Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Wait Till I'm Dead by Allen Ginsberg, edited by Bill Morgan

Wait Till I'm Dead will be released on Tuesday, February 2nd!

Wait Till I'm Dead by Allen Ginsberg, edited by Bill Morgan. Grove Press, 2016. 256 pages. Ebook.

**I received a copy of Wait Till I'm Dead courtesy of Grove Press and NetGalley. Huge thanks to them!**

Allen Ginsberg has become one of the greatest influence in American poetry and has helped to define what we now call the Beat Generation. Bill Morgan, a distinguished scholar of Allen Ginsberg, has edited this new collection of poems written by Allen Ginsberg, the first publication of Ginsberg work in over fifteen years. When I first read Ginsberg, I found his work to be harrowing, compelling, uniquely perfect, and that description has stuck with me as I continue to enjoy his work. Thus, when I saw this collection on NetGalley, I knew I would be requesting it, and fortunately I was lucky enough to receive a copy.

This particular collection is a rather sporadic and eclectic array of poems, including a variety of poems from the 1940s to 1990s that were "scribbled in letters or sent off to obscure publications and unjustly forgotten." Many of these poems were written spur of the moment or from memories and recollections of meeting certain people are random events he encountered. For instance, "The Real Distinguished Thing" is partly inspired from anesthesia laughing gas or nitrous oxide given to him during dentist visits.

This "uncollected" group of poems is sure to be a welcome addition to any fan of Ginsberg, and I felt right at home delving into this unprecedented work. I didn't particular connect with every single poem, but each held a very special meaning and conveys Ginsberg's strong, distinct tone. Some are brief and subtle, yet have a powerful, clear statement, while others are much longer and convey the wonderful style of Ginsberg in its full glory with writing reminiscent of his greatest works.

A few that stood out to me in particular were "A Night in the Village," "Thus on a Long Bus Ride," "Leave the Bones Behind," "War is Black Magic," "Busted," which reflects his drug use, and "After Wales Visitacione July," written under the effects of LSD. There are also a variety of notes at the back of the book which provide some context and background for many of the poems, which was extremely helpful and interesting.

For those wondering if these poems are worth the read since they never made it into any collected works, they are definitely worth it. Overall, I can't help but give this book a full five stars for its wonderful collection of works and reintroduction into the life and work of Allen Ginsberg.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodges. HarpetTeen Impulse, 2014. 111 pages. Ebook.

I've read Rosamund Hodge's books Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound, and although they weren't bad, I wasn't particularly blown away, and I'm sorry to say that I didn't enjoy them all that much. Because of this, I was a little hesitant to delve into Gilded Ashes, but the premise was intriguing, so I decided to give it a shot.

Gilded Ashes is a short, slightly over 100-page novella set in the same world as Cruel Beauty. If you haven't read Cruel Beauty, you can definitely still enjoy Gilded Ashes, but you won't completely know or understand who the Gentle Lord is and why the characters keep making bargains with him, but I promise it's not crucial to understand and should not detract from your enjoyment of this novella. There have been countless Cinderella retellings, so many, in fact, that I get quite tired of them. Gilded Ashes, fortunately, was a wonderfully refreshing take on this plot.

In this particular story, Maia is our orphan living with her stepmother and her two stepsisters who try desperately to please their mother. Maia's birth mother, however, made a deal with the Gentle Lord when she died, promising that anyone who hurt her daughter would be severely punished. In brief, this basically means that Maia must continually keep a smile on her face and pretend that everything and everyone in her life is lovely, otherwise her mother will torture or kill the person who harmed her or caused her any pain and grief. Sounds fun, right? It might not be pleasant, but it makes for a captivating story setup. There is also, of course, an upcoming ball where a not-so-happy Duke of Sardis will choose his bride, which completes our plot setup.

The story is told from Maia's perspective, and it's eerie. Any task she is given or event she encounters, she must then say how happy she is to do it - no matter the outcome - and its slightly creepy. It's sad. It's haunting. She has trained herself so well and so deeply that this feeling of falseness and actual unhappiness has become ingrained within her. Maia has this amazing awareness of her own flaws and her own lack of importance in this world, and Hodge did a great job making her into such a deep, layered character.

I really enjoyed the usage of the two stepsisters element in this retelling, because although they did, of course, have similar stereotypes taken from other Cinderella stories, they were actually rather unique and didn't appear to outright bully or hate Maia, or even really have the desire to. Instead, there was more tension between the daughters and their mother. The sisters desperately want to please their mother, but their mother is still grief-stricken over Maia's father's death, which has subsequently addled her mind. Hodge's world is bleak and hopeless, and the way her characters mesh in with this setting is perfect.

