Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books, 2015. 432 pages. Ebook.

First off, I love historical fiction (if that wasn't already obvious by so many of my reading choices). History has always been a favorite subject of mine, and I prefer to read books that are set in a time that is different from the present. But I will be honest: the wild west/19th century American history isn't exactly one of my favorite backdrops, which is actually one of the main reasons why I put this book off for so long. However, it appears I don't know what I'm missing, because Rae Carson has written one of the better, more original books that I've read in quite a while and I loved it.

I genuinely enjoyed Carson's first trilogy, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which I read back in 2013, so I was already confident in her writing ability, but again, I was unsure about the subject matter. Carson proved her skills by creating an original, finely developed plot and strong group of characters that have resulted in a truly enjoyable story. Her writing style is smooth and effortless; it will quickly draw you in and keep you listening to every word. Although there are subtle hints at romance, she doesn't bang you over the head with it or even make it an overly important plot role.

The story is narrated by Leah Westfall - also known as 'Lee' when she dresses up as a boy to make it to California. We've all seen the 'girl-dresses-up-as-boy' situation before, but fortunately Carson carried this notion out in such a way that it wasn't annoying or overly cliche'd, and she was actually very realistic about the struggles of being a female on a long trip with very little privacy in a time when there was a great deal of emphasis placed on being 'proper.' (For instance, men are not involved in the subject of pregnancies.)

Carson has constructed an in-depth and well-rounded cast of characters, something that appears to be quite a strong suit for her. Each person had their own motivation for travelling to California, as well as unique personalities that truly brought each person to life. Jefferson, Leah's friend from home, is a helpful, strong-headed, and rather aloof boy who is easy to relate to and understand. Besides Jefferson, there is also the entire wagon trail company that we get to meet and interact with that is made up with a variety of friendly and wise characters - as well as some close-minded and arrogant ones. All of these people, however, make for quite an engaging adventure.

I will say that there appears to have been some sort of miscommunication somewhere along the lines of my picking up this book, because I was under the impression that it would involve more gold-digging or use of Leah's gift in a more useful manner. Instead, the entire story basically covered Leah's trip to California. Don't get me wrong, it was still wonderfully told and entertaining, but it juts wasn't what I was led to be believe by the summaries and descriptions of the book, so don't be misled!

I am so glad that there is going to be a sequel! I have so many questions that still need to be answered. For instance, why does Leah even have this gift? Are there other random gifts out here that people have? Is this a somewhat magical world or still completely normal with the addition of Leah's random gift? Will Leah actually use this gift to its fullest extent once she's in California? And there is still so much potential for these characters that if Carson wasn't writing more in this series, I would be quite a bit more disappointed in this story, as this book was definitely more of a setup for the later series and provides a lot of important background.

Overall, I'm giving Walk on Earth a Stranger four stars for its compelling story and complex characters that really give this book life.

You might also like:
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen
A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Favorite Local Bookstores!

Hey everyone! I've had a few questions lately about what (if any) local bookshops I like to visit, so I decided that I should make an entire post dedicated to this topic so that I can share this information with everyone else. That way if you're ever in the area, you can drop in and give these indie stores some love!

So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite local(ish) bookstores!

1. Downtowne Books - Riverside, CA

I stumbled upon this cozy little bookstore a few years ago with my mother and have now revisited it quite a few times. Downtowne Books is the definition of a quiet, cozy, insanely-packed bookstore - packed with books, that is. The entrance to this store is a little out of the way - my mom and I actually walked right past it the first time we visited. But once you find it and enter, you'll feel right at home with such a welcoming, warm, and homey atmosphere, complete with wonderful creaking floors and a strong bookish scent. Downtowne Books is a used bookstore, so you'll be sure to find a wide array of items at various prices. The owners are both delightful, and if you're interested you can read a bit more about them and the bookstore in this article.

An almost hidden alleyway leading to the entrance - but there are signs, don't worry!

So many shelves!

2. Renaissance Books - Riverside, CA

Renaissance Books is also a store that seems sort of hidden, but it's worth the find. Upon entering, it appears to be your average bookstore, but then the true vastness of the store is apparent and it's wonderful. I found out about this gem through an article in my local newspaper (yes, I still read the print newspaper every day), and I knew I had to run down and check it out.

