise them. Often it tends to be all or nothing, but in The Smell of Other People's Houses, there's a whole lot of grey.

It was also, undoubtedly, beautifully written. I'm always a sucker for pretty prose and this was so enthralling. It was stark and honest and created this amazing image of Alaska that I don't really think about. I could taste and smell some of the things described and could just see it all so clearly. It always stands out to me when I have that kind of experience.

Even though this wasn't a book for me, it was still an incredible book. And it's going to be so important to a lot of teens and I think it does kind of change the game of YA. There's nothing like this out there right now and I really, really encourage you to pick it up and pass it to the teens in your life.


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

The Shadow Queen
C.J. Redwine
Balzer + Bray
[February 23, 2016]
ARC from publisher/egalley from Edelweiss

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

First, let me remind you about my C.J. Redwine bias - I love her and I love her books and I've worked with her. I also love her editor and agent as I love pretty much everything they touch. So, bias.

Anyway, this was the first book I finished when I went abroad and it was the first one I knew I was packing. I read the first half while on trains to and from Bath, so I had to look up and admire the view every five minutes, then read the second half while cuddled in bed the next day. And oh what a good choice it was!

I loved Lorelai. Her tenacity and her intelligence were remarkable. I also adored her dedication to her family and her cause. She was never willing to give up, no matter the circumstances. She wasn't a perfect heroine, but she was trying to be the best she could be and that's always admirable. And Kol was another fascinating character, especially with certain events in the story. I loved getting to look at these two characters who had the weight of kingdoms on their shoulders and how they handled it.

The story itself was also remarkable. Redwine bent and twisted the original Snow White story - which is one of my least favorite fairy tales honestly - into something remarkable and beautiful and empowering. She also refused to pull punches in this story - there was a scene I read on the train and didn't see coming at all and had to close the book for a while because I was in public. There's always a concern with fairy tale retellings that they'll try to stick too closely to the story and it will become predictable; sometimes it's fine and the execution makes predictability easy to ignore, but other times it only loosely plays with elements of the original. Redwine did both and it worked SO well.

And the romance - because obviously, we have to talk about the romance in a fairy tale retelling. Man I loved it. Kol and Lorelai have a very complicated relationship from the start so Redwine gave them a rather remarkable story. It's the kind I always wanna see more of - but I don't wanna say too much for fear of spoilers.

Basically, I love C.J. Redwine and she continues to blow me away. I'm so excited for the next book!


Friday, 5 February 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man 
by Gavriel Savit

Summary: Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.
I'm not sure what to say about this book really because my thoughts on it are kind of torn. I liked it while I was reading it...but the way it ended, it left me feeling really unsatisfied and that kind of soured the positive feelings I had.

The characters were interesting and it was a unique WW2 story. Historical fiction set during WW2 is one of my favourite genres and I've yet to see one quite like this one, so I appreciated the originality. But it was told in a distant kind of way that prevented me from feeling really invested in or connected to the characters -- I saw a lot of comparisons between this book and The Book Thief, but it lacked the emotional impact that The Book Thief had even if their subject matter was similar (WW2, child protagonist, etc.).

The writing was good, but it could get a bit droning at times and sometimes it seemed like it was trying too hard to seem meaningful to the point where the dialogue felt unrealistic and contrived.

The plot was interesting (although, I'm glad it was a short book because any longer and it would've just felt dragged out and dull), but the ending -- like I said, it ends in a really unsatisfying way. On one hand I know that it was more realistic the way it was done, and I could appreciate that maybe we were being left in the dark because Anna was too, but a story that ends leaving the reader with more questions than answers can make for quite a frustrating reading experience, like you've invested hours of your time reading a story and it didn't deliver what you were hoping. Sometimes I like open endings in stories, sometimes I like the reader being left to fill in the blanks themselves, but not with this type of story.

This review is seeming way more negative than it should be. I enjoyed reading it but I can't pin point why exactly, I just did, but there were a lot of reasons I didn't quite love it. If I had to describe the book in one word, it would be interesting -- while the kind of book it was compared to, like The Book Thief, would get amazing or heartbreaking or stunning or devastating... This was just interesting, it didn't make me care enough to be more than that (not necessarily a bad thing, I like interesting, I just didn't love it because it takes more than that).

So...yes. I liked the book, it definitely wasn't bad, but I didn't love it. The strongest feeling it triggered in me was disappointment. But, that's just personal preference -- Julie's review was much more positive. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5.



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