Here's what I didn't like: the romance. I know, this is Cinderella, it is romance - but this romance was all too sudden, and this is actually big problem that I've found throughout Hodge's other works as well. Everything happens too fast. The characters move too quickly from strangers to suddenly not able to live without one another. That's generally something I like to call lust, not love. The other big disappointment with this novella was the ending. It just felt like a big rainbow-colored band-aid was slapped on and smoothed over everything so that it did cover up all the damage and tie up some loose ends, but it's still extremely conspicuous and slightly questionable.

I'm really glad I had the opportunity to read Gilded Ashes, because it has allowed me to really appreciate Hodge's writing style and ability to create such an in-depth and captivating story in only one hundred pages. Overall, I am giving Gilded Ashes four stars for its wonderful storytelling and compelling characters.

You might also like:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

**Anna and the Swallow Man is now available**

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit. Knopf Books, 2016. 240 pages. Paperback/Softcover.

**I received an ARC of Anna and the Swallow Man courtesy of Knopf Books. Huge thanks!**

Anna and the Swallow Man was entirely unexpected and I had absolutely no idea what to really expect from this book apart from the description on the back, and it was simply breathtaking. I had never heard of or seen this book in many places prior to my receiving it in the mail, but since I have read it I've started to notice it on some upcoming YA 2016 release lists, and I was actually a bit surprised. The protagonist is indeed a young girl, but I definitely didn't feel that this is something I would find in the typical YA section. I would say that Anna and the Swallow Man is the type of book that crosses all genres and would be a wonderful read for almost any age, and certainly adults as well. Now, on to the review!

Anna and the Swallow Man left me with a feeling of what I can only describe as emptiness - though not necessarily a bad sort of emptiness. A liberating emptiness, a clean slate. It fresh and bright, yet dark and melancholy at the same time. It's lyrically written and flows effortlessly. Savit has a true gift for writing and portraying a narrative that has an incredibly unique style, both strong and soft at the same time. He weaves together his characters and the settings in an effortless motion. His voice is lyrical and heartbreaking; every sentence uttered is full of emotion and meaning, and I found myself underlining countless phrases throughout.

This novel is definitely more character-driven than plot-driven, and it's not very full of action. The description of this book gave me the impression that this book would be a more-fun-than-serious story of a young girl traipsing around war-torn Europe with a man she meets who protects her and is intriguingly mysterious. The mysterious man part is true, but the rest... not so much. It was a hundred times better than that. It was the story of young girl who becomes lost and alone, and through this she finds an odd man who decides to take her in and accompany him as he travels across foreign land for an unknown period of time with an unknown destination. This is all occurring during the heat of World War II, and it is during this journey with the Swallow Man that Anna begins to learn about life, loss, and sorrow. It is a dismal, cruel time, and Anna and her friends discover this and learn to live with this during their travels.

I was constantly asking questions and found myself enraptured in Anna and her Swallow Man; they are both incredibly fascinating characters and I absolutely loved Anna's bold and exceptionally intelligent character. I don't necessarily mean intelligent in an academic manner - though I'm sure she is - but rather intelligent in how she sees the world and acts around people. She is an incredibly bright, fresh young girl, and I would sincerely love to add some quotes to exemplify her nature, but since my copy is an ARC, I will have to refrain from doing so until the book itself is published. Suffice it to say, she has a very unique perspective on life and events that are a result of her naive nature and her own extraordinary outlook.

The Swallow Man is incredible. He instills such mixed feeling of awe, fear, --, and even a little discomfort; I cannot get enough of him. I could ponder over his character for hours and still never feel that I truly understand him. He is entirely enigmatic and odd, a mixture of brilliance and pure endurance. It is the Swallow Man that introduces Anna to what he calls 'Road' speak, and I found it just as enticing and compelling as the Swallow Man itself. Anna already knows countless languages as a result of her upbringing, as her father made sure she was educated in many, and this new 'language' she learns just really seems to add a new element and depth of layer to the entire notion of languages and communication. This 'language,' however, isn't a true language - it is more of one of survival. It is how they speak in order to continue their travels and stay safe.

Almost every sentence struck a deep chord within me, and I believe that this would be a wonderful novel for almost anyone simply because it truly has a little something in it for everyone to take away. The exact situation may not be exactly applicable to everyone (I mean, who here is currently living in the cold winter snow of Poland during World War II? If you are, you reserve the right to berate me), but there are so many things said that could benefit everyone and make everyone think a little bit more about various ideas and common notions.

Overall, I am giving Anna and the Swallow Man five stars for its lyrics, gorgeous prose, and meaningful story. I highly, highly recommend this to anyone; this is a novel that I think is perfect for a much-needed break from everything. It's calm and different from everything else in our lives, and I think it is needed.

You might also like:
Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sun Kissed by Coco Nichole

Sun Kissed by Coco Nichole. Nov. 2015. Softcover/Paperback. 