The owner, Gene, is a wonderfully impressive and pleasant man who is extremely knowledgeable and always willing to help you find what you need. All in all, Renaissance Books is an awesome place to spend some time looking for books.

The first photo is courtesy of the Press Enterprise.
The second photo was taken from the store's Yelp page.

Okay, so most people seem to know about The last Bookstore - it's gorgeous! It is the ultimate book lover's paradise.

The first floor has your basic bookshelves and such, but don't get stuck down there because there are still other floors to explore. Honestly, if it's your first time visiting, I recommend either blocking out a good chunk of time to explore or plan on visiting again in order to view all areas.

There's the infamous rainbow bookshelf (good luck sorting through that),

my favorite archway of books (my own photo is on my Goodreads profile),

the enormous sci-fi and fantasy section,

and one of my favorites, the flying books:

All pictures courtesy of lastbookstorela.com 

4. Cellar Door Books - Riverside, CA

Cellar Door Books is the newest addition to the area and opened just a few years ago. Cellar Door Books has a lot of great events, including writing workshops and book clubs! (There's even an Agatha Christian book club that I am so tempted to join, but unfortunately I can't make the time.) The staff is lovely and knowledgeable and the entire store has a wonderful homey feel that is perfect for any bookstore.

I love the brick flooring!

Photo courtesy of the Cellar Door Books website.

So that's my list! What are some of your favorite local bookstores? Leave a comment, send an email, send an owl - let me know some of your favorite local bookstores and I'll pick a few at random to spotlight in an upcoming post. There's nothing better than discovering new local bookstores!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Academy Alignment by David Davis and Andra St. Ivanyi

The Academy Alignment will be released Wednesday, January 17th!
The Academy Alignment by David Davis and Andra St. Ivanyi. 2016, The Phoenix Organization. 285 pages. Ebook. 

**I received a copy of The Academy Alignment courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Oh, where to start.

I had some issues with this book. When you first start the book, you will be confused. You will wonder in the world you are reading, but hang in there, you'll get to normalcy soon. Eventually the author will bring you into more familiar and somewhat understandable territory and this is when I started to think that this was going to be a fun, unique take on the whole 'mysterious boarding school' genre. In ways, it really was, but in other ways... not so much.

Most reviews that I've perused since I finished seem to be quite positive, stating that the beginning was indeed a bit confusing, but that it eventually worked itself out - which, in ways is true, but not in a very satisfying manner. And some things were still left unexplained. I just felt disoriented. As odd as this may sounds, it is still an entertaining story that can be enjoyed if it's not examined too closely.

First off, I am really not a fan of present narration (this is a peeve that I also mentioned with Legacy of Kings, so at least I'm consistent). I didn't like the number of different of points of view either, as they really just lent to quite a bit more confusion. I felt that Peter, Dr. Linden, and Dr. Browning should have been the max points of view. I understand the use of other characters, but quite frankly it just became a bit too much for a book of its size. If this were a larger, more developed story, then I could understand the multiple POVs more.

In regards to the characters, I felt as though they weren't quite as developed as they could have been, and it was disappointing to see them remain in a somewhat two-dimensional form. When it came to the multiple points of views, it was difficult to distinguish one from another - each rich student seemed to have been molded into the same form. Peter started out as a rather promising character, but I quickly found that his actions just didn't make sense to me. His random photographic memory (what was the point of that?) and great computer skills just seemed to be thrown in to make him look better and conveniently move ahead in the plot. He seemed so indirectly involved in the entire story that I almost could't understand why he was even a part of it.

There's a unique take on the use of/influence of light and dark, which was one area of the book that I actually thought could have been a really interesting concept if it had been developed a bit more (or if we heard about it sooner than the end of the book). Perhaps there will be more in subsequent books, but to be honest i'm not sure if I'll be reading them.

The idea was there, but I just felt like it needed to be expanded so much more. I understand what these people do (leaving it vague so as to have no spoilers), but I didn't fully understand why or how. I kept feeling like I missed a couple pages or chapters. Things also felt a little bit too easy for Peter to decipher or figure out; he struggled, but not that much to find the answers he needed. Things seemed to go from zero to hundred in almost no time, and suddenly the end was there and I couldn't figure out what had really happened.