A little over a month ago I was emailed by Coco Nichole regarding reading and reviewing her new book, Sun Kissed, which I readily agreed to after reading the synopsis provided. I was very pleasantly surprised!

The story begins right after Sofia Aguilar has moved from her boarding school in the United States to live with her brother and dying mother in a remote Amazon village. The locals tell of the legend of the Encantados, mythical beings that can transform, control the weather, and enter into the dreams of humans. Sun Kissed takes us on Sofi's journey into this unique legend where we discover more about the mysterious Encantados.

Sun Kissed is a wonderful mixture of fantasy, myth, suspense, and entertainment that proves to be an effortless and enjoyable adventure. There is an exceptional blend of the innocence of youth with the temptations and dangers of the world as we mature. The setting of this story is in a small village in the beautiful South American Amazon and I found it to be a wonderfully refreshing change from many common settings. I loved the mysterious, enchanting Amazon river and the culture of the area. Nichole successfully created a realistic and culturally accurate setting; it's obvious that she did her research and put her heart into this story.

Sofi is a willful young girl with many human qualities that often trip her up and cause her to make mistakes that any normal person would, which made her relatable and understandable. She falls prey to the kind, smooth words of a beautiful man, but also has the sense to realize when things aren't quite right. Out of all the characters, Sofi appears to have experienced the most changes, going from a grumpy, unhappy, and bored teenager to one caught up in the thrill of an old legend and a growing love for her brother and mother.

The rest Nichole's characters are all teasingly diverse and full of life. However, I did feel that the character development was slightly lacking. The characters were unique and had great personalities that defined each one, but they needed a bit more in the developmental area. While the characters do undergo change and have dynamic qualities, these changes appear to be a bit too blunt and random, and I wish that, as the reader, I would have had more of a chance to witness the dynamic change within each person.

I also found this development issues within the plot as well. Before I go further, however, I do want to say that the plot and idea of this story is wonderfully unique and I think Nichole has struck gold with her story. It's refreshing, multicultural, and highly intriguing. Yet, in a manner similar to the character development, I just felt that the plot could have used a bit more explanation. Sun Kissed contained many points where more expansion could have benefited, though Nichole was still successful at developing complex backstories for her characters.  I would have loved to hear more about the Encante and some of the things they have done or are capable of doing. They are such an intriguing topic and legend, and I am excited to see what Nichole continues to develop within her story.

Overall, I am giving Sun Kissed three-and-a-half stars for its magical storytelling and exciting plot. I would recommend this to any who enjoys myths and legends, fantasy, or multicultural literature taking place in a new and exciting setting!

                        Get more reviews and book news in your inbox and subscribe to Forever Lost in Literature!

You might also like:
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
Azurite by Megan Dent Nagle
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee. William Collins, 2015. Hardcover. 320 pages. 

The Girl With Seven Names left me feeling completely speechless, and I've had to wait a few days before I could even sit down and begin to somehow nudge out a review of my incoherent thoughts .

This was one of those rare books that was compulsive, heart-wrenching, and impossible to put down.  Lee tells her story in an intensely compelling manner that is largely due to, in my opinion, her complete and utter lucidity at what occurred throughout her entire life. She does not pretend that she had a horrible life as a child, she does not hide the horrible aspects of her experiences, and she also does not hide any action she took that she deems unforgivable. In fact, there are many times throughout the book where Lee discusses how she felt as if she were an awful person and how she eventually began to dislike and even hate herself. By doing this, Lee brings awareness to the immense emotional toll the entire process can inflict on a person.

The Girl With Seven Names reads like fiction, which makes it highly readable and engaging. I also believe that Lee's story is exceptionally unique compared to many of the other stories that exist surrounding North Korean defectors and their lives, mainly because Lee lived a relatively safe and comfortable life in a higher class North Korean community. What I actually found most interesting was that her decision to leave and escape from North Korea was not actually her initial choice - she left to visit China with every intention of returning to North Korea, but was eventually unable to return at all. Lee is blunt about all of her decisions and thoughts, which makes her appear to be honest and sincere.

I also appreciated the in-depth discussion and experiences of what life is like for those that successfully defect from North Korea and now live in places such as South Korea. As many people probably don't realize, life is not smooth sailing once they are free. Indeed, it is difficult for a North Korean - especially one who is an adult or elderly - to adapt to a world that is completely foreign to them. They did not have the same schooling or likely learn any of the same skills of those that South Koreans have and thus struggle to survive. Those who experienced higher standings in North Korea now have to work lower-class jobs, and those who had hoped for a more comfortable life still struggle with finding work and fitting in with their new country, all the while dealing with stereotypes and negative perceptions of North Koreans that many other countries held.

Lee writes with sincerity and passion. I savored the fact that she shared so many of her conflicting opinions regarding her home country. While she realized how oppressive and horrible it is, it was still her home; it was where she grew and spent her childhood, and although most people in North Korea had difficult or frightening upbringings, Lee's was not filled with terrors, and she understands it. She grew up strongly under the communist spell, and slowly became disillusioned as she began to witness public executions and discover the darker side of the country.

Overall, I can't help but give The Girl With Seven Names five stars because of its readable quality, captivating topic, and raw, sincere writing. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in foreign cultures, autobiographies/biographies, thriller fans, or honestly anyone who wants a good book to read. You won't be disappointed!

                    Get more reviews and book news in your inbox and subscribe to Forever Lost in Literature!

You might also like:
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014. Hardcover. 321 pages. 

I came across Of Metal and Wishes on a whim one day while perusing Goodreads. I had never of this book or the author, Sarah Fine (who apparently has quite a few successful books out that I would like to check out), and it sounded immensely appealing, so I made sure to pick it up at my library. Random book finds are always a gamble, but this one turned out to be quite rewarding.

This book follows a young woman named Wen who assists her father at the medical clinic of a slaughterhouse. There are rumours of a ghost that dwells within the factory that is believed to grant wishes to those that provide offerings, though there is no hard evidence. Ghostly things begin to happen when Wen makes a wish one day, and as a result we are pulled into a dark story surrounding Wen, her father, and recently hired Noor men, a foreign culture that is looked down upon.

Of Metal and Wishes has a distinct Asian culture setting, though there are no specifics on time period of location, which is actually somewhat refreshing. I actually felt rather unrestricted because of this, which really allowed my imagination to thrive without getting caught up in too many specifics regarding the locations and politics of an area.

Prior to reading Of Metal and Wishes, I had no idea that it was a form a Phantom of the Opera retelling until after I finished, but I can now certainly understand that element. This book had such a distinct style and atmosphere that it is difficult to describe. There is little warmth or gentle narration, but rather a distinct bleak atmosphere. Despite thinking I was becoming bored at various times or about to put it down, in reality I found I couldn't stop reading because I simply had to find out the fate of Wen, her father, Ghost, and the Noor.

This book does have romance, though it is in no way your typical story romance; the chemistry between the characters does become rather prominent, but I found it to be done in a very realistic and timely manner that did not take away from my enjoyment of other elements of the plot. This book is gritty, dark, gory, and unforgiving; at times it felt hopeless that life could ever change for the characters that dwelled within the story.

Fine has an elegant and precise form of writing that makes every sentence count, and her words stick in your mind hours after you have put down this book. It is hauntingly beautiful. The characters she has created are all nicely unique and embody varying personalities despite their limited circumstances and inability to live freely. Her plot is certainly unique, though at times it felt underdeveloped. Things happened too quickly and too predictably, and I struggled to understand where exactly the plot was going at various moments. Regardless, I still found myself interested in Wen and the story itself, which led me to continue reading.

Wen was a very complex character, and I enjoyed getting to know her with each page. At times, she is entirely complacent and obedient, knowing that she must do exactly as dictated by society, her father, and their strict, dirty boss, Mugo. However, at various points in the story we catch glimpses into her more stubborn and strong-willed side. She is both meek and bold. She is brutally aware of the horrors that occur at the factory and any accidents she has been involved in, and we often see her feeling the negative effects of being exposed to such a life. This also makes her a strong character, as she grows throughout the novel and becomes more involved with the Noor and the events at the factory. The only critique I have about Wen is that I never felt overly connected to her character. I began to understand her actions and empathize with her, but I never felt an overly strong connection. It was similar to the feeling of having a friend or acquaintance that you feel you know well and get along well with, but there always seems to be a thin wall between you and them, which always leaves that air of coolness and distance that prevents a true connection. Wen built her wall to keep out other people and her emotions, but at the same time she kept out her readers (or at least me).

The Noor themselves were a group of young men that I slowly learned to respect. In the beginning, they appear cold, distant, and disrespectful to women. However, we begin to see the other sides of the Noor as they struggle to survive at the factory, and we are able to watch them care for one another in a compassionate, loyal, and dedicated manner that is apparently foreign to Wen and their society's customs.

Wen's father is a character that I actually wish Fine wuld have expanded more or included more in the story. He is a quiet, exceedingly competent man and an excellent doctor. he is also extremely obedient to his boss, largely because the only alternative is likely a labour-type camp. Despite it not being overly apparent, he care deeply for his daughter and always tries his best to keep her safe ad provided for.

Overall, I a giving Of Metal and Wishes three-and-a-half stars because it is a solid, interesting story with strong characters and a unique, enjoyable plot. It lacked in some developmental areas, and it didn't feel like I always understood where the plot was going, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

                   Get more reviews and book news in your inbox and subscribe to Forever Lost in Literature!

You might also like:
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Hidden Huntress by Danielle Jensen
Throne f Glass by Sarah J. Maas