Overall, I am giving this book two-and-half-stars. Two seems a bit too little, but three seems slightly too generous. I would recommend this for someone who wants a new, unique take on a boarding school story and is interested in taking a chance on a new book.

You might also like:
Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman
A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Krim Du Shaw" by Talia Haven

"Krim Du Shaw" by Talia Haven. 6 pages. Ebook.

**I received a free copy of "Krim Du Shaw" in exchange for an honest review**

Have you ever pondered the myths and stories of unicorns? Did you believe they existed when you were a kid? Talia Haven tackles this particular issue in a lovely little short story about unicorns themselves. Most people tend to treat unicorns as a bit of a joke, which has caused my interest in them to wane a bit over the years, but I have always been interested in mythical and magical creatures, and this story has really sparked my interest of unicorns.

"Krim Du Shaw" is a wonderful, fable/folktale-like short story concerning the existence and disappearance of unicorns from the earth. For something so short, this story holds mass of emotion and compelling storytelling. Haven's prose is truly beautiful and gives her story a truly magical quality that I feel fit the subject matter perfectly.

This story contains strong themes of purity, a desire for connection with others, and even death that all have an equally touching impact. The lesson that it contains within these themes is one that I think someone of any age can relate to and understand: man's greed is the downfall of many good and beautiful things in this world.

Overall, I'm giving "Krim Du Shaw" four stars for its beautiful, touching, haunting storytelling. If you just need a little quick something to read, then I highly recommend this story. It's not purely aimed for middle aged readers, but rather I find it be one of those books that transcends age and is a good match for just about anyone.

You might also like:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum. 1993, Vintage Press. Paperback/Softcover. 400 pages.

When it comes to Murakami, I am never entirely sure where to begin my review. There is so much to say, yet also so little that can capture the quality and content of his writing. But alas, I shall do my best.

The world created by Murakami in Hard-Boiled Wonderland the End of the World is both familiar and unfamiliar. I always look forward to reading Murakami. His books aren't just ones that I pick up on the fly and read here and there; I almost always wait until I'm not overly busy to read his books, because they have this wonderfully cozy, calm effect that is perfect for those lazy days or breaks from the monotonous events of life. I always feel wonderfully refreshed after finishing one of his books, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland was no exception.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is divided into two narratives. The first of these follows an unnamed man who works as a 'Calcutec' in a somewhat realistic, yet still entirely surreal, world setting. The other is set in a much more surreal, otherworldly setting called The End of the World, where a young man is separated from his shadow upon entering. I'm choosing to not divulge anything further, as you really need to explore it firsthand, plus it would be rather difficult to attempt to explain.

This book deals heavily with the ideas of reality, and what one's reality is, whether they are aware of it, and how it influences or doesn't influence their own reality. The two realities introduced above exist simultaneously, and Murakami sort of leaves it up to the reader to determine what similarities or connection may exist between the two. This is a very mind-bending book that plays with the idea of the conscious and subconscious, and the characters within take great interest in playing with the brain and how it works.

There are an abundance of heavy and somewhat complicated topics in this book, and the amount of discussions and explanations did actually get a bit exhausting at various points. It wasn't an exhaustion that was a result of boredom of lack of interest, but rather one where I just found myself becoming overwhelmed and I needed to put the book down for a while so that I could clear my head and refresh. Otherwise, the topic became too much for my brain to continue to comprehend - but hey, that could just be me.

Murakami's prose was, as usual, wonderfully crafted and calming. Even in moments of what would be perceived as 'high stress,' I can't help but feel calm and relaxed while reading it. He includes countless details that are both important and seemingly unimportant, but they never begin to feel like a drag, and I remained engaged. I actually love the little details of Murakami's writing: his vast music collections and mentions, the in-depth descriptions of food and food preparation, and the quirky and clever actions and words of each character.

I would also like to tip my hat to the wonderful translator Alfred Birnbaum who, although I have not read the original, does a wonderful job translating Murakami.

Overall, I am giving Hard-Boiled Wonderland four-and-a-half stars for its unique and thoughtful themes and story. I can't say that this has been my favorite Murakami, but it is still a great book that I would certainly recommend.

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You might also like:
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie